Xinjiang is China's westernmost region and largest political entity. Larger than Alaska and occupying roughly one sixth of China's total area, it is covered mostly by vast, inhospitable desert punctuated here and there by bazaar towns, ancient ruins, oil camps and Chinese cities with discos and shopping malls, with massive snow-capped mountains in the west. Xinjiang (pronounced SHEEN-jee-hang) means "new frontier" and the two Chinese characters that form the word are pictograms that represent "bow," "land," "field" and "border."
Like Tibet, Xinjiang is an autonomous region, not a province. Traditionally its residents have been members of Muslim minorities, the largest being the Uighurs, a group of Turkish-speaking Mongolians. Officially, Xinjiang is called Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. It is an autonomous region of the Uighurs, like Tibet is an autonomous regions of the Tibetans. Like Tibetans, Uighurs feel their region is autonomous in name only. Their religion and culture are suppressed and their homeland is being overrun with Han Chinese. Some Uighurs would like Xinjiang to become an independent country, or even join Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet Republic that lies along its western border.
Despite its generally inhospitable landscapes, Xinjiang also contains some of the most incredible sites in China: 26,000-foot-high mountains with glaciers, evergreen forests and Alpine meadows, Silk Road oases with bazaars and folk fairs, and ruined cities inhabited by lost Christian tribes and people with Caucasian features.
Xinjiang occupies two large basins: the Zhungarian (Jungarian) and Tarim basins. The latter is the largest inland basin in the world. Junggar basin lies in a region surrounded by tree-covered snow-capped mountains that are reminiscent of the Alps. Many Kazakhs and Torgut Mongols live there
Xinjiang has been called China's Wild West. Many Han Chinese have gone there in hopes of striking it rich in the region's oil field or trade centers, with local Muslim minorities being pushed aside like American Indians. Xinjiang is rich in minerals and has large oil deposits and the largest natural gas reserves in China. It is the home of China’s main nuclear testing site. It has traditionally served as a defensive buffer against possible attacks from the West, which is one reason why the Chinese don't want to lose control over it.
Websites and Resources
Good Websites and Sources: Muslimwiki Islam in China Muslimwiki Islam in China ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Blog with stuff on Xinjiang china.notspecial.org ; About Xinjiang (Chinese government site) aboutxinjiang. ; History and Development of Xinjiang (Chinese government site) news.xinhuanet.com ; Uighurs and Xinjiang Council on Foreign Relations ; Muslims in China: Islam in China islaminchina.wordpress.com ; Claude Pickens Collection harvard.edu/libraries ; Islam Awareness islamawareness.net ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Asia Times atimes.com ; Xinjiang History Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Great Game Info sras.org ; Great Game in Afghanistan atimes.com ; Separatism and Human Rights: Wikipedia article on Terrorism in China Wikipedia ;All Quiet on the Western Front? silkroadstudies.org Human Rights in Xinjiang Human Rights Watch article hrw.org ; Human Rights in Xinjiang Human Rights Watch article hrw.org ; Human Rights in Xinjiang Human Rights Watch article hrw.org ; Uighur and Xinjiang Experts: Dru Gladney of Pomona College; Nicolas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch; and James Miflor, a professor at Georgetown University.
Links in this Website: XINJIANG Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG EARLY HISTORY Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG LATER HISTORY Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG AND CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG SEPARATISM AND HUMAN RIGHTS Factsanddetails.com/China ; TERRORISM IN XINJIANG Factsanddetails.com/China ; Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG RIOTS IN 2009 Factsanddetails.com/China ; UIGHURS Factsanddetails.com/China ; HORSEMEN AND SMALL MINORITIES IN XINJIANG Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG, URUMQI Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG. KASHGAR Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG KARAKORUM HIGHWAY Factsanddetails.com/China
PLACES IN XINJIANG : Xinjiang Tourism Administration, 16 South Hetan Rd, 830002 Urumqi, Xinjiang China, tel. (0)- 991-282-7912, fax: (0)- 991-282-4449. Web Sites : Wikipedia Wikipedia Government site Xinjiang.gov ; Photos and Qanats : Synaptic Synaptic Wikipedia article on qanats Wikipedia ; Turpan : Turpan Tourism Division, 41 Qingnian Rd, 838000 Turpan. Xinjiang China, tel. (0)- 995-523-706, fax: (0)- 995-522-768 ; Urumqi : Urumqi Tourism Bureau, 32 Guangming Rd, 830002 Urumqi, Xinjiang China, tel. (0)-991-283-2212, fax: (0)- 991-281-9357 Web Sites: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide ; China Map Guide China Map Guide ; Getting There Sites : Urumqi is accessible by air and bus and lies at the end on the main east-west train line from Beijing. It is connected to Kashgar and other Xinjiang cities to southwest by a new train that began operating in the early 2000s.Travel China Guide (click transportation) Travel China Guide Tian Shan : Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Links in this Website: XINJIANG, URUMQI Factsanddetails.com/China
Kashgar Travel China Guide Travel China Guide ; Lonely Planet Lonely Planet ; China Vista China Vista ; Getting There: Kashgar is accessible by air and bus and connected to Urumqi and the rest of China by a new train that began operating in 2004. There are two daily trains between Kasghar and Urumqi that cover the 1,598 kilometer distance in about 24 hours, There are also flights on Xinjiang Airlines 757s every evening. Website: CNINFO.net Travel China Guide (click transportation) Travel China Guide Lonely Planet (click Getting There) Lonely Planet ; Links in this Website: XINJIANG. KASHGAR Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG KARAKORUM HIGHWAY Factsanddetails.com/China
People in Xinjiang
Xinjiang is inhabited by 13 of China's 55 official minorities. Most are of Turkic descent. These include Uyghurs Uighurs, Kyrgyz, Hui and Kazakhs. Even some Tatars live in Ili Valley west of Urumqi. A large number of Mongolians live in the central region of Xinjiang.
Xinjiang is home to 19 million people, about 8 percent of China’s population. In 1949, roughly 15 percent of the people Xinjiang were Han Chinese, 75 percent were Uighurs and 10 percent were other. By the late 1990s 38 percent are Han Chinese, 44 percent are Uighurs and 18 percent are other. Today it is about half Han Chinese. In 1949 Urumqi was only 20 percent Chinese, now it is 80 percent. Kazakhs made up about 9 percent of the population the 1940s and only 7 percent today.
Today Uighurs make up about 40 percent to 45 percent of the population of Xinjiang.Although their numbers have been diluted in northern Xinjiang by Han Chinese settlers and are now outnumbered there the Uighurs are still the majority in southern Xinjiang. Han Chinese have grown from 9 percent of the population of Xinjiang in 1945 to 40 percent today.
Between 250,000 and 300,000 Han Chinese enter Xinjiang each year. One Urumqi resident told National Geographic, "Every day the trains are packed with easterners. All come looking for work." An Uighur said, "Our biggest fear is that we will be wiped out by their numbers."
Even the Chinese regard Xinjiang as a mysterious place. The lifestyle of many of its people has changed little since the 13th century when Marco Polo visited the region and nomads lived in the mountains and settled people lived around the oases, where the Silk Road caravans stopped.
The people in Xinjiang are very different from those found in the rest of the country. Describing a market in Turfan, the writer Paul Theroux wrote: "half the women...had the features of fortune-tellers, and the others looked like Mediterranean peasants—dramatically different from anyone else in China. These brown-harried, gray-eyed, gypsy-featured women in velvet dresses—and very buxom, some of the them—were quit attractive in a way hat was the opposite of the Oriental. You wouldn't be surprised to learn they were Italians or Armenians.”
Some of the people in western China who live outside the cities are shepherds and herders who live in felt tents known as yurts. Among them are Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Tajiks, minorities that occupy the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan on the Chinese border, and Mongolians.
About 8.5 million of China’s 25 million Muslims live in Xinjiang. About 23,000 of China’s 30,000 mosques are in Xinjiang.
Many Xinjiang Muslims practice the mystical and relatively liberal Sufi form of Sunni Islam. Some women wear veils but some also wear miniskirts. Some veiled women wear high heels and knee-length skirts. There are more veiled women in the Kashgar area than in northern Xinjiang. Even conservative women routinely lift up thick brown veils in the markets to examine products.
Islam is important to the Uighur’s identity but is not very deep rooted as a religion. Most Uighur are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school. Some are followers of Sufi sects. The worship of Islamic saints (mazar) is widely practiced. Many Uighurs visit the tombs of popular holy men. Uighur Sufis chant sacred words. Whirling-dervish-type rituals are performed in front of mosques in Kashgar.
Shamanist and animist traditions endure. In some places shaman chant Koranic passages to heal the sick and people wear amulets with Arabic script to ward off evil spirits. In the old days there were descriptions of shaman dancing around ropes hung from ceilings, chanting Koranic verses and beating patients with dead chickens to exorcize evil spirits.
Repression of Islam
As part of the campaign against Muslim separatists, young people are banned from mosques, foreign Muslim are banned from meeting local imams and mosques are routinely prohibited from issuing the call to prayer. Religious material has been seized and hundreds of mosques and Koranic schools have been shut down. Muslims have been arrested for preaching illegally, translating the Koran into local languages. Imam have been sent to re-education classes.
Mosques are sometimes empty because Muslims fear being blacklisted for going to them. Many mosque are infiltrated by informers. In response to repression a number of underground mosques have opened up. In many ways these are more likely to be breeding grounds for Islamic extremism than ordinary mosques.
Many Han Chinese have a negative view of Islam, regarding it as backward and oppressive. Muslims complain that if they want to get ahead or land a good job they have to renounce their religion or at least not be so public about it.
There are severe restrictions of making the pilgrimage to Mecca. Only a few are allowed to go. Many more want to go and resent the fact they can’t.
See Chinese Crackdowns in Xinjiang
Yurts in Xinjiang
Life in Xinjiang
Officially Xinjiang sets its clock to Beijing time which means that the sun rises at noon in Kasghar and foreigners who wake up at 8:00am find that everyone is asleep. Trains run on Beijing time but many buses schedules are set to Xinjiang time which is one hour behind Beijing time (2 hours in the summer because there is no daylight saving time in Xinjiang). Kashgar time is one hour behind Xinjiang time.
Not restricted by the "one couple, one child" birth control laws. Rural minority couples in western China are allowed to have three children and urban couples two. To have even more children some pastorialists in Xinjiang "parcel" out some of their children to relatives.
Entertainment in Xinjiang is provided by karaoke bars, street performing monkeys and mobile pool tables which are rolled from neighborhood to neighborhood for 20 cent games.
There have traditionally been few refrigerators in Western China, one of the hottest regions in the world during the summer. Some household ice boxes are supplied by pond ice which has been chipped away during the winter and stored in felt- lined caves and pits and delivered door to door by donkey cart during the summer.
Xinjiang Government and Crime
Xinjiang is a semi-autonomous territory and the Uighurs have there own parliament in Urumchi. According to Xinjiang law the governor of the autonomous region of Xinjiang must be Uighur. Some important Communist Party members are from minority groups but all of them have Han Chinese superiors.
Minorities in Xinjiang are allowed to print newspapers and have radio and television broadcasts in their languages.
The Chinese military has conducted fairly sophisticated wars games and large military exercises in Xinjiang.
Residents of Xinjiang launched China's first anti-nuclear protests. Lop Nor in Xinjiang is the nuclear testing site where China detonated its first nuclear weapons. Near Lop Nur there have been reports livestock and people suffering from radiation sickness. Many trees in the region have lost their leaves and bark. Residents complain of losing their hair and suffering from skin diseases. There have been increases in rates leukemia, throat cancer, premature births and deformed babies. Malan, a secret nuclear base, is only 10 kilometers from villages with ethnic Uighurs and Mongols.
Organized crime is a problem in Xinjiang. In July 2008, five gang members were shot dead after one of them stabbed a police officer while resisting arrest. The gangsters reportedly entered a beauty parlor with knives.
Education in Xinjiang
People of Xinjiang have the right to use their native languages in schools. But in many cases this means the instruction is in Uighur but the lessons are Chinese propaganda. Under portraits of Mao and Marx, children are encouraged to abandon Islam and are encouraged to eat during the Muslim fast of Ramadan.
Young people have a hard time getting into university because their Chinese language skills are not good enough. Special Mandarin-only schools have been set up for the best and brightest. A student at one such school in Urumqi told the Los Angeles Times, “Chinese is very difficult, but it's the language of the marketplace. I’ve studied for two years. Sometimes I forget some of my Uighur.”
Many Uighurs have welcomed programs to teach Mandarin side by side with Uighur in their schools—with the understanding that Mandarin is useful in business and generally getting ahead— but have been hostile to the idea of Uighur being phased out and replaced by Mandarin-only instruction.
Since 2000, most public schools have made Mandarins the primary language of instruction. The first to bear the brunt of the bilingual education policy were teachers who had previously taught in ethnic languages. Tens of thousands of teachers faced being laid off because their Chinese was not up to standard, and this led to unstable popular feelings among grassroots educators.
In Kashgar, a bilingual education program begun in local schools several years ago, for example, had been welcomed by Uighurs who agreed that learning Mandarin Chinese would be good for business. But recently, some schools have started teaching just Mandarin, angering parents who want their children to also use their own language. [Source: Maureen Fan, Washington Post, March 24, 2009]
The Uighur language has been phased out of higher education.
Mobile primary schools are taken to the grassland in Xinjiang.
Education and Social mobility among Minority Populations in Xinjiang by Benson, L.; In Xinjiang: China's Muslim Borderland , edited by S. F. Starr, 190-215. Armonk, N. Y.: Sharpe, 2004; http://www.seameo.org/_ld2008/doucments/Presentation_document/Strawbridge_xinjiang_challenges_of_bilingual_education,.pdf ; http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=3Dall~content=3Da781905495
Gerard Postiglione from Univ of Hong Kong has written extensively on minority education and language policy issues. His works include as China's National Minorities and Education Changes Journal of Contemporary Asia vol. 22, no. 1 (1992); China's National Minority Education: Culture, Schooling, and Development by Gerard A. Postiglione, ed. (New York: Falmer, 1999); Minority Movement and Education by Wang, S; In China's Minorities on The Move: Selected Case Studies , edited by R. R. Iredale, N. Bilik, and Fei Guo,32-50. Armonk, N. Y.: Sharpe, 2003]
Transportation in Xinjiang
Roads are built through dune areas in the Taklamakan Desert near Khotan. Global positioning system are used for survey work. To prevent the development of quicksand, reed grasses are planted along the road.
New highways and trains move workers, oil men, prospectors and engineers from place to place and allow consumer good to be shipped in and wool and agriculture products shipped out. Still in many places, donkeys and carts are are the prevalent forms of transportation.
Northern Xinjiang cities like Urumqi and Turpan can be reached by train. The Silk Road city of Kashgar can be reached from Pakistan via the Karakorum Highway or by a new train that just began service in 2004..
Xinjiang and Central Asia
Xinjiang borders on the former Soviet Republics of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Many of the Muslims in Xinjiang feel a greater affinity to the people in these countries. In some places Chinese Kazahks, Uighurs and Kyrgyz can cross the border easily. Some people routinely cross the borders on horseback without passing through immigration to see relatives.
Beijing has extracted promises from the Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan not to support separatist movements in Xinjiang in exchange for favorable trade terms. Many Uighurs feel betrayed by their Central Asian neighbors for making a deal Beijing and not doing more to help them.
Today many of the people that cross the border between western China and the former Soviet republic are traders. In 1984, a year after the pass between western China and Soviet Kazakstan reopened, 25,000 tons of good crossed the border. In 1993, the trade had expanded to 422,000 tons. Most of the buyers come to China from Kazakstan to load up on candy, beer, clothing, toys, sewing machines, irons, tools, shoes, Chinese stereos, Korean televisions and Japanese cameras and even Chinese vodka to sell back home. The trade is lucrative that a Hong Kong entrepreneur is building a huge shopping mall and hotel near the border.
Economics in Xinjiang
Urumqi’s GDP grew by 15 percent in 2008, much of it due to infrastructure spending by the central and regional governments. City residents’ average annual disposable income reached a record 12,328 yuan ($1,813) in 2008.
The economy in Xinjiang grew 42 fold between 1965 and 2005. Even so many Uighurs and other local people continue work off the land or in low skilled jobs. They complain they are denied good jobs because they lack Chinese language skills and that all the good jobs go to Han Chinese.
City dwellers in Xinjiang earned about $1,000 after taxes in 2005, up 8 percent from 2004, about double that of 1997. But this behind a national income of $1,300, which rose 11 percent. In Zhejiang Province the annual income is about double that of Xinjiang, The gap between Han Chinese and local minorities in Xinjiang is also quite pronounced.
As is true everywhere else in China, people in Xinjiang are trying to make money selling and trading what ever they can gets their hands on. Posters in Urumqi read "Raise Dogs, Get Rich" while those in the remain communes advise people, "Don't Sell. Give to the Unit." A sign at an embroidery factory read "Time is Money. Efficiency is Life."
The GDP of Xinjiang doubled from $28 billion in 2000 to $60 billion im 2008. To encourage foreign investment and new business, Beijing has offered tax breaks and other incentives to invest in Xinjiang. Plane loads of businessman from Hong Kong have been flow t scope for investment possibilities.
Violence and unrest, especially after the riots in July 2009, has hurt Xinjiang’s growth.One man from Jiangsu who arrived in Urumqi after he riots in July 2009 told the Los Angeles Times, “I head everything was great here, but when I got in, everything was scary.”
Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps
In the early 1950s, in one of the largest peacetime mobilizations in history, prisoners of war, decommissioned Red Army soldiers and “reform through labor” convicts were sent to the Gobi Desert and western China as members of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, to build roads, canals, bridges and dams and transform a wasteland into a rich agricultural area of cotton, maize and rice, complete with its own cities. In some cases the condition were so severe that participants made furniture from sod bricks and used their own hair keep arm in the frigid winters.
The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps was a combination farm, military garrison and prison. The first arrivals in 1954, including more than 100,000 demobilized soldiers. Some were coerced. The flow of Han Chinese from the east increased when the railroad was extended west, reaching Urumqi in 1962. Promises of food and clothing were used to attract residents of overcrowded cities like Shanghai.
For a long time most Han Chinese in Xinjiang worked for the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps that over time came to run ran factories, farms and other enterprises. Under its jurisdiction was one of the largest communes in China—State Farm No. 128 of the No. 7 Division. Located 85 miles northwest of Urumqi, it employed 17,000 people (almost all Han Chinese) and had military-style checkpoints, irrigated orchards and cotton fields as well as its own foreign affairs office, television station, oil refinery and enterprises for marketing crops and forestry products.
The northern part of Xinjiang is dominated bybingtuan—military-run farms and businesses that employ predominately Han Chinese settlers or migrants. Hundreds of thousands of Han Chinese—recruited by the quasi-military Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps—pick cotton and potatoes on the corps extensive farmland. The bingtuans of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps were very profitable. Even today about one in six Chinese that live in Xinjiang — about 1.3 million people — belong to one. Few Uighurs are given the opportunity to work on them.
Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Cities Today
Today Shihezi is a tree-shaded, bustling oasis of city of 650,000 famous for its canned tomatoes, fiery grain alcohol and enormous cotton yields. Neatly laid out on a grid, its sidewalks graced by apple trees and elms, thecity is populated by the sturdy and defiantly proud who think of Xinjiang asChina’s version of Manifest Destiny, the doctrine undergirding the westward expansion of the United States in the 19th century. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, August 6, 2009]
With a total population of 2.6 million, 95 percent of it ethnic Han Chinese, Shihezi and a string of other settlements created by the military are stable strongholds in a region whose majority non-Han populace has often been unhappy under Beijing’s rule. “ [Ibid]
With an annual output of goods and services of $7 billion, the settlements run by the bingtuan include five cities, 180 farming communities and 1,000 companies. They also report directly to Beijing and run their own courts, colleges and newspapers. “ [Ibid]
The grievances of Uighur towards the bingtuan have multiplied even as Xinjiang has grown more prosperous, thanks in part to its huge reserves of natural gas, oil and minerals. Many Uighurs complain about the repression of their Islamic faith, official policies that marginalize their language and a lack of job opportunities, especially at government bureaus and inside the bingtuan. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, August 6, 2009]
During a recent visit to Shihezi, armed paramilitary policemen stopped every car and bus entering the city. But only Uighurs were made to step out of vehicles for identification checks and searches. “ [Ibid]
Han Economic Exploitation in Xinjiang
Overseas-based Uighur organizations, however, have charged that Beijing has never given Uighurs any share of the vast profits from the exploitation of the XAR’s rich resources. While Xinjiang boasts one of China’s largest oil-and-gas reserves, exploration and related businesses are controlled by the country’s national petroleum monopolies such as Sinopec and China National Petroluem Corporation. Moreover, much of the benefits of progress have been taken up by Han Chinese businessmen and workers based in Urumqi and other urban areas. The annual per capita income in rural areas, where most Uighurs live, is a mere 3,503 yuan (US$515). In the wake of the Shaoguan-riots, Uighurs interviewed by Western journalists have complained that thousands of inhabitants of western and southern Xinjiang are obliged to work in coastal factories like the Shaoguan toy factory due to harsh conditions, such as unemployment in their home villages. [Source: Willy Lam, China Brief, July 23 2009]
Moreover, many Uighurs view investment and other economic activities by the government and Han-Chinese companies with suspicion. XAR Governor Bekri has cited Xinjiang authorities’ 3 billion yuan (US$441.18 million) redevelopment of the old sector of the famous city of Kashgar as an example of urban renewal [of a magnitude] that is rarely seen in the rest of the world. The governor said that newly-constructed apartment blocs for Uighurs will have much better protections against fire and earthquake. Yet, according to Nicholas Bequelin, a respected Xinjiang expert at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, many in the Uighur community are unhappy with the sudden razing of Kashgar, a centuries-old cultural center of Uighur civilization and one of the few remaining examples of traditional Central Asian architecture. “ [Ibid]
Political commentator Paul Lin said, ‘Chinese officials discourage employers from hiring Uighurs, Uighurs are paid less [than Han Chinese] for the same work and they barred Uighur pilots from flying during the Beijing Olympics...for fear they would engage in terrorist activity.”
Trade and Resources Xinjiang
Kashgar market Trade, roughly divided between imports and exports, tripled between 2000 and 2004 to $6 billion. Urumqi has become a major trading center for Central Asia. Everything form machinery and electronics to toys and rice cookers are sold. Some good are produced locally but most are shipped from the east. Trade is conducted in Mandarin, Uighur and English. Afghan and Pakistani traders in skull caps and shalwar kameez come to buy clothes which they haul back home on plastic-wrapped bundles of cloth and boxes of consumer good. on buses trucks and planes
Trade soared in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union as raw materials flowed in to China from the former Soviet states and cheap Chinese consumer goods flowed out. But trade slowed after the September 11 terrorist attack, when borders controls were tightened as a response to increased fears about terrorism, separatism and weapons smuggling.
Xinjiang contains about 40 percent of China’s coal, a fifth of its oil and natural gas. There are large deposits of gold, uranium salt and other minerals. The Junggar Basin in northern Xinjiang contains the largest coal reserves in China, with more 300 billion tons of ore.
Oil in Xinjiang
The oil fields in the Tarim Basin and Taklimakan desert in Xinjiang Province are large but are also among the most remote in the world and expensive to develop. By some estimates they contain at least 74 billion barrels of oil—three times the proven reserves of the U.S. and one third of the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia. To get to the fields Chinese trucks are transported across the dunes by huge American-built trucks with colossal tires on roads made with sand-stabilizing plastic and tons of gravel brought in by yet more trucks. Reeds planted in nets are used to keep the dunes from covering the road.
Much of the oil lies in fields around Koral, in north-central Xinjiang, a so-called “instantaneous city” that has sprung up over night and filled with trading companies, shopping malls, a large nightclub district, a new airport and a population largely made up of Han Chinese hoping to strike it rich. Between the mid 1990s and mid 2000s Koral grew from 100,000 residents to 420,000 residents and is growing by 20 percent a year. Most of the jobs are going to Han Chinese not local Uighurs and Kazakhs.
Many are now skeptical about the oil and gas potential of the region. Claims that the Taklamakan Desert and Tarim Basin contains as much oil as the United States appear to be overstated. Many of the deposits are more than 5,000 meters below the surface and are very expensive to harvest.
Several hundred successful wells have been sunk at Tarim No. 4 Field, where workers labor every day in temperatures that reach 104°F in the summer and drop to -22°F in the winter. A worker at the field told National Geographic, "There are sandstorms. You can't see farther than one meter. then the cars stop, and the exploration stops. But the drilling always goes on." The oil men here refer to themselves as China's "soldiers of oil."
More than 60 companies from 16 countries shave expressed interest in developing oil in the Tarim basin. In December 1993, Exxon and a Japanese-Indonesian venture won the right to explore the first block. Texaco, Japan petroleum and Elf Aquitaine won the right to search in the second block.
Agriculture in Xinjiang
Uighurs have traditionally practiced oasis agriculture. Water rights rather land were valued as property and passed down through inheritance.
Outside many Xinjiang villages and towns there are cotton and wheat fields and apricot orchards. High poplar trees line many of the fields. These places are nearly silent except for birdsong, the rustling of poplar leaves in the breeze, the mooing os milking cows and the bleating of sheep. [Source: BBC]
Oasis water is directed into feeder channels that distribute water throughout an elaborate grid network. Every piece of land is granted so many hours of water according to its size. When each man has his share, his feeder is closed off with a big stone and another one is opened for someone else. The distribution is supervised by a "water bailiff" who is paid in crops from the irrigated fields.
Uighurs grow a large variety of grains, vegetables and fruits. Melons of various kinds grow well in dry climates, Cotton is grown as a cash crop. Xinjiang is China’s leading cotton producer. It produces 38 percent of the country’s total. Much of it is grown in irrigated desert near Aksu and Kashgar.
Watermelons grown in irrigated plowed rows and grapes grown on trellises are shipped all over China. Chinese planners want to harness glacier meltwater to irrigate wheatfield to alleviate the country's grain shortage. Winemakers also have high hopes for the region.
See Darzai Commune
Karez Tunnels underlie large areas of Turpan depression and are found througout Xinjiang. One of the ancient world’s great engineering feats, they are underground canals and boreholes used to carry water—from melted snow, springs and water tables under hills— from the highlands to farming areas. Some date back to the time of Alexander the Great.
Karez tunnels follow slopes down hill and are built underground so the water doesn't evaporate in the hot sun. From the sky they look like a long rows of gopher holes, giant anthills or donuts. These holes are outlets for vertical shafts that provide ventilation, and a means of excavating material. Dirt is piled around the entrances to prevent potentially-eroding rainwater from entering the system. Most of the holes are about 10 to 30 feet deep but some drop down almost 100 feet.
The karez system in Xinjiang ranks with the Great Wall of China and the Grand Canal in terms of time and labor spent building it and may exceed them as an engineering feat. The tunnels carry water, much of originally snow melt from the Tian Shen Mountains, to oases like Turpan. The combined length of all the karez canals in Xinjiang is around 1,900 miles, with about 60 percent of them still in use today.
Karez tunnels have largely been dug by hand from head wells on high ground near the source of the water to places where the water is used. It is believed millions of hours of forced labor was needed to build them. The long, downward slopping tunnels were dug using the vertical holes to reach the underground tunnel from the surface.
Karez technology was imported from Persia (Iran), where the wells are called qanats. The tunnels have traditionally been communally owned, with villagers splitting the cost of building and maintaining them. Holes used to dig the tunnels are used by laborers today to reach the underground canals, which from time to time have to be cleared of dirt and rubble.
Digging the tunnels and maintaining the karez system is hard and dangerous work. The men who do the digging, repairing and cleaning have traditionally been highly skilled and well paid. To repair the tunnels workers climb down the entry shaft to the tunnels. There they clean out the tunnels and stabilize weak sections with ceramic hoops. The work is often done by lantern light in extremely cramped conditions—most of the tunnels are barely large enough for a man to crawl through.
Image Sources: Mongabey; CNTO; Louis Perrochon http://www.perrochon.com/photo/china/ ; University of Washington
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated February 2011