January 12th, 2012
10:59 AM GMT
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Kashgar, China (CNN) – China is investing hundreds of billions of dollars to modernize some of the historic trading towns on its western frontier. But critics say modernization is happening at a cost to the region’s cultural heritage.

In the ancient market city of Kashgar, traders have been wheeling and dealing for thousands of years. For centuries, the city was dominated by the Uighurs - a Turkic speaking Muslim people - now considered a minority group in China.

The government is now investing heavily to revive this sleepy backwater and transform it into a modern day boom town.

Yet critics say there the Uighur's cultural heritage is being lost.

Photographer Wu Xiangqian has been documenting the changes to the historic city, considered home to some of the best Central Asian architecture.

"What I shot a few years ago has already disappeared," he told CNN’s Eunice Yoon. "I'm concerned the transformation could destroy the traditional culture."

Traditional Central Asian homes are being demolished as part of a mass modernization program.

Where homes have traditionally been made of adobe, new ones are being built with concrete and brick. The government says that these new homes are much safer but some locals argue that they have been living in adobe homes for centuries.

The modern makeover extends to other parts of Western China, including the provincial capital of Urumqi.

Protests have erupted in the region in the past, triggered, some say, by brewing resentment as more Han Chinese migrate to this region of more than 8 million Uighurs.

In Kashgar, silk trader Ma Shoucheng, a Chinese Muslim, tells his Uighur friends to embrace the changes.

"A stable environment has offered us Muslims good business opportunities," he said.  "I tell my Uighur friends to get more education so they have relevant skills."

Wu Xiangqian says the government is offering locals compensation to rebuild their homes and he believes the government wants to preserve the main characteristics of the old town as much as it can.

But some in Kashgar say they still feel a sense of loss as their ancient city moves towards a new era.

soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. chinese

    No change=>whine about no change. =>no job,no hope,no future....
    Change =>whine about change. =>destoring "cultural heritage"...
    You will be hated what ever you do. ROFL :)
    So best way is choose one way and go as far as you can before the riots.

    January 12, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  2. CNN

    Romney is very happy.
    McCain is very happy.
    Romney and McCain are more happy when they are together show the finger against other coutries.
    and Romney and McCain will maximize their happiness,
    if the WWIII will happen under their rule.

    January 12, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  3. Burkut

    TO the CHINESE Commentor:
    Change? It depends on what type change it is. If it is change by choice, yes there will be Future filled with HOPE! In this case, outcome will be "Harmonious society everyone is craving for".
    If it is "ENFORCED change", It causes whining and resistance. In this case, outcome will be "unstable society that filled with FEAR" that all sane person wants to avoid. you will be loved if you do the first, and you will be hated if you do the second. Apparently you have been doing the second. So the best way is to choose ONLY first and make it as best as you can!
    Don't daydream that you change "Uyghurs" the way you wanted them to be... respect their choice! I don't think that you are a dumb person NOT to understand this logic! Or are you "DONG ZHUANG BU DONG?".

    January 12, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  4. Choco monster

    Too late, they killed their culture with Mao. Now they don't know who they are, so they try to pretend to be more Western than the West, while at the same time trying to relive their past glory (that they destroyed). The sad result of a madman.

    January 12, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  5. AlanBenLee

    Burkut, read the article carefully before you make comments. Where in this article can you find the word "forced" or "enforced"?

    The fact is: the government is offering locals compensation to rebuild their homes and he believes the government wants to preserve the main characteristics of the old town as much as it can.

    January 12, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  6. That'snotTrue:[

    @Coco monster

    That's all Americans can go on about... have you been to China? Plenty of culture uneffected by the western ways...in Beijing there are the palaces, Xian's pretty much a historical city ect...
    People like you are the reason for America's currently downfall, ignorance & living in the 1950s, may you never reproduce!

    January 12, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
  7. Burkut

    Read the below carefully and thoughtfully: Does this sound "by choice" to you?If it were by choice, why there would be argument from locals?
    Where homes have traditionally been made of adobe, new ones are being built with concrete and brick. The government says that these new homes are much safer but some locals argue that they have been living in adobe homes for centuries.
    Ofcourse, Mr. Wu believes the propaganda of government that 1) they offered compensation to locals 2) wants to preserve the main characteristics of the old town. But can locals dare to speak their viewpoints as they want such as if the compensation is enough? if demolition is agreed by the owner? and the motivation or long term strategy of this so-called transformation? Some affected locals feel sense of loss because they can not speak their mind. If this is not "enforced transformation" I oon't know what it is.
    Ancient Chinese philosopher Kong Fu ZI said: "If you listen to one side, things will become blurry, but if you listen to two sides, things will become clear". I hope you go to Kashgar and interview locals with "good intention". Alas, nowadays Not many people pay attention to what Kong Fu Zi said centuries ago.
    Wu Xiangqian says the government is offering locals compensation to rebuild their homes and he believes the government wants to preserve the main characteristics of the old town as much as it can.

    But some in Kashgar say they still feel a sense of loss as their ancient city moves towards a new era.

    January 12, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  8. Burkut

    Hello again AlanBenLee:
    Your fact below is the fact with the classic Chinese characteritics! Don't just listen to one side, my friend!
    The fact is: the government is offering locals compensation to rebuild their homes and he believes the government wants to preserve the main characteristics of the old town as much as it can.

    January 12, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  9. Burkut

    Mr. Lee:
    Myanmar just signed peace agreement with Kachin and other ethnic minorities... that is a good news.
    Can you please recommend the powerful Chinese government to learn one or two things from Myanmar Junta? You seem like a good preacher, buddy!

    January 12, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  10. Blahblah

    @Burkut Relationship between Han and Uighurs were pretty good untill US decided to mess it up by sending money and weapom to these "good" Muslim in late 1980s. (at that time Talibans are "good Muslim too.) The Ulighur culture are well preserved as these people are keeping their languages and religions. The ironic fact these Ulighurs don't accept any other people rather than themselves in their community even other Muslim groups.

    Myanmar is fighting a civil war with these minorities for almost 60 years, there are tens of broken peace agreements, why Chinese should learn from Myanmar?

    January 12, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  11. Blahblah

    Chinese should learn from Americans the way to hanlde the native people:
    1. Reduce their population to less than 5%.
    2. Take most of the natives' lands, and privatize the lands.
    3. Create a few reserves and force the native to move in.
    4. Force the native to learn the official language and declare there own language illegal.
    5. Convert the native to main stream religion.
    6. After all steps above done, apology to them and make the survived natives full citizens.
    7. Legalize gambling and make alcohol cheap in reserves.
    8. Done. No more ethnic tension.

    January 12, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
  12. Blahblah

    The British way to handle the native people,
    1. Force the natives to exchange the lands with virus contaminated blankets .
    2. The virus will reduce the half of the native population
    3. Natives will rebel, kill the half of another half natives.
    4. Force the natives to learn English and make them Christians.
    5. Force them to sign a deal that the lands belong the Crown.
    6. Delare a colony.
    7. Done.

    January 13, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  13. concu

    Hey guys,
    We are living in the fast lane now. People need some thing news and cool, so it OK to change and enjoy before the asteroids landing on our planet. Life is too short eat desert first.

    January 13, 2012 at 12:47 am |
  14. USA

    and China should learn another thing from USA:
    pretend to be moral teacher and justice police of the world.
    in this world, only the people in USA has the highest moral level.
    everything they did is moral,
    against USA is against moral.
    China's media should repeat this 1000 times.
    cause after 1000 times the most disgusting and ugly people in the world will be the people with highest level such as the people of USA.

    January 13, 2012 at 12:51 am |
  15. kcm367

    The major point is, it's WESTERNization, not MODERNization.

    January 13, 2012 at 1:31 am |
  16. wHOCARES..

    ITS CHINA'S LAND!!! LET THEM DO WHAT THEY WANT! they want modernization? then let them have it, they want to destroy cultural heritage? then let them.... never stop them from doing this before, china is known for stealing heritage and destroying heritage.... good example i just read is china thinks manchuria and the eastern part of china was always chinese yet why do so many more koreans live there than the chinese? also mongolian throat singing is an ancient form of singing that the mongols enjoyed on their free times.... china always had their annoying lingtongling music and now they claim throat singing was always a part of china.... hmmm funny right?

    January 13, 2012 at 2:13 am |
  17. damien

    I see it in China, destroy the old, Chinese dont like old buildings, I have written about this on guest article for http://www.warchat.org

    January 13, 2012 at 2:15 am |
  18. rory wong

    Why i don't see any Fort or any tent for native indian in the middle of U.S. you guy lose all the culture? living conditions are quit different from culture. why don't you go to live in the cave and eat raw meat?

    January 13, 2012 at 2:44 am |
  19. shoe67

    NEWS -. BANK RUN -TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO.CARIBBEAN. WEST INDIES, REPUBLIC , ROYAL , FIRST CITIZEN and SCOTIABANK . Customers are simultaneously closing their accounts fearing imminent bankruptcy and insolvency. Already failed in the same countries two large banks CLICO and HCU. [ Global News Network ]

    January 13, 2012 at 2:47 am |
  20. Kyle H. Davis

    CNN again with its slightly skewed reporting.

    Uighur might be a minority in China, but they are a majority in their native land (slowly being assimilated by Han – as what has happened in nearly every "autonomous region").

    Of COURSE they are going to be wiped out... and the Han Chinese are all fooling themselves into thinking "Look, we brought them development"... Same crud we used ourselves when wiping out Native Americans.

    The only difference is... this isn't the 19th Century.

    January 13, 2012 at 2:58 am |
  21. Lilly

    The destruction of the Uighurs culture is the ENTIRE point of this rapid modernization and it will be forced upon them one way or another. The Uighurs are a thorn in China's side and since they are at least a century behind the developed world when it comes to human rights, they will feel no guilt about it and there will be very little resistance to the process.

    January 13, 2012 at 4:05 am |
  22. 2Bob

    I f there were no Chinese or Americans contributing here there might be some intelligent debate.
    Nothing like a little blind patriotism to get the blood going!

    Thankfully I realise you are not representative of the wider Chinese and American populations – unfortunately it seems CNN columns just tend to attract the zealots and xenophobes from the respective populations.

    January 13, 2012 at 4:50 am |
  23. Choco monster

    What does the native american deal have to do with what china is doing in 2012?

    January 13, 2012 at 6:25 am |
  24. Choco monster

    To the "not true:[" guy, you reproduced too much. Lololol.

    January 13, 2012 at 6:26 am |
  25. mm_01

    Funny, poseurs. What makes you think that you know what the people there want. Maybe they want mordernization, just as you do. Just because they are less developed than you are, that doesn't mean they should remain their poverty to keep the god dame historic tradition you modern people cherish the most.

    January 13, 2012 at 6:38 am |
  26. santos

    "Those Europeans treated natives worse so it's OK if we do it too!"

    Yeah, right. By that logic we could justify any sort of ethnic repression. I doubt any Han Chinese would switch positions with the Uyghur people.

    January 13, 2012 at 7:29 am |
  27. Walter Fekula

    Wife and I had an extensive to China seven years ago. One of the many highlights was our visit to Kashgar. Yes, it was thrilling to witness a glimpse of the Uighurs and the unchanged way of life. A proud, wonderful people. But it was easy to realize that with the invasion of the Han Chinese, the way of life of the Uighurs was rapidly coming to an end. Sad and inevitable.

    January 13, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  28. Zedek

    Hey Blahblah,
    Did you forget this is 21st century? Did you forget what happened to Hitler, Saddam and Milosevic?
    Look at the mirror before you suggesting Chinese take heinous steps toward Uyghurs!

    January 13, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  29. kilamc

    Keep historic relick and the resident for modern people to have fun, comparatively local development is nothing.

    January 13, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  30. wiasdldfkj

    Funny how in another article, CNN blames ethnic Lebonese MUSLIMS for terrorizing Bangkok, now they are pretending to care about MUSLIM uighers in China? How hypocritical and biased can you be? It's bad enough that Israel/US stick their noses into Thai affairs and demonize MUSLIMS. Now they LOOOOVE MUSLIMS simply because there is a minor issue in China?

    In America: muslims = terrorists
    In China: muslims = victims?

    As a proud Muslim, I support China and know America is the #1 propaganda exporter in the world! How about instead of pretending to care about "native" cultures, you Americans stop denying Hawaiians their independence and culture. It's so much easier to focus on other peoples problems isn't it? Especially when you've never met an Uigher in your life.

    January 13, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  31. hayam

    You think you are a proud Muslim...I will spit on so-called muslims of your type. You hypocrits are to blame to Uyghur's misery nowadays...you don't know what uyghurs are going through now. China is intensifying oppression of Uyghurs under the name of "war on terror". Uyghurs even can not practice their religion freely... and you think china is right? and Uyghurs are wrong? You are one selfish hypocrit. yes, uyghurs are victims in China, and becoming victims worldwide because of hypocrits like you...
    Which Muslim country ever raised voice regarding the sufferings of Uyghurs? they all selling uyghurs to China. If you think America is the worst, why don't you invite millions of Chinese and let them stay in your country?

    January 13, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  32. Uyghur

    Hey wiasdldfkj:
    If you are Muslim, I am NOT. I rather be a atheist than be a co-religionist with people like who don't or can NOT differentiate the wrong from right, justice from injustice. But luckily you don't fit the definition of true Muslim: A true Muslim is who stands for the weak, and oppressed, who stands for justice and rightous.
    Majority of Uyghurs think America is a great country. Who saved Kosovars from Butcher Milosevic who was China's ally. Are you blind or deaf? I think your soul is dark...Please be enlightened with Iman...

    January 13, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  33. wioefjksldfjds

    @Uyghur and hayam:

    Clearly you 2 are not true Uighers either. You blame China for modernizing Xinjiang yet you type pro-American propaganda on your "modern" computer. If you truly want to keep Uigher culture alive, you wouldn't be trolling the comments section of CNN and bashing China every chance you get.

    I have been to China and I have eaten Kabobs with the local Hui and Uighers and true Muslims do not seek conflict, hatred, or violence. Chinese people are some of the most sincere, practical, kind, and peaceful people I've ever met. I've seen first hand what America has done to my homeland and people who defend America's violence make me sick.

    Chinese people didn't didn't kill me nephew and sister – Americans did! You Uighers who allow yourselves to be American pawns are an embarassment to TRUE MUSLIMS. You have turned your back on Allah and let politics consume you. Technically we are all Asians and should not be fighting amongst each other.

    As-Salāmu Alaykum.

    January 14, 2012 at 8:58 am |
  34. Kashgari

    wioefjksldfjds, or Should say Xiao Wang or Lao Zhu pretending to be a Muslim? You can't even spell our name yet judging others if they are true Uyghur or not? If you are who you say you are and waht you say is true, then I am sorry that your sister and nephew died in war. You see, America did not kill our sisters or nephews, but China did. America did not occupy our homeland and dumped their most retarded and unethical population there, but China did. When we needed moral support at the darkest hour, guess who has offered at least a word of condolence, America has; guess have been trying to profit from our misery? Our Muslim neighbors have. If you are really a Muslim from a Asian country, which I highly doubt, you have a lot to prove that you are a true Muslim. Killing each other for no reason, blowing up each others mosques, behadings, draging dead bodies on the streets... should I go on? These are not Muslim behaviors in my books. I do not condone America's current war in Muslim lands, I do not condone what muslims are doing to each other in thoese countries either. They had independent countries, if they knew how to be a Muslim, America would not be in the first place.

    January 14, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  35. Mike

    people and societies are constantly changing, so it is inevitable that some cultures flourish while others diminish. It is true that Uyghurs lifestyles and heritage has been heavily affected by the Han Chinese but at the same many of the the Han's traditions such as tea drinking is slowly being replaced by western styled food and drinks. We have to accept that no matter what culture it is, it won't last forever. But it will be recorded in history books.
    The Uyghurs should be content that the chinese government is pouring billions of dollars to their region. Aboriginals in north america here did not have such a generous treatment when the British and the French took over their land.

    January 14, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  36. Beefburger

    Didn't the Chinese boot out Starbucks from the Forbidden City? Wasn't having a Starbucks progress? But yet the Chinese called it "culturally insensitive".

    January 15, 2012 at 7:39 am |
  37. David Miller

    You lost your culture just because you driving on a paved road instead of stumbling on dirt? Your culture is no more than skin deep, I tell you. I always thought that culture is really in people's hearts and minds. It can only be lost, not taken away. I can see your true culture is to deny other people's advancement. If you really serious about keeping your "culture", should you not still live on trees?

    January 15, 2012 at 7:48 am |
  38. Jamal

    Judging by Kashgari/Uyghur/hayam's comments, I can only deduce that they are being paid $1 for each negative post about China/Arabs.

    America is #1 right? America truly CARES about everyone right? There's nothing in it for America to de-stabilize other nations like China right?

    What about the Austronesian independence movement going in in Indonesia? Why doesn't America care about the displaced Aborigines?

    Unlike America and Native Americans, China is not committing genocide against Uyghurs. Uyghurs are also not native to Xinjiang, they're native to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

    January 15, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  39. Wang

    You said it well Jamal! You really know the history....I don't think Ameica cares everyone's right. You are correct that Uyhgurs have never been part of China. But I think They are native where they live. Also I heard that Austronesian in Indonesia was once part og Great China. Is that true? I will be excited if you have our Chinese blood brother...Keep Up the good work, say positive things about China wheather we are right or not or they are right or not. Who cares about that poor Uyhgurs...Money and power talks in this world anyway. Jamal, brother you could be related to us -Chinese
    by this assumption, I can deduct that some part of your land has been historically our land- the great China! Xie Xie!

    January 16, 2012 at 3:58 am |
  40. Joey

    @Kyle H. Davis

    CNN again with its slightly skewed reporting.

    Uighur might be a minority in China, but they are a majority in their native land (slowly being assimilated by Han – as what has happened in nearly every "autonomous region").

    Of COURSE they are going to be wiped out... and the Han Chinese are all fooling themselves into thinking "Look, we brought them development"... Same crud we used ourselves when wiping out Native Americans.

    The only difference is... this isn't the 19th Century.

    So what?Does Han Chinese wipe out Uighur nowadays like the European
    in 19th Century?The Han Chinese are just migrating in their own country the same as the Muslim migrating to Europe.

    January 16, 2012 at 6:34 am |
  41. Ikander

    Chinese government is investing hundred of billions of dollars worth of fund into modernize the area. The very fact that they care enough to build hundred of billions of dollars into build stuff instead of say pouring billions of dollars worth of bombs into the place like some other country did should tell you the Chinese government's stance on the issue. Seriously, old houses gets torned down and rebuild all the time and they are leaving sites like Mosques and other important religious sites alone, what more can you ask for?

    January 17, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  42. Sawut

    How sure are you that locals will get half of the benefits from that poured dollars? First, they tear down the old buildings in the name of "development" with little compensation or NO compensation at all (I am not making false story here, check the Radio Free Asia broadcast story which interviewed Uyghur claimants whose house was demolished without compensation", then they sell it cheaply to Chinese businessmen or so called real-estate developers who have close connection to Chinese beaurecrats) and they build tall. modern buildings (yes we have seen it in Sichuan 3 years ago) and sell it to immigrant Chinese who were given money by government to relocate to Kashgar and they make quick money and 70% of them migrate out to US or Canada (check NPR's yesterday news about Chinese Rich's immigration desire to the west). Those locals since they did not have money to buy apartments in the tall buildings, either becoming homeless or forced to move out from the City. Well, few satisied locales that were in propaganda films are not the sign of beautiful forestry. (You might not know the power of propaganda!) In conclusion, the poured dollars flow from the Chinese government to Chinese businessmen and Chinese migrants who have incentives to come to Kashgar. Don't talk gibberish since you don't understand the true reality.

    January 17, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  43. John


    It is true that when Chinese government tears down a home, no monitary payment is made for the person who lives there. However, they always give another unit for the displaced. This system may not be perfact, but hans are treated the same as the ruighurs. One of the reason China is developing at this rate is that governement is free to relocate people for the sake of development.

    As for all the posters talking about the lost of cultural heritage. In any multi-ethnic country, there is one language that everybody uses for communication. In the U.S. it is English, In China, it is Chinese. If a Ruighur wants to do business, since most of China speaks Chinese, why should he be the exception? The Han is consist of an amalgumatoin of different ethnic groups just like "white people" in the U.S.

    Since they live inside China, there are three options. They can assimilate, they can leave or they can fight. No one is objecting to the first two options and they would surely lose in the long run if they choose to fight. So, birng it on.

    January 18, 2012 at 1:39 am |
  44. weaponeer

    In my opinion,development is the only way to poverty relive for the western frontiers' people of China,the local government do the right thing.

    January 18, 2012 at 3:10 am |
  45. Conrest

    The wholesale destruction of cultural heritage can also be seen in Guangdong Province. Villages on the outskirts of Taicheng in Taishan City-Level County have been surrounded and then destroyed by the growth of the county capital. Their paddy fields are filled in, their forests are destroyed, their graveyards built over, their historic buildings are crushed. It won't be long before my village disappears in the smoke, smell and noise.

    January 18, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  46. Sawut

    Ok, John.
    We will NOT fight with billions of people. Are you crazy? Since we can NOT get at least a moral support from NO ONE whether they are Democratic states or Muslim States, We will simply assimilate if there is NO choice to integrate into the mainstream society. I think we should help Chinese people to immigrate to Russia, Pakistan, Central Asia, and Europe and Arab Countries. Your guys should taste the "fruits of glorious Chinese civilization", why should we be forced to taste "it"?

    January 18, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  47. John


    Uighurs running around killing people just because they are han, Uighurs sending their kids out to pick the pockets of people in cities. Uighurs stabbing random people with dirty needles, Uighurs bombing people. These behaviors are not associated with modern civilizations anywhere. I am amazed that there are not more condamnations from outside China for these types of behavior. This is how you win moral support from the world?

    In the United States, if you are a native American, you are free to do the rain dance at your own private property. But if you are also a business man and show up at a meeting with white people. and you have feathers on your head and doing the rain dance, and then complain that you did not get the business because you are upholding your cultural heritage, I don't think you will win a lot of sympathy from people.

    In fact, in the city of Urumqi, the hans were there at a higher number long before the Uighurs can claim the same. It was during the Ching dynasty when the Manchurians ethnically "clensed" the group that was the majority at the time that Uighurs moved in and became one of the bigger groups.

    In any case, losng one's cultural heritage does not give one license to behave badly and start killing people.

    January 18, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  48. uyghurlar bilen

    Uyghur city threatened by Sinicization.

    January 19, 2012 at 6:21 am |
  49. sameh

    very sad situation See the elephant is dying and die


    January 26, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
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