Month: March 2014

The Legacy of the Uyghur Rock Icon Exmetjan

People still remember where they were the day Exmetjan[1] died. It was Thursday, June 13, 1991. He was only 22 years old. As is common with the death of an icon, many people refused to believe he was gone. Instead rumors spread that thugs from a rival disco had knifed him in a back alley or that he had faked his death and gone abroad to marry a princess. Exmetjan had been in Ürümchi preparing for a concert across the then (relatively) open border with Kazakhstan when he died. Back in those days before the train reached Kashgar and the highway stretched across the desert to Hotan, it was difficult to carry bodies home for burial. There were no freezer trucks. After a long and bumpy ride around the desert Exmetjan arrived in his hometown of Qarakash (near Hotan) covered in celery and ice against the smell of rot. People remember when he arrived. As his official biography puts it, Exmetjan died of “an illness.” Although everyone knows he died of a heroin overdose, no …

Who are the Guang Hui Flying Tigers?

The Xinjiang Guang Hui Flying Tigers are back in the Chinese Basketball Association finals. Riding the phenomenal success of their imported stars, Americans Lester Hudson and James Singleton, a Taiwanese player named Yang Jinmin, and the support of national team players such as the Uyghur point guard Shiralijan (Xi-re-li-jiang – pictured above) and the Han center Tang Zhengdong, the team has hit its stride. They are playing on a level that rivals the intensity that Quicy Douby’s brought to the league.  There are many reasons for the quality of Xinjiang’s team, but oil and gas money (and the depth which it buys) are the main drivers of Xinjiang’s success. Where the Flying Tigers’ money comes from  The story of the Flying Tigers begins back in the 1990s with the beginning of large-scale oil and coal development during the glory days of “Uncle” Wang Lequan and Xinjiang oil man turned black-listed thug Zhou Yongkong. During those years Xinjiang became a lucrative place for China’s burgeoning caste of venture capitalists to jump into the ocean of market …

In Memory of an Artist

Memetjan Abla, a painter, teacher, husband and father, known for his subtle use of color in his elegant portraits of Uyghur urban life, was lost on flight 370 from Malaysia to Beijing. He was 35. As the New York Times reported in moving detail, he will be missed: Among the many others in Beijing waiting for word were the wife and 10-year-old daughter of Maimaitijiang Abula, an ethnic Uighur painter and art teacher from the desert oasis town of Kashgar. The family had been living in Beijing for the past two years while Mr. Abula, 35, studied here at the Chinese Academy of Oil Painting. He was traveling in the group of more than 20 Chinese calligraphers and painters honored at an exhibition at the Malaysian Oriental Arts Center in Kuala Lumpur. “She just can’t accept it,” a friend, Ku’erbanjiang Saimaiti, said on Sunday of Mr. Abula’s wife. “There’s no information at all at this moment.” Mr. Abula was proud of his hometown, in the far west, and had done interpretation there for a state …

“Double Consciousness” and the Future of Uyghur Pride

“Outlook” By Memetjan Abla In the wake of the horrific violence in Kunming, Uyghurs around the country have taken to Chinese-language social media to create distance between themselves and the killing of the innocent. The celebrity of Uyghur-Han ethnic friendship, the Guizhou kebab-seller-turned-philanthropist Alimjan (A-li-mu-jiang), put it best. Echoing the massively popular[1] Indian-American film My Name is Khan, Alimjan said “My name is Jiang and I am not a terrorist.” Many people also expressed empathy with those who experienced personal loss and pain on March 1, by writing on their weixin accounts “We are all Kunming people today.” In Uyghur-language social media Uyghurs have also condemned the crime as “ruthless and inhumane.” But in writing for Uyghur speaking audiences their responses have also been inflected with more than just outrage; their commentaries are also inflected by feelings of shame, fear and uncertainty.  As one writer identified as “Tikenkush” put it, referring to the attackers, “What were they thinking? They have cast a black shadow on Uyghur people and Islam as a religion.”  Since the attackers …