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The Uygur ethnic minority (5)

(People's Daily)

11:16, August 08, 2011

Uprisings and Foreign Intervention

Not long after the outbreak of the Opium War, the Uygurs and Huis in Kuqa, influenced by rebellions of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom and the Nian Army uprisings by ethnic minority peasants in Yunnan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, launched an armed uprising in 1864. People in Urumqi, Shache (Yarkant), Ili, Barkol, Qitai, Hami, Mori, Jimsar and Changji responded. Uprisings against the Qing court swept Xinjiang, and several separatist regimes came into being. However, a handful of national and religious upper elements usurped the fruits of the uprisings under the cloak of "ethnic interest" and "religion," and became self-styled kings or khans. The warfare that ensued among them brought still greater catastrophes to the local people.

Britain fostered Yukub Beg, the General Commander of the Kokand Khanate in 1865, who invaded Xinjiang and established the Zhedsar Khanate (Seven-City Khanate). Yukub Beg was a tool in the hands of Britain and Tsarist Russia, who wanted to split Xinjiang. He exercised cruel rule and, in the name of Allah, killed 40,000 non-Muslims in southern Xinjiang. His persecution was also extended to Islamic believers, who were tried at unfair "religious courts." The local people had to shoulder the war burdens, supplying warring factions with food grain, fuel, vehicles and draught animals, and the local economy suffered catastrophic damage. Bankrupt peasants fled, and some had to sell their children for a living. The slave trade boomed at local bazaars.

To preserve Russia's vested interest and maintain an equilibrium in influence with Britain in Central Asia, the Tsar, behind the back of the Qing Court, signed illegal commercial and trade treaties with Yukub Beg. Russia claimed that it could not "sit idle" while there were uprisings in the provinces in western China, and in the name of "recovery and defense upon request," it sent troops to occupy Ili in 1871 and started a 10-year period of colonial rule. The Russian troops forced people of the Uygur, Kazak, Hui, Mongolian and Xibe tribes into designated zones in a "divide and rule" policy. Many Uygurs had to flee their home towns, and moved to Huicheng and Dongshan.

It was in the interest of all ethnic groups to smash the Yukub Beg regime and recover Ili. So many local people supported the Qing troops when they overthrew Yukub Beg and recovered Xinjiang in 1877. However, not long after the Qing government had signed the "Sino-Russian Treaty of Peking" and the "Tahcheng Protocol on the Delimitation of the Sino-Russian Border," whereby China was compelled to cede 440,000 square kilometers of land to Russia, the Qing Court again concluded the "Ili Treaty" with Russia in 1881. Although China recovered Ili, it lost another 70,000 square kilometers of territory west of the Korgas River, and was charged nine million roubles compensation. On the eve of its withdrawal from Ili, Tsarist Russia coerced more than 10,000 Uygur, Hui, Mongolian, Kazak and Kirgiz people to move to Russia. Farmland, irrigation facilities, houses and orchards were devastated and food grain and animals looted. Five of nine cities in Ili became virtually ruins, and the Uygurs in the nine townships on the right bank of the Ili River were reduced to poverty.

The Qing government decided to make the Western Region -- formerly ruled by the general stationed in Ili -- a province named Xinjiang, a step of important significance for local development and the strengthening of the north-west border defense against imperialist aggression. Ties between the area and central China became closer, and there was greater unity between the Uygurs and other ethnic groups in the common struggle against imperialism and feudalism.

After the Revolution of 1911 which overthrew the Qing Dynasty, Qing rule was replaced by feudal warlords. Sheng Shicai, who claimed to be progressive, usurped power in Xinjiang in the "April 12" coup of 1933.

In the same year, Britain encouraged Mohamed Imin, who dreamed of a greater Turkey, to found the Hotan Islamic Republic, and Maula Shabitida, an advocate of greater Islam, to set up the East Turkistan Islamic Republic. Japanese imperialism in 1937 masterminded the plots by Mamti and Raolebas to form an "independent" Islamic state, and Mamti, in collaboration with Mahushan, rebelled. However, all these separatist efforts failed.

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PD Online Data

  1. The Uygur ethnic minority
  2. The Kazak ethnic minority
  3. The Hui ethnic minority
  4. Mongolian ethnic minority
  5. The Tibetan ethnic minority