National Geographic : 2009 Dec
• and extremism." James Millward, the Xinjiang expert, says many Han---even o cials---sincerely believe Xinjiang faces a threat from terrorists and interlopers. "It s what they are constantly told." Eventually military forces and police clamped down on Urumqi, and there seemed no possibil- ity of further unrest. at s when the three men emerged from the mosque in the Uygur quarter, scattering people in every direction. stride up the street and back, then run at the Chinese forces. First came the single shot, which missed. e Uygurs contin- ued their charge, and I realized that the running men with their rusted swords did not expect to prevail. ey expected to die. A moment later another o cer released a burst of automatic re. e lead Uygur---the man in the owing blue shirt---fell with the sudden slackness of a thrown rag doll. His body hit the pavement, but the momentum of his sprint sent him tum- bling, and his feet ew up and over his head. For a few seconds the incident played out in tableau on the opposite sidewalk. e remain- ing two Uygurs ran into the street, and the scene became three-dimensional, with bullets ying in my direction. I ran into a nearby building and found myself in the lobby of an enormous de- partment store. People pressed themselves into corners and behind clothing displays; women wailed, and two men improvised a door lock by shoving a metal bar through the door s handles. Beyond the building s glass doors, all three of the Uygur men now lay in the street, one in- jured and two dead. Soldiers, police, and plain- clothes security o cers were ring upward, into the windows of surrounding buildings. The department store held special sig- ni cance for the Uygurs. It belonged to their heroine Rebiya Kadeer, the laundress turned mogul who had become beloved a er she be- gan to speak out against China s treatment of the Uygurs. In 1999, as an American delega- tion arrived in China to meet Kadeer, security officers arrested her. She spent the next six years in prison, then joined her exiled husband in the U.S. Her imprisonment only raised her status among her people, who regard her as the "mother of all Uygurs." She s a grandmother, just over ve feet tall, and she terri es the Chinese authorities. Men- tioning her name in Xinjiang brings swi and severe punishment. When I went with Ahun to his home in Kashgar s Old City, he spoke freely of rebellion against China s government, but when I mentioned Rebiya Kadeer, he froze. "If China nds this," he said, pointing to my voice recorder and then reaching for my throat in mock vengeance, "on Judgment Day I will catch your neck." A er the July riots, trucks with loudspeak- ers circled the public squares of Urumqi, pro- claiming that the unrest had been organized by Kadeer from her o ce in Washington, D.C. Chinese o cials accused her in news reports A UYGUR DISCO in Hotan attracts young couples to a nightlife of their own. e scene belies the o cial Chinese portrait of Uygurs as "colorful, quaint folks," says China scholar James Millward. "In the cities they are modern and worldly." Many Uygurs also ght the separatist label. But unless more of Xinjiang s wealth is shared and their culture is respected, more Uygurs will demand change.