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China's Wild West

By Joshua Eisenman | October 2003

Given the recent unrest in western China, Policy Innovations obtained the right to repost this article, which originally appeared in the American Journal of Chinese Studies (Vol. 10, Num. 2, October 2003). Joshua Eisenman's analysis is based on field interviews he conducted while affiliated with the Nixon Center.

The Han come from all over China in search of new economic opportunities. They bring their language and customs, many of which are not reconcilable with Uighur traditions. Many inhabitants of this definitively Muslim land scorn Chinese alcohol, pork, and prostitutes. Han immigrants, encouraged to migrate to Xinjiang by the local and central governments, often look down on Uighur customs and religion as barbarous and superstitious. As a result, friction between Uighur and Han communities has developed.

Tradition and language played a role in the mutual antagonism of the 1980s and 1990s. Chinese views on interpersonal relations, business, and modernity continued to frustrate Uighurs. Often, Chinese businessmen, not unlike businessmen throughout Asia, use alcohol, sex, and expensive attire to impress and woo potential clients. Traditional Uighur dress and abstention from alcohol conflict with these accepted Han business practices. Language barriers have also prevented many Uighurs, especially the less educated and poorer classes, from taking advantage of investment and employment opportunities. The result is two largely divided and unequal populations, living across the tracks from each other in a tense and bitter silence.

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Read More: Business, Cities, Culture, Development, Human Rights, Jobs, Migration, Poverty, Religion, China, Asia

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