Pre­cious ties

Han, Uygur find com­mon ground work­ing on pro­cess­ing of jade

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - ByXINHUA in Zhengzhou

It is eight o’clock on a clear morn­ing in Shi­fosi, a small town in Cen­tral China’s He­nan prov­ince. Mu­tuwulla Mu­tal­lip, a 53-year-old Uygur from North­west China’s Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, has just ar­rived at his stall at the lo­cal jade fair, which is al­ready swarm­ing with mer­chants and buy­ers. “We are sort­ing them by pu­rity,” said Mu­tuwulla, who is pack­ing up his jade neck­laces and bracelets along­side his wife and elder son.

Han mer­chants, mem­bers of the largest Chi­nese eth­nic group, work nearby. In the He­nan town and through­out its mar­kets, it is com­mon to see Han Chi­nese in­ter­min­gling with Uygurs, an eth­nic group who live mainly in Xin­jiang.

Shi­fosi, tra­di­tion­ally known for its jade busi­ness, is gain­ing a new rep­u­ta­tion in the re­gion for these promis­ing scenes of eth­nic unity.

Another home­town

“I buy raw jade from our home­town in Hotan be­fore my son and co­work­ers process it,” Mu­tuwulla said. “Then we come and sell it.”

“They have the best sales here,” said Liu Xia, a close friend of Mu­tuwulla and fel­low mer­chant.

“They’re very hos­pitable. We visit them with­out in­vi­ta­tion and have some tra­di­tional home­made Xin­jiang rice at their homes,” she added.

Mu­tuwulla feels the same way. “We’re lucky to have met such help­ful Han friends,” he said. “They took our jade to other cities to sell when we first ar­rived and couldn’t com­mu­ni­cate much.”

Mu­tuwulla is one of the thou­sands of Uygur jade mer­chants in Shi­fosi. Most come from Hotan, Xin­jiang, which has a long his­tory in the jade busi­ness.

Over the past decade, in­creas­ing num­bers of Uygurs have dis­cov­ered the perks of trad­ing in the He­nan town.

“Jade sells a lot bet­ter here,” said Mu­tuwulla, who makes about 80,000 yuan ($12,000) a year. “I love Xin­jiang, but the peo­ple and money have been driv­ing me here for five years.”

For some younger Uygurs, friend­ship with lo­cal Han peo­ple has played an even big­ger role in their de­ci­sion to head east.

“I got here eight years ago when I was only 18,” said Muh­pul Hu­lam, another jade mer­chant in Shi­fosi. “But it wasn’t that dif­fi­cult. The peo­ple here are very kind and open to us.”

Muh­pul said Han Chi­nese would in­vite him to eat Mus­lim-style meals at their homes.

“I’ve got to learn Man­darin at the ta­ble,” he said, laugh­ing.

“Now we of­ten hang out after work and even go on trips dur­ing hol­i­days,” he added.

“The town is like another home­town to me.”

Lo­cal gov­ern­ment poli­cies over the years have played a key role in fos­ter­ing an en­vi­ron­ment for Han and Uygurs to live and work side by side.

Lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion has been one of the most im­por­tant ini­tia­tives. For most Uygur mer­chants new to the town, lan­guage is the big­gest bar­rier to over­come.

The gov­ern­ment sets up an of­fice specif­i­cally to meet the needs of Uygurs, with five bilin­gual em­ploy­ees to help them.

The of­fice also of­fers Man­darin classes for those who need them.

“Things weren’t easy at first,” Mu­tuwulla said. “I was il­lit­er­ate and didn’t speak Man­darin, but 23 days of bilin­gual cour­ses en­abled me to speak ba­sic Man­darin and write my name in Chi­nese.”

“In 2015, we started of­fer­ing the cour­ses as an an­nual reg­u­lar ses­sion,” said Shi Mingzhong, an of­fi­cial for eth­nic and re­li­gious af­fairs.

“Uygurs’ en­thu­si­asm for learn­ing Man­darin has grown quickly ever since.”

At the jade fairs across the town, Uygur mer­chants can be seen talk­ing 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.”

Un­break­able bonds

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.”

CUI PEILIN / FOR CHINA DAILY

Shi­fosi in Zhen­ping county, He­nan prov­ince, is a ma­jor trade cen­ter of jade in Cen­tral China.

ZHAO GE / XIN­HUA

A Uygur jade trader sells jade stones and neck­laces at a bazaar in Hotan, the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

CTP PHOTO XIE GUANGHUI /

Two Uygur jade traders choose jade stones at a mar­ket in Hotan.

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