The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

Dispatch from Xinjiang: Kashgar

Note: Serik does not exist. In order to protect the people who talked to me in Kashgar, I’ve created a composite character: Serik. The quotes in this piece are real, but they are not from a single person and not all from Kashgar. Obviously, details have been changed, and the story altered.

Serik is frustrated. No one was buying his hats anyways, and then, his sewing machine broke. But one gets the impression that Serik is often frustrated.

“Everyday I see Uighurs line-up—starving—at the mosques hoping for some food, but I only see Chinese at the China Construction Bank.”

He’s also frustrated, because he sees Chinese money coming into Kashgar and not benefiting the Uighur population that still makes up 80% of the city. Serik, like many Uighurs, is struggling to make ends meet. He lives in an eight foot by nine foot room—just large enough for a small bed, a sewing machine, and a chair for guests.

Serik misses the old Kashgar, when there was no such thing as the Old City because all of Kashgar was the Old City.

“The area around the Id Kah mosque used to be interesting. There was a beautiful clock tower, and someone was even living about the clock! Now the area looks like other areas.”

Serik—now in his late 40s—isn’t hoping to live an old-fashioned or religious life. He drinks beer and smokes the local tobacco. He was even the guitarist in a Uighur rock band. After injuring his wrist six years ago, he’s been unable to play, but he still has the tapes. Every now and again, he pulls them out and listens to them, thinking of a time when Kashgar was “interesting.”

“Maybe the young people learning Chinese will have a better chance,” he tells me hopefully. Serik speaks only Uighur and English and feels left behind with the increasing importance of Chinese.

I asked him what he thought the chances of young Chinese-speaking Uighurs were in Kashgar. His response was less hopeful: “I’d prefer not to talk about that.”

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