P.K.BALACHANDRAN | 22 JULY, 2019
China White Paper says Uygur Muslim Separatism Has No Historical Basis
Uygur culture syncretic
On Sunday, China issued a White Paper (WP) on the demand for separation by the Uygur Muslims of Xinjiang in northwest China. Entitled: “Historical Matters Concerning Xinjiang”, the WP argues at length that the Uygurs’ demand has no historical basis.
The WP states that Islam is not an indigenous Xinjiangese religion and that the tendency of Islam’s modern-day practitioners to become separate and exclusive goes against the role played of the Uygurs in the development of the multi-ethnic Xinjinagese culture and the cultural symbiosis on which the larger Chinese culture has been built over the part 5000 years.
Uygur culture has always been a syncretic one like the broader Chinese culture of which it is part, the WP says.
It contends that the Uygurs have always been better off being part of China than being outside it. To prove this, it says that Uygurs have, in the past, joined Chinese dynasties in the Central Region to defend China against usurpers and enemies, including the Turks from Central Asia.
The WP corrects the impression that the Uygurs are ethnic “Turks”. Their language is Turkic but they are not “Turks” just as Uzbeks or Khyrgyz are not Turks though their language is Turkic.
The paper points out that there has never been a “Turkistan” as such, and that the term “Turkistan” was coined by Westerners in the 18 th., and the 19 th., centuries to denote a particular geographic area. Therefore, there is no case for forming an “East Turkistan” in Xinjiang.
The WP categorically states that “no individual or organization will be allowed to use religion to interfere in administration, judicial affairs, education, marriage and birth control, to hinder social order, work order and life order, to oppose the Communist Party of China and China’s socialist system, or to undermine ethnic solidarity and national unity.”
“China is a unified multi-ethnic country, and the various ethnic groups in Xinjiang have long been part of the Chinese nation. Throughout its long history, Xinjiang’s development has been closely related to that of China. Historically, the Chinese nation was formed and developed through cultural communication, exchanges and integration between peoples in the Central Plains and in other regions,” the WP says.
But things have been changing lately due to permicious external influences, the WP points out. “Hostile forces in and outside China, especially separatists, religious extremists and terrorists, have tried to split China and break it apart by distorting history and facts. They deny the fact that Xinjiang has been a part of China’s territory where various ethnic groups have lived together, many cultures have communicated with each other, and different religions have coexisted since ancient times.”
“They call Xinjiang ‘East Turkistan’ and clamor for independence. They attempt to separate ethnic groups in Xinjiang from the Chinese nation and ethnic cultures in the region from the diverse but integrated Chinese culture.”
“The advocacy of this so-called state has become a political tool and program for separatists and anti-China forces attempting to split China,” the WP charges.
The WP says that the Uygur ethnic group came into being through a long process of migration and integration. In Xinjiang, different cultures and religions coexist, and ethnic cultures have been fostered and developed “in the embrace of the Chinese civilization.”
The WP argues that the Uygurs have no right to claim that Islam is indigenous to Xinjiang and that Islam is the sole defining principle of the Uygur people.
“Islam is neither an indigenous nor the sole belief system of the Uygur people. It was not until the turn of the 9th and 10th centuries, when Islam spread into the region, that the Islamic culture of the Arab civilization – which dates back to the 7th century – began to exert an influence on ethnic cultures in Xinjiang.”
And conversion of the Uygurs to Islam was forced the WP claims. “Religion can exert an influence on culture in two ways: willing acceptance, and forced acceptance through cultural conflict or even religious wars. In the case of Xinjiang, Islam entered mainly through the latter. This caused serious damage to the cultures and arts of the various ethnic groups in Xinjiang created in earlier periods when Buddhism was popular in the region.”
However, over time, Islam took became syncretic and it was no problem till very recently due to outside influences.
“As to the incoming Islamic culture, the ethnic cultures in Xinjiang both resisted and assimilated it in a selective manner, and adapted it to China’s realities,” the WP says.
Emphasising the wholesome effects of cultural exchange and assimination in contrast to the ill-effects of exclusivism and separatism, the White Paper says: “Having a stronger sense of identity with Chinese culture is essential to the prosperity and development of ethnic cultures in Xinjiang. Throughout history, whenever the central government exercised effective governance over Xinjiang and the society of the region was stable, exchanges and communication between ethnic cultures in Xinjiang and the culture of the Central Plains ran smoothly, and the economy and culture of Xinjiang flourished and grew prosperous.”
Xinjiang was formally included in Chinese territory in the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD). Later dynasties in the Central Plains, some strong, some weak, kept closer or looser contact with the Western Regions in which Xinjiang fell. But all of these dynasties regarded the Western Regions as part of Chinese territory and exercised the right of jurisdiction over Xinjiang, the WP points out.
Though military might was used to buttress Central suzerainty over Xinjiang, for the most part, ruling Uygur clans had voluntarily subjected themselves to Central Chinese rule, the WP says.
“The Kingdom of Khotan (232 BC-AD 1006) asserted that it was related by blood to the emperor of the Tang Dynasty and changed its surname to Li, the surname of the Tang emperor. In the Song Dynasty, local regimes of the Western Regions paid tribute to the Song rulers. The king of Uyghur Kingdom of Gaochang called the Song emperor ‘Uncle’ and called himself ‘Nephew in the Western Regions’, while the Kara-Khanid Khanate (840-1212) sent envoys many times to pay tribute to the Song court.
The WP asserts that in history, Chinese territory has experienced periods of division and unification, but unification and development have always been the overall trend. Small kingdoms or separatist regimes existed in the Central Plains in different periods; similarly, Xinjiang also witnessed several local regimes dividing the region.
“But these were all local regimes within the territory of China; they were never independent countries. These local regimes had a strong sense of national identity, and acknowledged themselves as branches or vassals of the Central Plains authorities.”
Uygurs helped China’s central authorities to defeat the Turks.The Tang Dynasty (618 AD to 907 AD) defeated the Eastern Turkic Khaganate (583-630) in 630, and joined forces with the Uygurs to eliminate the Western Turkic Khaganate (583-657) in 657, thus uniting the Western Regions under central rule.
In 682, the remnants of the Eastern Turks that were relocated in the north rebelled against the Tang court and established the Second Turkic Khaganate (682-744). This was quelled by the Tang in 744 with the help of the Uygurs and Karluk peoples. Kutlug Bilge Khagan, leader of the Uygurs was granted a title by the Tang court, and established a Khanate in Mobei.
Right through history Xinjiang has been key to China’s prosperty as it is on the ancient Silk Route to West Asia and Europe. Being on the Silk Route, Xinjiang had also gained economically and culturally through the intermingling of different ethnic groups.
“The Xinjiang region experienced a wealth of cultural diversity and coexistence. Long periods of exchange and integration between the culture of the Central Plains and those of the Western Regions drove not only the development of various ethnic cultures in Xinjiang, but also the diversified and integrated Chinese culture as a whole,” the WP says.