Learn­ing with­out prej­u­dice

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By CUI JIA

It was only af­ter he left his home­town of Urumqi, the cap­i­tal of the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, that Li Peng be­gan to learn more about the his­tory of the re­gion and in­ves­ti­gated his iden­tity as a Xin­jianger.

In 2000, the 32-year-old moved to Bei­jing to pur­sue his dream of be­com­ing a rock mu­si­cian. Things were go­ing well un­til July 5, 2009, when he re­ceived “the hor­rific news” that a close rel­a­tive had been among 197 peo­ple killed in a riot in Urumqi.

“That’s when things be­came com­pli­cated,” Li said. “Since the riot, I’ve of­ten been asked, ‘What’s wrong with Xin­jiang?’ I al­ways re­ply: ‘How much time do you have?’ Peo­ple al­ways want a sim­ple an­swer, in­stead of try­ing to learn about Xin­jiang. One can only see what’s be­hind the con­flict if one puts prej­u­dice to one side and tries to un­der­stand dif­fer­ent cul­tures and re­li­gions.”

Although he’s a mem­ber of the Han eth­nic group, Li grew up with many Uygur play­mates, one of whom gave him his first les­son about Is­lam when they were at pri­mary school.

“One day, we were play­ing soc­cer, when he sud­denly pointed at the sun and said, ‘You know Al­lah can make the sun rise and fall’. It was then I be­gan to re­al­ize that I had to re­spect his view. That mo­ment still re­plays in my head some­times. Nowa­days, young Han peo­ple in Urumqi don’t have the kind of close re­la­tion­ships we had with Uygur friends, be­cause the bad feel­ing caused by the riot is still there.”

Last year, Zhang Chunx­ian, the Party chief of Xin­jiang, said eth­nic ten­sions re­main, even nearly six years af­ter the riot, and will take a long time to erase. A lot of the ten­sion has been cre­ated by peo­ple out­side of Xin­jiang, and by oth­ers who be­lieve they know about the re­gion but have never set foot in it. They see young Uygurs steal­ing on the streets, but they don’t see the peo­ple who use vi­o­lence to make the young­sters steal, and they read about a fewter­ror­ists from Xin­jiang and then la­belXin­jiang as the home of ter­ror­ism, he said.

In Oc­to­ber, Li rode his mo­tor­bike to a gas sta­tion in Bei­jing to re­fuel. Be­cause his driv­ing li­cence stated that he’s from Xin­jiang, Li was sub­jected to ex­tra se­cu­rity mea­sures and searched. When he told some friends about the en­counter, they ex­pressed sur­prise and asked: ‘Aren’t you aHan Chi­nese?’

“It’s so sad to re­al­ize that they think Xin­jiang is only home to the Uygurs, when 13 dif­fer­ent eth­nic groups see the re­gion as their home,” he said. “In fact, a per­son’s eth­nic iden­tity isn’t im­por­tant at all — we all come from Xin­jiang.”

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Li Peng, a mem­ber of the Han eth­nic group, was born and raised in Xin­jiang, but now lives and works in Bei­jing.

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