Four Lies In Four Words
Hong Kong, China
The Chinese Communist Party lies with concision. The northwest portion of China is officially named the “Xinjiang Ugyur Autonomous Region.” Every word of the title is a lie.
”Xinjiang.” The region called Xinjiang is the ancestral and current home of the Ugyurs, a Mongol people who speak a Turkik language and practice Islam. They are not, in any way, Han Chinese.
The Ugyurs (sometimes transliterated "Uighurs") call their homeland "East Turkestan" or "Ugyuristan." The name “Xinjiang” is a Manchu Chinese portmanteau word meaning “new frontier” – which describes the region from the Chinese perspective. To the Ugyurs, it is not a frontier. It is home.
”Ugyur.” Ugyurs now comprise less than 50% of the population of Xinjiang due to decades of the central government’s population policies.
Ugyurs were reported to constitute 45.2% of the Xinjiang population in the Chinese government’s 2000 census. That being said, the Party hides the statistic in popular media. (For example, see this page and this page from a Chinese government web site and note how the pages state that Han Chinese comprise 41% of Xinjiang’s population but then lump all other ethnic groups together, leaving the Ugyur percentage unstated.)
Ugyurs comprised more than 90% of the area’s population when the People’s Republic of China was declared in 1949. In the 1950s, the central government began patriating Han Chinese into Xinjiang in a deliberate – and now successful – attempt to turn Ugyurs into a second-class minority in their own land.
”Autonomous.” All five of China’s so-called “autonomous” regions are micro-managed from Beijing. The “autonomous” regions were created in areas with substantial non-Chinese populations. (The other four “autonomous” regions are Ningxia (home of the Muslim Hui people), Guangxi (home of many southeast Asian minority groups), Inner Mongolia and Tibet.)
The top official in an “autonomous” province is the Party Secretary, who is almost always an ethnic Han Chinese. The Party Secretary, like all regional officials, is appointed. “Autonomous,” as defined by Beijing, does not include the right to elect one’s own leaders.
”Region.” The Deep South is a “region” of the United States, a part of the whole but with definable differences. Sichuan Province in southwest China – with cuisine, dialect and culture distinct from, yet related to, that of most Han Chinese – can creditably be called a “region.”
East Turkestan is a country. The Ugyurs differ from their Chinese masters in that the Ugyurs speak a different language, use a different writing system, eat different foods, look different, wear different clothes, practice a different faith, and organize themselves and their economy in different ways. They are a separate, identifiable people, and they have every right to be recognized as a nation if that is their choice.
Unfortunately, the Ugyur people are poor and ill-educated, and the Ugyur nation has the abominable luck of sitting on the geopolitically crucial terrain that links China, Russia, India and the Central Asian republics.
In other words, it isn’t called Xinjiang, it isn’t Ugyur anymore, it sure as hell isn't autonomous, and it’s definitely not a mere region.
It’s not often that four words do so much work.