The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

Dispatch from Xinjiang: Yarkand

In Yarkand, a city southeast of Kashgar, about a dozen members of the People’s Liberation Army were loitering outside my hotel with wooden clubs.

By this point in my trip, I was fed up with the Chinese military. Max and I were supposed to spend the night in the Taklamakan Desert instead of a dodgy hotel filled with middle-aged prostitutes (it was the only hotel allowed to take-in foreigners), but the government changed the rule the day we arrived, prohibiting foreigners from overnight treks in the desert. We’d been told that the military was taking up the entirety of a desert larger than the state of Oregon looking for terrorists sneaking in to spoil the Olympics. I’d lucked out at Karakul—two days after I’d went to the lake, the military started turning people away who didn’t have some special stamp.

From the taxis of Urumqi to the donkey carts of Kashgar to the camels of Tashkurgan, one travels in all sorts of ways, but one thing remains constant—no matter the mode of transportation: military checkpoints. From Urumqi to Kashgar, the bus stopped at least six times at police or military checkpoints; from Kashgar to Tashkurgan I went through two more military checkpoints, and from Kashgar to Yarkand, I went through three more. Generally, an army or police officer would simply glare at the Uighur passengers, leaving me in peace—though I was hassled on a couple of occasions.

Frustrating tourists and trying to intimidate its Uighur population will not win China any friends nor will it deter terrorism. Encouraging tourism in Xinjiang would better increase China’s national security by bringing revenue to struggling Uighur cities. Poverty and resentment breed terrorism—not Americans taking photos of camels in a desert.

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One Response

  1. Alex says:

    I’m sure you’ll find the military presence in Tibet equally visible. Did you send me a text saying that you were in Lhasa?

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