Ian Johnson
Ian Johnson

Journalist and author Ian Johnson interviews Nick Holdstock, who recently published his book China’s Forgotten People: Xinjiang, Terror and the Chinese State for the New York Times. Terror attacks, and the government heavy-handed response have often blurred the image of Xinjiang´s natives. A snippet.

Ian Johnson:

Q. How is Xinjiang portrayed inside China?
A. Until fairly recently, the government’s media narrative was that everything was fine. All most people knew about Xinjiang was the ethnic minority singing and dancing shows they saw on state TV. It was only after 9/11 that the government put forth a different narrative. And after the Urumqi riots in 2009, a lot of people throughout China really had a shift in perception. Xinjiang went from being a place of benevolent minstrels and fruit to a place of violence and danger.
Q. One point you make is that violence isn’t confined to Xinjiang. There have been violent clashes across China over land and resources.
A. Yes, I wanted to put events in Xinjiang within the framework of national policy. We see a rural-urban divide across China, as well as pressures for water and other resources. In the book, I argue that the impoverishment of rural parts of Xinjiang, especially in the predominantly Uighur south of the region, isn’t the result of purely ethnic discrimination. But given all the other cultural, linguistic and religious restrictions imposed on Uighur communities, it’s unsurprising that many Uighurs perceive it that way.
Q. What do we know about reports about limits on so-called Islamic dress, or forced alcohol sales?
A. There are definitely local officials who are enforcing policies like selling alcohol in predominantly Uighur areas or trying to ban women from wearing veils. The problem is we don’t have good information. We don’t have reporters going to these places very much and we don’t have much contact with daily life in these places either.
Q. One point you make is that popular culture is a force for change in Xinjiang. You discussed one song about a guest who comes to a house and never leaves — obviously a symbol for Han Chinese moving to Xinjiang.
A.Yes, that tells you more about how people are feeling than an explosion somewhere. These songs  and poems aren’t expressing grievances inspired by jihadist ideology. They instead reflect the concerns of many ordinary people in these communities.

More in the New York Times.

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