We are in Urumqi, China, at the Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum, also known as the Xinjiang Uyger Autonomous Region Museum, Qu Bowuguan, or Xinjiang Regional Museum. The word “Uyghur” is also spelled various ways — sometimes Uighur or Uygur (pronounced “wee-gur”). The resident doctor, who helped us in the bone hospital, was Uyghur. We figured that we could learn about the Uyghur people by visiting this museum.
We look at a model of the old city, a Silk Road center.
Actually, I am more concerned about Karen. The doctors at the hospital have her arm in a sling because of her fall on the ice in Kazakhstan.
Urumqi was a major trade post on the Silk Road during China’s Tang Dynasty and a leading center during the Qing Dynasty.
Museum bloggers call this museum “the best museum you will find on the Silk Road.” But it is ranked #3 among “things to do in Urumqi,” a place that in not known for having things to do. Most people try to get out of town as quickly as possible but when your wife has a broken shoulder, you get a different perspective.
There are over 50,000 artifacts to see — that’s a lot of artifacts. You can see some of them in the featured image at the top of this blog. The stuff pertains to the folk customs, costumes, tools, weapons, etc, of the 12 minorities living in Xinjiang — the western region of China.
Here are some manniquens, standing in front of their yurt. Inside the yurt, there are rugs on the floor and it looks cozy and comfortable. I forget which ethnic group they came from — one of the “stans” I think — maybe Kyrgistan, whose people wandered around in the old days, walking into the other “stans” as well as into China. I was looking for Uyghur people but it seemed to me that the museum, built in 1953, although a cool place (don’t get me wrong) avoids the issue of the Communist regime’s systematic repression of the cultures and religions of these people. There were some real historical events that most people know little about — things pushed to the side. Showing people in their native clothes does not address the issue of people being colonized by a foreign country.
Looking at stuffed animals made me think of what happened to Native Americans in the Western past of the USA. The dominant white Euro-Americans destroyed their way of living. Something similar is happening to these minorities in Western China. The Uyghurs were conquered by the Chinese Qing (Manchu) dynasty in the mid 18th century, and these days, ethnic Han Chinese are moving into the Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Later, I looked up info on the Internet. There have been many Uygher uprisings over the years — in 1933, for example. The museum does not tell about this. The museum portrays the region as inherently part of China but the Uyghurs regained their homeland in 1944 — then they were conquered again in 1949 when Mao’s army took over.
Han (ethnic Chinese) have been migrating west (as did white people in the USA in the 1800s) so that today the Uyghurs are a minority, even in Urumqi. Urumqi is a modern city, so advanced that it is one of the ten most air-polluted cities in the world, but my attempts to verify this claim uncovered much ambiguity — there seems to be various ways of measuring air poulution. I know was that the air was polluted while I was there.
We looked at an artist’s rendition of a village of yurts. In the old days, they polluted the air but there were not as many people then.
I saw an ethnic-looking guy standing in front of an artist’s portrayal of the way things used to be — his friend takes his photograph. He smiles at me and I smile back. He was happy to be able to stand before an image of his ancestors’ yurts, I guess.
We looked at mannequins representing ethnic Russians who lived in Western China. The sign indicated that these people had Russian Orthodox Christian beliefs. Behind them, on their wall, was a picture of Jesus. Look at the quaint white people!
The ethnic guy was looking at me again. Maybe I look like a Russian to him and I realized that I was part of the show — a living example of a foreigner, one with foreign clothes and exotic beliefs. He is part of the show for me. Where are you from? What country?
We watch each other — seeking insight into ourselves by looking at the other.
Nature also watches us. The Russians, Chinese, Americans ignore the evil done in the past and try to conceal the evil going on in the present but the evil we do follows us into the future. People pollute the atmosphere, the rich get richer, there is injustice. In China, they try to block outside contact on the Internet so that people get only propaganda news. In America, we have Fox News — many people like propaganda that denies our modification of the atmosphere. Nature watches us — there is an ultimate reality.
Many regard the displays of ancient corpses, dried by the natural environment, as the most interesting of all the exhibits. There were 4 bodies — dried up and in glass cases – 4000 years old. One body was of a beautiful young woman — but she did not look so good being dried up like that. I took a photo of an ancient general, a great conquerer. I doubt that the guy wanted to end up as an exhibit under glass.
I do not know what to make of it. I had wanted to learn more about the Uyghur people. They look like regular folk but they are mainly Muslim and speak a language different from the Chinese.
I know nothing about the general or the girl except that they appear extremely dehydrated.
In recent times, there have been Uyghur political movements but the Uyghur people are not politically unified. An Uyghur blogger is concerned that Republican congressmen regard Uyghurs as terrorists — people in the USA don’t know that much about a Islam. In 2009, there were severe riots — but information about this was suppressed. Perhaps there were a thousand protesters. Perhaps dozens were killed and hundreds arrested. In 2013, 6 Uyghur men with knives killed 29 people in the Kumming Railway Station, a terrorist act. There have been sporadic terrorist events since then. I suppose the high levels of security we encountered in railway stations, hospitals, and borders were a response to these events. At the railway and borders, they searched our packs but did not find my kitchen knife.
As we leave the museum, we look at the skyline of Urumqi. It is a cold February day and, in the evening, it snows.
We are among more than 1000 people, perhaps, waiting to board the local east-bound train. It takes a half an hour to load the train. We will go to Liu Yuan, then take a minibus to Dunhuang, home of the 1000 Buddhas Caves.
The population of China is over 1.5 billion, more than four times the population of the USA. When we travel, we are astonished to see so many people everywhere. Minority groups do not have the power to withstand the forces associated with a nation of this size.
There is plenty of injustice everywhere. The Native-Americans did not enjoy experiencing genocide and having their culture destroyed. But Americans feel God blesses their country anyway. People are like that.
A while back, I bloged about Lao tsu and the Tao te Ching. This book provides guidelines for following the Inner Way, the path to peace of mind. Soon we will encounter caves with thousands of Buddhas, a result of the Silk Road. The Buddha also followed the Inner Way.
On our exterior way, we pass through China’s Gobi Dessert.
China burns huge amounts of coal, natural gas, oil, and uses hydro-electric dams, windmills, and solar energy — 1.5 billion people need electricity and a growing number have cars. That creates pollution. They say that seven of the ten most air polluted cities in the world are in China.
As we progress, it gets warmer.
We are the only foreigners on the train and two conductors want to photograph us. Not many tourists travel overland the way that we are doing it. We are going around the world overland. It is hard traveling this way, but we are not jumping over the difficult places. This is a metaphor for life.
We take a photo of one of the conductors.
Buddhism came to China along the Silk Road, the path we follow. Products and ideas flowed both ways. The central Asians had special horses valued by the Chinese — who had silk. There is much to be gained by exchanging products and ideas — and it still happens today.
Merchants crossed this desert on the way to Dunhuang. Monks brought Buddhism east. The first monks came around 0 AD and Buddhism gradually took hold in China — replacing and merging with shamanism and Taoism.
Buddhism eventually came to Japan — and centuries later, it came to America, in a modified form — ideas entered the American counter-culture in the 1960s, 1970s, then 1980s. Some Americans began practicing meditation. Meditation was found to provide health benefits – both physically and psychologically.
We were not able to gain a deep understanding of the Uyghurs but everyone tries to adjust to the modern situation. The Uyghur guy went to medical school and became a doctor. Karen fell on the ice and I got her to a hospital in Western China. The ethnic guy viewed photos of the way it used to be.
I hope that you are adjusting these days. Soon, I will look at the thousand-Buddha caves and discuss how old ideas can help you.