Uyghur Grape Merchants Suffer Losses Amid Party Congress Clampdown

Radio Free Asia, 7 December 2017

By Shohret Hoshur – Grape and raisin production in Xinjiang’s Turfan (in Chinese, Tulufan) prefecture accounts for over 80 percent of China’s total, and has helped China become the world’s third-largest producer of raisins and the world’s largest producer of green raisins, according to a 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Xinjiang’s grape industry has long been dominated by the region’s majority Uyghur population, but sources told RFA that Han Chinese migrants made significant gains on controlling the market this year because they had not been made to attend “Congress studies” like their Uyghur competitors.

One Han Chinese man, who owns a grape warehouse in Beshkerem township, in the seat of Kashgar (Kashi) prefecture, confirmed that his business had been exceptionally good this year due to a profitable harvest.

“The minimum I will supply to buyers is one ton of grapes,” he said.

But even Han Chinese grape merchants acknowledged that the clampdown during the Party Congress had affected their sales.

“There were so few people visiting the market [during the Congress], that we couldn’t sell our stock,” he said.

In April, sources told RFA that the proliferation of electric water pumps for large-scale farming and oil exploration in Turfan has all but dried up an elaborate set of wells used by Uyghur residents, known as the karez water system.

The karez system consists of some 1,100 wells linked by hand-dug underground canals that have irrigated local agriculture for 2,000 years and once provided an important oasis for merchant caravans traveling the Silk Route through the Taklamakan desert between China and the West.

But after centuries of supplying local residents with the water they need to eke out an existence in the harsh desert environment, nearly 90 percent of Turfan’s wells have run dry as large-scale farmers extract water and petroleum companies drill at an increasingly rapid rate, the sources said.

Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.