Autonomy in Xinjiang: Han Nationalist Imperatives and Uyghur Discontent

The East-West Center, 1 January 2004

By Gardner Bovingdon — This paper analyzes the sources of Uyghur discontent and ethnonational conflict in Xinjiang since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. It argues that the episodes of unrest in Xinjiang have not been simply contemporary manifestations of an enduring culture of violence. Nor have they been the product of foreign intrigues. Instead, while conflict in the region has had several causes, the system of “regional autonomy” operating in Xinjiang must be seen as a principal source of the unrest. Instead of resolving a longstanding political dispute between Uyghurs advocating independence and the Chinese government, this system has deepened Uyghur discontent and exacerbated conflict. To support this thesis, the paper presents both a historical analysis of policy changes over time in Xinjiang and a close study of current policies in the region.

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Violent Separatism in Xinjiang: A Critical Assessment

 

The East-West Center, 1 January 2004

By James Millward — Xinjiang is an arid region three times the size of France in the northwestern corner of the People’s Republic of China, bordering on Mongolia, Russia, and several Central Asian countries. Just over half of the region’s population of nearly 20 million is composed of Turkic-speaking, traditionally Muslim peoples, including over 1 million Kazakhs and some 9 million Uyghurs.

From its conquest by the Qing empire in the mid-eighteenth century until its incorporation in the PRC in 1949, there have been several efforts to wrest all or part of Xinjiang from Beijing’s control. Though this restiveness is often portrayed as an enduring “clash of civilizations” between Chinese and Muslim realms, both the participants and the causes of these episodes have been more diverse than this simplistic formula allows. Indeed, Turkic or Uyghur nationalism has been a far more salient ideological feature than religious zeal. After 1949, despite some Islamic-colored unrest in southern Xinjiang, disturbances in the region corresponded with the political and economic disruptions of the Great Leap Forward (1959-61) and Cultural Revolution (1966-76).

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