View Full Version : The Uighur People: An Introduction

31-05-05, 00:15
The Uighur People: An Introduction

Uygur of Xinjiang provides links images and overviews for the history, culture language music and dance of the Uighur people of Xinjiang China.

Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China, the home of the Uygur people, is also viewed in some detail with overviews, links and images featuring Xinjiang's economy, demography, geography, history, tourist and historical sites.

Xinjiang map resources are also available to assist the visitor in understanding more about the region in which the Uighur live.

uygurWORLD covers the following subject matter and the relevant sections can be accessed via the Site Map or Navigations Menus located at the top and bottom of each page.

Uygur History

Uygur history was first recorded in Central Asia around 300 BCE and by the 8th Century CE. the Uighur had established a powerful and influential empire centred in Mongolia before being defeated and driven out in the 9th century to re-settle in what is known today as Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and Gansu Province, China.

The Uighur remained virtually independent until being subjugated by the Manchu regime in 1759 and, despite several short periods of independence since then, have remained under Chinese rule to this date.

Uighur history is a rich cavalcade of events which has had a surprisingly far reaching impact on the world as we know it now. It is marked by an incredible ongoing 2,000 year relationship with the ethnic Han Chinese that has seen numerous conflicts, periods of alliance, periods of subjugation and of freedom but never cultural domination. The history of Uighur and Chinese interaction in Xinjiang, or Eastern Turkistan as the Uygur prefer it called, is a fascinating one.

Uygur Culture

Uygur culture has evolved as a result of significant confluence of geographical, historical and religious factors over a two thousand year period. Geographically the Uyghur have always been at the very centre of eastern and western cultures. Originally nomadic their settling at the hub of the historic Silk Road routes which ran through present day Xinjiang brought to them the eastern and western influences of China, Europe, North Africa, Russia, India and other areas, all going into a fantastic melting pot that became the Uighur culture of today.

Uighur culture is a rich lifestyle centred around the family, food, dance and music. Uyghur architecture, particularly their religious architecture is quite fine and as reflective of a glorious past.

Uygur religion has also played a major part in Uyghur culture and has has evolved through several transitions including Shamanism, Manachaeism, Buddhism and even Christianity before Islam became the predominate religion. Each has added indelibly to the richness of Uighur culture.

Uygur Language

Uygur language is defined by Linguists as being Altaic Turkic and has 13 dialects. It has many similarities to the Turkish language and is often mistaken for Arabic in it's spoken form. There are no Uygur/English language dictionaries and very few "Phrase Book" type publications. This resource links to some basic English/Uyghur Phrase books and online dictionaries as well as more involved analysis as to the origins and evolution of this unique language

English/Uygur Online Dictionary powered by freEU Dictionary

English<=>Uighur Uighur>>English

Uygur Music and Dance

Uygur music and dance are the two things that come closest to defining the culture of Uighur people of Xinjiang.

No feast or celebration is complete without traditional folk music being played on the Uyghur's unique musical instruments such as the Rawap and Dutar and traditional Uighur dances such as the Dolan and Sanam being enjoyed.

This is no more so than in the historic and Uygur towns and cities of Urumqi Kashgar and Turpan and in the rural areas of Xinjiang region.

Uighur music and dance most famous combination is the Twelve Muqams an extremely involved and elaborate "opera" comprising over 30 classic Uygur songs and folk dances.

Uygur Literature

Uighur Literature has a recorded history going back to the 11th Century and includes many writers and poets that, whilst perhaps not known on an international stage, have been stong influences on Uighur and Central Asian culture throughout the ages. On a lighter note Uighur literature has the famous Effendi folk stories where the poor Effendi, through his wit and sarcasm, puts the Kings, the ruling classes and the rich in their place.

Uygur Separatism

Uygur Separatism is an extremely contentious issue and one less documented then that of Tibetan Separatism. The Uighur being both Caucasian and Muslim have, for over 2,000 years, considered themselves culturally and racially different to ethnic Chinese (Han). The Chinese, on the other hand, have viewed the Uighur at times with respect as a great people of culture and religion and at other times with derision as Barbarians.

The Uighur and other Turkic peoples of Xinjiang post the Communist takeover in 1949 thave become increasingly resentful of the significant influx of Han Chinese migrants and contract workers coming into Xinjiang. For example from the 1949 to the 1990 census the percentage of the Xinjiang population that was Uighur declined from around 74% to 45%.

Uighur Separatist and Nationalism movements seeking independence and a free East Turkistan, or at least greater autonomy within China, peaked in prominence in the late 1990's and have been blamed for some ugly and fatal clashes with Chinese authorities as well as terrorist activities and attacks on pro-Sino Uighurs. The Peoples republic of China (P.R.C) have used these alleged events as rationale for continuing "strike hard" crackdowns on Uygur freedoms of religion and general association that has resulted in detention, prison and even some instances executions for many Uighur.

The Chinese crackdowns, the effects of "September 11", the lack of a real national "identity" among the Uighur and the influences of increasing tourism and rising living standards have all led to a dissipation of the these movements and organisations.

Uygur human rights violations in China have been extensively reported by various respected world organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International who have come out strongly against the PRC's treatment of the Uighur people.

Despite no evidence of violence of any kind since pre "September 11" and very limited proof of significant violence prior to that the PRC has continued with an almost manic preoccupation with the question of Uygur and Islamic Terrorism and continues a relentless international propaganda campaign in support of their policies against the Uyghur people. On the same token some Uighur diaspora organisations continue with a confrontational attitude that can serve their cause and their people little good.

This resource introduces links to Uygur Nationalist and Uygur Separatist (splittist) movements and their ideologies as well as the official P.R.C. positions vis a vis "separatists' "splittists" and "Uighur Islamic Terrorism". As well analysis is provided for the movements in general, their history in Xinjiang and prognosis of success in their goals of greater Uygur autonomy and/or of a separate Uygur/Turkic nation.

The Future for Uygur Culture

Uygur culture has been influenced since the Communist takeover in 1949 by three factors which have combined to form a force with the capacity to irrevocably change the face of the Uygur of Xinjiang's culture forever.
Factor 1 - Demographic Changes
The Uighur in 1949 , at approximately 3.3m people, comprised 74% of Xinjiang's population.

Xinjiang prior to the 1960's had remained comfortably secluded from the outside world, even from the influences of China.

The discovery of rich mineral resources (and consequent industrialisation ), the increase in the strategic importance of Xinjiang co-incident with the decline in Sino-Soviet relations and the eventual break up of the Soviet Union, saw a massive influx of ethnic Chinese immigrants, contract workers and officials as a result of the central government's policy to bolster the region.

The Uygur population by 1990 had fallen to 45% of the total Xinjiang population despite a sizeable increase in overall numbers to 7.2 million and this trend is never likely to be reversed.

The Uighur's preponderance and homogeny, in the land they have called home for 1300 years, has been forever compromised.
Factor 2 - Social and Economic
Uighur culture is also impacted upon by the changes in their economic and social situation which has altered significantly since the Communist takeover of Xinjiang in 1949. Rising living standards, increased literacy, higher education and greater life expectancy, among other factors, have combined to widen their horizons from their heretofore secluded environment and insulated culture.

Xinjiang's and China's rapid economic growth has seen the rise of an Uygur "middle class" that is increasingly seeing it's future more closely aligned with the Han.
Factor 3 - An Encroaching World
Lastly, increased tourism and the advent of the Internet (though heavily censored) has greatly impacted upon the expectations of the Uighur, particularly the young.

Prior to the 1970's tourism was virtually unknown in Xinjiang. P.R.C figures show that for 2002 Xinjiang inbound tourism was estimated to have reached approximately 8.5m domestic and 273,000 foreign visitors. The impact of this on Uighur culture is twofold; firstly the Uighur people's horizons and aspirations are broadened as a result of this cultural interaction and secondly, the Uighur run the risk of having their culture "packaged" for the tourism market and in doing so lose it's very essence. Parallels in other cultures are many.

Unfortunately, perhaps the burst of Uighur separatist and nationalist fervor in the late 1980's and '90's and it's subsequent wane may be seen as analogous to a final stand and ultimate surrender of an ancient and unique culture to the influences of a larger world and a far superior force.