Living Otherwise: Buddhist Photography on the New Silk Road

Experiencing Dispossession

For many Uyghurs this recent process has been experienced as an intensely destructive form of settler colonialism. Many people feel as though their way of life; their indigenous knowledge; their language; the very integrity of their lifeworld is being taken away from them. What makes this feeling worse is the way they are made to accept the unwanted gift of Han settlement and Chinese language education. They feel as they are losing their world while they are simultaneously becoming indebted and dependent on the Chinese state. 

As a result, many have attempted to isolate themselves further in Uyghur communities; others have appealed to the Western world for recognition; Others, still, have turned outward to other embattled Muslim communities and, in small numbers, some have turned to some form of political Islam.
These conditions are exacerbated by rising income inequality as Uyghurs are systematically excluded from (1) industrial labor, (2) colony farmwork, (3) urban construction and (4) technical jobs. In the above image you see that the wealth of the province is skewed toward Han dominated cities; while the rural heartland of the Uyghur homeland is quite poor.) In the map above we see that the per capita income in places like Qarakash in the Uyghur heartland of Khotan prefecture is 4138 yuan ($629) versus 99,000 yuan ($15,000) in Korla and 129,000 yuan ($20,000) in Karamay City where the Han settler population is concentrated. Of course some Uyghurs with access to education have found ways to succeed in the Chinese world. But many have not.

Meanwhile as recent anthropological research from scholars such at Tom Cliff has show, for longterm Han settlers (lao Xinjiang) of the province (people like Tian Lin and his family), these new developments has also been quite unsettling. While in the Maoist past the government had guaranteed the health and well-being of colony workers, in the new economy, farming on a government colony came to be seen as dead-end job.  Because of this many of the children of the settlers, set out to the city trying to find work in the new cash economy. Tian Lin was one of those migrants. He came to Ürümchi in the mid-1990s.

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