National Geographic : 2009 Dec
• called the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement would now be listed as a terrorist organization. tradition is the ancient capital of Kashgar. Today its Old City looks much as it must have when Marco Polo spied it a er descending through the mountain pass---a warren of passageways and ancient mud-brick homes that resemble a jumble of oversize chil- dren s blocks. Early this year the Chinese gov- ernment undertook a bold step: They began systematically bulldozing the Old City block by block and moving the inhabitants into a new compound on the edge of town. Uygurs don t discuss the subject in public for fear of imprisonment, but one man who lives in the Old City, Ahun, agreed to talk with me in his home. A rendezvous would not be easy, be- cause for days the Chinese security services had been following me. I was to wait in the main square during the busy midday until I saw him pass under Mao s statue, then follow at a dis- tance without acknowledgment. As we walked through city streets, he stopped casually to take a drink of water at a cart and later to tie his shoe. Finally we entered the Old City. e Chinese government s ostensible rea- son for demolishing the neighborhood is that it s too old to withstand an earthquake. But there may be another motive. As Ahun and I wove our way deeper into the warren, I watched his shoulders relax and his gait loosen. He was hard to trace in here. e Old City is a refuge. e homes are adjacent and interconnect- ed, and each is two stories high and arranged around a central courtyard. I followed Ahun up a ight of stairs, and when he ung open the door, it struck me that these homes are like oysters: On the outside they re drab and crude, but on the inside whitewashed plaster walls gleam, and many-colored rugs complement painted ceilings. "I pray. When I worship, I ask Allah, Rescue me my house, " Ahun said. From his house he has a clear view of a government wrecking crew at work on a nearby home. Ac- cording to the demolition schedule, they ll ar- rive at Ahun s home in three years. He was born in the house, he said. So was his father. So was his grandfather, a er his great- grandfather built it on family land. "I have two sons," he said. at s ve generations who have lived in the same house. If Hotan represents Xinjiang s past---with a Uygur majority that gathers to sharpen knives, trim beards, sing songs---then Kashgar is its present. Uygurs still make up most of the city s population, but their culture here is embattled. e government is working fast to tear it down. Given enough time, Ahun said, China s eco- nomic development will bring political change, and hope for his people. "China will be obliged to receive a democratic system," he said. But right now, for a man who prays each day for the survival of his family home, no act is too desperate. "You do not understand our rage," IDLING at a night market in Kashgar, a motorcycle taxi driver waits for his next fare. Limited job opportunities tend to stall many Uygurs as the gap widens between haves and have-nots. According to a U.S. government report, in a recent recruiting e ort the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps reserved some 800 of its 840 civil service job openings for Han workers.