A CITY IN LOVE WITH ALL THINGS PIGEON
Residents of Kashgar prize the birds for food, business and entertainment
For many residents of China’s westernmost city, the place to be after work or at weekends is the pigeon market, where stout-bodied birds are the subject of intense examination and discussion.
Crowds of Uygur men and boys gather at the outdoor market near the center of Kashgar on Tuesday afternoons to fix their eyes upon caged pigeons.
“You can tell at first glance whether a pigeon is pretty or not, just like a woman,” said Ahmetjon Younurs, who owns a store selling pigeon food, medicine and lofts.
The 45-year-old has been a pigeon fancier since he was 12, and the most expensive pigeon he keeps is now valued at more than 100,000 yuan ($15,000).
“The good breeds outclass the others in all details: the crown, beak, wing and tail,” he said.
Younurs’ five-square-meter store at the pigeon market pays testament to his ability to turn his passion into a profession — the most expensive pigeon loft at his store sells for more than 2,000 yuan.
Historically pigeons have been bred for a variety of purposes, from meat to communications and aesthetics.
In Kashgar, the birds are still eaten fried in a dish known as squab, but it is the courier pigeons that garner the most attention.
“We love keeping courier pigeons. You obtain immense satisfaction during the breeding process,” said Adili Wufuer, a vendor of pigeons at the market.
“Our fathers and mothers loved pigeons, and so did our grandparents. That’s why we love pigeons too.”
Despite business at the pigeon market being sluggish during weekdays, with Wufuer sometimes unable to sell a single bird for two days in a row, he still believes in the value of what he does.
“I am in this trade mostly because I love it. The profits do not matter that much to me,” he said.
Kashgar’s love for all things pigeon extends to its racing pigeon union, which now has close to 200 registered members — each of whom must own at least six birds to join.
Competitions are held on a quarterly basis and members pay a registration fee of 30 yuan per pigeon, with races up to 450 km in length offering a maximum prize of 4,500 yuan.
Lu Weidong, president of the union, said it also helped pigeon fanciers of both Han Chinese and Uygur ethnicities to bond.
“Language is not a problem as some of us know both languages. The atmosphere within the union is great as we also share the same love for pigeons,” he said.
Lu’s family started raising pigeons after his father moved to Kashgar many decades ago, and he inherited a love for the birds from his parents.
“When your parents love something, it becomes ingrained in you as well. Then it just became part of our life,” said Lu, who was born and raised in Kashgar.
“Some people love cats, some people love dogs. We just love pigeons.”
Crowds of Uygur men and boys like gathering at the pigeon market to watch caged pigeons in weekends.
A trade happens at the pigeon market near the center of Kashgar city in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.