The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

Dispatch from Xinjiang: History in Hotan

Norlan, my volunteer Uighur guide in Hotan, has read carefully every piece of tourist information about the Xinjiang. He has underlined, circled, and annotated passages on nearly every page of his numerous pamphlets and guides. He even has an old, well-worn copy of a book illegal in China—The Lonely Planet.

At the bus station in Hotan, he reads to me from his LP, “It’s fairly certain that the Tang dynasty never had absolute control” and then he skips to “In 1911, Xinjiang came under the rule of a succession of warlords over whom the Nationalist Party had very little control.”

Earlier in the day, he had told me that in school he never learned any Uighur history, just the history of the Communist Party like everyone else in China. Norlan had only vague ideas of Uighurs fighting in the “1930s or 40s” for independence which he learned from relatives old enough to have fought against the Chinese. It was only after he learned English and read the Lonely Planet that he discovered a longer account of Uighur history—nearly two pages.

Besides being naturally curious and exceptionally bright, Norlan got lucky. China’s imposes a sanitized history of long-standing control to justify its rule of Xinjiang.  I don’t think most Uighurs buy into this narrative, but with China’s regime of information censorship, no competing accounts of history can readily emerge—leaving Norlan to accidentally uncover it in an illicit tourist guide. Without the ability to form any sort of civil society and without a believable history, it’s no wonder many Uighurs feel dispossessed.

Right before I got on the bus, he looked right at me, tapped his finger to his Lonely Planet, and said, “This is real history.”

Category: Uncategorized

Tagged: , , ,

Leave a Reply