China Daily has put out an English language article discussing the atmosphere in Kashgar one month after an unusually violent attack resulted in the death of 16 policemen. According to reporter Hu Yinan, everything has returned to normal over the past few weeks, and Kashgar residents of all stripes and colors, Uyghurs, Han, and even resident foreigners, are emphasizing that the attack was a rare anomaly.
“This city is very much coming back alive again from that horrible disaster last month,” said Nico Rodriguez, an American who has been in Kashgar since June. “It’s like nothing ever happened.”
Two of the biggest signs of the return to normalcy, according to Hu, are the worshippers gathering together at the Id Kah Mosque to observe Ramadan and the reopening of the hotel which at times has been called the Yiquan Hotel (怡全宾馆) and at other times has been dubbed the similarly written Yijin Hotel (怡金宾馆) – Hu decided to go with the later. This two outward signs of improvement apparently intersect in that the hotel has “re-opened for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan,” to provide lodging for the religious flocking to various pilgrimage sites in and around Kashgar.
Muslims walk out of the Id Kah Mosque after afternoon prayers
during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Kashgar, Xinjiang. (Hu Yinan)
“Most of our guests are Uygurs, so we only have Uygur signs in our rooms. We’re doing fine, only that tourism here has been bad in general because of the violence this year,” a Yijin staff member told China Daily. “But the degree of tension has been exaggerated by outside media. I’ve been in Kashgar for more than 40 years; people get along here just like they do elsewhere.”
Keeping in mind that this is an English language article and is more likely written with foreign audiences in mind, one cannot help but sense that much of it is designed to obliquely address numerous ongoing claims that there is a Ramadan crackdown being implemented in response to the attacks. Hu emphasizes that part and parcel with the “return to normalcy” are Uyghurs taking part, unhindered and voluntarily, in the discipline demanded of them during Ramadan. The basis for claims of a Ramadan crackdown have been various township and village level government websites that made the political faux-pas of making regulations publically viewable online, and after the news hit the Western press, indeed some of these townships took the regulations off their site, but so far it seems that the Kashgar government has not at least publicly discussed Ramadan regulations, and so the actual extent of Ramadan restrictions throughout Xinjiang remains unknown. Interestingly, Hu decided to throw in the example of an unobservant Muslim into his article:
Traditionally, Kashgar restaurants close during the day for Ramadan. Some were closed; others remained open for business, serving lamb kebabs, fruits and tea throughout the day.
When asked about Ramadan dietary restrictions, a veiled female Uygur shopkeeper, who was eating sunflower seeds on a lazy afternoon, pounded on her husband’s chest and said: “It’s in there!”
“Why need it here?” she said in broken Mandarin while pointing at her own mouth.
Perhaps implying that if any Uyghurs are not observing Ramadan or if any Uyghur restaurants are remaining open, it’s on their own decision. Maybe readers from Kashgar can comment on the restaurant situation there; in Urumqi, Uyghur restaurants are staying open but have notably fewer patrons during the day and become very crowded after sunset.
Naturally, Uyghur testimony plays a big role on any commentary on the atmosphere in Kashgar.
Guli, a 19-year-old from Kashgar’s Bachu county, is aware that there have been heightened security measures, but they hardly affect her. “I don’t feel them. Young people like us don’t normally observe the fast anyway; only the older generation does, and I don’t see how they can be prevented from doing so,” she said.
“Why should I (be afraid)?” she continued. “You know what terror is? Terror is the bad thing that happens when you least expect it to. What happens around the clock is called life, not terror.”
“There is little feeling of terror here, unless you want to feel it. We’re just living the same old lives, ” she added.
Nurlan, a 56 year-old Muslim taxi driver, said the August bombing is the most brutal attack he has yet seen, and that such tragedies will not be replicated. “I observe the fast. We all follow the Holy Scriptures here, so you always have many more good people than bad,” he said.
“I think Kashgar is safe – safer than most places, and definitely those to the west of us. Whatever other people may say, nothing can destroy our lives,” he said.
Though, as is normally the case with studying Xinjiang, we can only see tiny bits of the big picture and must speculate what’s going on in between, because as long as we’re working with media coverage, for every Uyghur who says one thing, you can find a Uyghur who says something else. I do, however, see the logic in Nurlan’s observation that Xinjiang is probably much safer than “those to the west of us,” probably referring to the Central Asian states who are having a tougher time dealing with transnational religious movements. Nonetheless, in spite of Nurlan’s commentary, the government does see it fit every now and then to point out that that which happens in Central Asia also could very likely come to Xinjiang (if it already hasn’t).
I also respect the power of Nurlan’s observation that “Whatever other people may say, nothing can destroy our lives.” I believe a statement such as this not only rings true in general but also is a neutral statement that doesn’t necessarily take either side of the Xinjiang unrest.
But the ethnically Han owner of the Yijin, who asked that her name not be used, is undeterred. “I know they are not against us,” she said.
Spot the irony? Not a single of the Han Chinese interviewed for the article are named, though the American and Uyghur sources are.