Han, Uygurs weave ‘jade’ ties of friendship
at ease with Han buyers and merchants, whether for business or just to chat.
“We speak fluent Mandarin, and it will help us a lot anywhere in the country,” the 26-year-old Muhpul said.
Language education is also in place for the next generation of Uygurs in town. Since 2014, bilingual teachers at the local primary school have offered three language courses a week for Uygur children, in addition to regular classes.
“The change came as Uygur parents attached more importance to the education their kids receive,” principal Shang Lei said. “They believe better education means everything.
“We also don’t set a limit for Uygur students’ enrollment deadline,” he said. “Whenever they arrive with their parents, they can come and be educated along with Han students right away.”
As for the future, the plans of local Uygurs vary, yet the bonds between Shifosi and the jade merchants have been unbreakable. Some return to Xinjiang thankful for what they have gained in Henan.
“My vision has been largely expanded, and I’m a mature man now,” Muhpul said. “This is the kind of experience to treasure for life.”
Muhpul hopes to open a cafe back in his hometown of Yili, Xinjiang, by the time he reaches his 30s.
“I’ll play the traditional dutar (a traditional two-stringed lute) there and share my stories from Shifosi with my fellow Uygurs,” he said.
“That will be a good way for me to both make my home better and to encourage more Uygurs to make the most of such opportunities.”
Some other Uygurs prefer to stay in Shifosi to earn more money and take advantage of the better educational opportunities for their children.
“We won’t leave here until my grandchildren are admitted to university,” said Mutuwulla, whose two grandsons are just two and four years old.
Mutuwulla and his family are quite content to stay where they are. The primary school and comprehensive classes are a big reason. During breaks, Han and Uygur students play together, their arms around one another’s shoulders.
“The Han children here aren’t aware of, and don’t care about, the differences between ethnic groups,” said Liang Yaxun, a bilingual teacher at the school.
“Uygur students are always like sisters and brothers to them.”
“I love this place and want to stay here for a long time,” 11-year-old Gulxanay said in perfect Mandarin while taking a break from dancing with Han classmates.
“I want to join the navy when I graduate from college,” she said with a smile. “Then I’ll be able to serve our country.”
Shifosi in Zhenping county, Henan province, is a major trade center of jade in Central China.