Written by Val Thompson, Founder & Publisher, International Focus Magazine – Houston
My journey to Xinjiang, China began with an invitation from the State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). However, it wouldn’t be my first visit to China. I’ll need to take you to 2001, when my eldest son, a graduate of the University of Houston, applied for an English teaching job in the PRC. He had an earlier experience in China as an exchange student and literally fell in love with the PRC and its culture. Also, I must admit, growing up in the western world, I had an uncomfortable trepidation about my son traveling to an unknown far eastern region of the world. Unfortunately, at the time, I had only traveled out of the US to our neighboring country Mexico. As any concerned parent, I decided to visit the PRC in 2002. I needed to understand where this love my eldest had for the PRC was coming from. It only took a couple of days for me to understand his feeling of affection for the People’s Republic of China.
I found the people of the PRC to be friendly, open and receptive, which can be the indicators of a mature society. After a couple of weeks into my visit, I was pleased with his decision and became interested as well in what the PRC had to offer. I continued to visit annually and watched the amazing growth of China over the next seventeen years. Somewhere midway of that time, I started hearing and reading of a very ambitious project named the “Belt and Road Initiative”, a rebirth of the ancient Silk Road. I found that very interesting because of the implications, not only commercially for the PRC. But to be successful, it would need a collaborative effort bringing many nations together to agree and sign off on such an ambitious undertaking; and that really peaked my interest. Bringing people together toward a common interest can be extremely powerful.
The Xinjiang province is considered the Core Zone of the “Silk Road Economic Belt”, which is the primary reason for me to accept the invitation to visit as the publisher/reporter of International Focus Magazine-Houston. Also invited were journalists and reporters from around the globe! This group of very talented journalists were some of the best I’ve encountered representing Afghanistan, Egypt, Belgium, Bangladesh, Belarus, Jordan, Japan, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, India, Malaysia, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Russia, UAE, USA, Switzerland, and a Geneva Delegation. Also, joining us were 15 staff members of the Information Office of the State Council of the PRC. The State Council certainly made a global effort inviting some of the world’s regional news reporters to its Silk and Road Economic Belt Media event.
Xinjiang Autonomous region is located in the northwestern part of the PRC with more than 1.66 million sq. kilometers. It is the largest provincial level administrative area in China. It borders eight countries: Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Many ethnic nationalities from the Xinjiang region, originally from some of the nations mentioned, have influenced Xinjiang province culturally and religiously. They’ve worked the lands together for Centuries and created a dynamic civilization. The region has been an area where various ethnic nationalities and religious beliefs co-exist with Uyghur being the dominant ethnic group inhabiting the region. However, there are others as the Han, Kazakh, Mongolian, Hui, Kirgiz, Manchu, Xibe, Tajik, Daur, Uzbek, Tatar and Russians. Many ethnic groups from the larger Eurasia area religions and beliefs are protected including Islam, Hindu, Buddhist and others. As Chinese citizens, belief in religion and or no belief in religion are both protected by law in the region by the PRC’s policy of freedom of religious belief.
For thousands of years Xinjiang has been the bridge to link the transport of the Eurasia continent. This region was the connecting point for exchanges of goods and ideas of the ancient East and West civilizations. An ancient corridor know as the “Silk Road”, our first stop, was in the capitol city of Xinjiang, Urumqi, China. The group and I visited Xinjiang Islamic Institute where students of the faith were being taught the message of the Quran that Islam is a peaceful belief. We also visited several theaters as well as the Xinjiang International Grand Bazaar. Urumqi has science and technology companies and an Intelligent Machinery Industrial Park. Forty miles west of Urumqi you will find the city of Changji. There I found the Agriculture Museum very interesting with plants and special techniques for growth on exhibit.
The Exhibition of Major Terrorist Attacks and Violent Crimes in Xinjiang was my next visit. The exhibit was eye-opening, I had no idea the PRC was dealing with extremist activity. It was very difficult to visit. The exhibit showed weapons used by religious extremists and terrorist attacks of violent crimes. One exhibit was shown the length to which extremists would go in bomb-making and deadly attacks on innocent civilians in the name of religion. There were photos and videos captured from terrorists of beheading and brutal acts of violence. These acts of violence were committed by twisted extremists in the name of the world’s most peaceful beliefs.
We visited the Xinjiang Medical University Changji Branch where many Eastern preventative health practices were performed The next day there was a flight to Korla, Kashgar- Kizilsu Kizilsu Autonomous Prefecture. The visit to Bayingol Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture Museum, the Korla Economic Zone and Markcor Chemical Industrial Park was very interesting and included a visit to Yanqi County and Cultural Center, Cultural Troupe. We also learned about the situation of Hua’ er Arts and Culture.
The Hejing County Village Kindergarten visit was quite fun! The young children of the village, ages six to seven years, were actively as happy to see us as we were to see them. It was a memorable encounter!
The PRC’s Initiative for poverty alleviation project seemed to be very effective for the Ulangazar Village and the Bahrenhar Morden town in Hejing county.
A visit to Kashgar Vocation Skills Educational and Training Center, which I found well organized with young people,was mostly of the UYGHUR ethnicity. The young people, men and women, were, or could be, victims of extremist teaching, now were learning a vocational skill and being taught a better way of life. I’m certain these young people can one day become positive contributors to their community. They were well fed,and they had good sleeping conditions. They were allowed to practice their peaceful religious beliefs. I interviewed several of them; they seemed very happy; and they were treated well by their supervisors. For those who want to believe these young people may have been coerced, I say you can’t fake happiness; and happiness is exactly what I saw. The highlight of the visit for me was eating lunch with them! Next there was a visit to the Mosque in the village seven and families at Wukusal town.
The visit to the Ancient City of Kashgar with its ceremony, clay pottery, musical instruments and remodeled town was a stop I believe we all enjoyed. After that there was a stop at the Etgal Mosque and then on to Kashgar Comprehensive Free Trade Zone. The Kashgar night market was fascinating and very tasty with many local food vendors! Later that day, we made a visit to Wuqia county Kizilsu Kirghiz Autonomous Prefecture, Tongxin Camel Breeding Cooperative and a Camel Hump Fine Hair Co.
We visited another education training center in Atushi. And as before, the people at the training center were learning skills that could offer them a better life out of the poverty of their community.
During each day of the visit in the region, we were provided with great food and fabulous entertainment! This is one experience I hope to revisit someday to see what I believe will be a safe and prosperous region with bustling activity and fantastic opportunities for the people of the “Belt and Road Initiative”.
The visit to the Xinjiang Autonomous region of China concluded with an impressive show of goodwill to our group and to the citizens of the People’s Republic of China.