October 16, 2019

China Can't Crush Uighur Culture

“Daily headlines tell the story of China’s mass internment of Uighurs in its Xinjiang province, along with the closing and destruction of Uighur mosques and the demolition of their neighborhoods. But the press largely ignores other aspects of their identity, notably their significant cultural and intellectual achievements. These details matter, because Uighurs’ resilient culture may ultimately frustrate China’s efforts to stamp them out.

Uighurs are one of the oldest Turkic peoples and were the first to become urbanized. When the ancestors of modern Turks were still nomadic, Uighurs were settling into sophisticated cities. One of their branches, known today as the Karakhanids, had a capital at Kashgar, near China’s modern border with Kyrgyzstan. When Karakhanids conquered the great Silk Road city of Samarkand, they established a major hospital and endowed not only the doctors’ salaries but the cost of heating, lighting and food. That was 1,000 years ago, before the Normans conquered England.

Uighurs were active experimenters in religion. Besides their traditional animism, they embraced Buddhism, Manichaeism, Christianity and finally Islam. They were also among the first Turkic peoples to develop a written language. And with writing came literature and science.”

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