Heroes contend for hegemony nationalities merge.
- A clip from a descriptive placard at China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Museum
One Sunday in Urumqi (also known in pinyin Chinese as Wulumuqi) – the once backwater turned boomtown and regional capital of China’s Xinjiang Region – we paid a free visit to China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Museum. The museum featured all the trappings of cultural heritage: 4,000-year-old mummies, Silk Road era terra-cotta figures, and a host of ethnography exhibits featuring life-size figures of Chinese minorities – all in the glow of a $13 million dollar face-lift.
The signs and copy made the greatest impression on us, however. They spoke volumes about the Chinese government’s view of Xinjiang and its people.
Take for example:
Xinjiang has been an inalienable part of the territory of China.
Forget for the moment that in the exhibit entitled “Display of Xinjiang Folklore” blue-eyed, blond-haired Tajiks look more like their Russian neighbors than the Tajiks we met throughout Tajikistan; the traditions and dress of the Kyrgyz and Kazakhs on display didn’t resemble that of their brothers and sisters across the border in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
Maybe there’s an explanation. In the museum’s own words:
We have selected a batch of fine works from them [Xinjiang’s ethnic minority groups] and run this exhibition of these precious relics and auxiliary exhibits from the stone age to Qing dynasty for the purpose to show the contributions the people of all nationalities in Xinjiang have made for safeguarding the reunification of the motherland, for enriching the motherland’s cultural treasure – house, and to make the masses of audiences receive the education in patriotism.
For a long time, they [Xinjiang's ethnic minority groups] have been cooperated as one family to build and safeguard the borderland. Under the glory of the nationality policy of the Party, precious traditional cultures of various nationalities have received effective protection, inheritance and development. In the historical process of the development of western regions, various nationalities are more united to construct together a harmonious society. We hold this exhibition of display of Xinjiang nationality custom to represent the gorgeous conditions and customs of the 12 ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, and to show the splendor of the beautiful rarity of treasure house of Chinese national culture.
After you’ve absorbed those quotations, there’s not much for us to add, is there?
Practical Details – Urumqi Accommodation and Transport
- Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Museum: – 132 Xibei Lu. Ask your Urumqi hotel or hostel for times of free entrance on Sunday and possibly other days of the week. The museum seems to change these periods of free entrance frequently. While we normally enjoy supporting museums, this was one which made us believe our ticket money might be better spent elsewhere in the region.
- How to get to Urumqi: Train or plane from within China or flight from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan or Almaty, Kazakhstan.
- Where to stay: Silver Birches International Youth Hostel (100-120Y for a double room) is not particularly central, but it is convenient for the museum, Carrefour and some decent local restaurants; it has free wifi throughout. Xinjiang Maitan International Youth Hostel is more central and about the same price; it too has wifi, but not in the rooms.
- Where to eat: Check out Fubar on 40 Gongyuan Bei Jie for a western food fix of pizzas and pastas. We highly recommend a local hot pot joint called Three Flowers around the corner from the Silver Birches Hostel on Kelamayi Xilu. Look for the three funky cats on a red sign and this friendly waitress.