Monthly Archives: February 2006

Foreign Impressions of Korla, Xinjiang, China

Sunday’s Japan Times ran a two-part special report from China’s Xinjiang by Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University’s Japan campus in Tokyo. Here’s an excerpt from his impressions of the oil boomtown of Kuche.

About 60 percent of Korla’s population is Han, and most of the unemployed and underemployed are Uighurs. The influx began in the 1970s, due to a major famine in inner China, and has gained pace since then with the development of the oil and gas sector.

Today, Korla exudes the air of a town that is going somewhere — a place where big deals are negotiated in high-rise office buildings. On the swish Han side of town, designer boutiques, mirror-glass malls and upmarket hotels and restaurants cater to a well-coiffed crowd in shop-to-drop mode.

Only Uighur buskers remind one that this is Xinjiang, their hypnotic drumming and haunting flute-like horn riffs cutting through the din of modern commerce. Playing at the entrance to an underground mall, close to a traditional crafts shop that’s also selling Barbie Dolls, their dark-hued clothes, beards and fingerless gloves set them off from the fashionable crowds studiously ignoring them.

Passersby also ignored the large street-side posters of self-sacrificing, quota-exceeding working-class heroes — anachronistic Stakhanovs for the 21st century — that nobody even pretends to emulate anymore.

Western news media and international human rights organizations regularly report about assimilation and migration policies that are marginalizing Uighurs in their homeland, and ethnic Han now constitute more than half the population. Chinese is the language of upward mobility, but even this is a limited option for locals, as Han-managed companies entice Han workers to relocate to Xinjiang with higher wages and better benefits.

Whether it is at the oil complexes or in the shopping malls, locals remain on the outside looking in.

The relative deprivation is one of the factors driving separatist political movements. There have been several uprisings and violent outbursts in Xinjiang over the past 50 years — all have been resolutely quashed. The government is vigilant about this resource-rich, strategically located region contiguous to Russia and Central Asian countries where cross-border ethnic and religious ties are strong.

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Foreign Impressions of Kuche, Xinjiang, China

Sunday’s Japan Times ran a two-part special report from China’s Xinjiang by Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University’s Japan campus in Tokyo. Here’s an excerpt from his impressions of the dusty outback town of Kuche.

Pulling into the dusty, smoky-as-a-BBQ-pit town of Kuche, the hotels also sport a pachinko glitter, while along the main streets the now familiar fake palm tree fronds wink away garishly through the night.

My PDA-toting, wireless-networking, text-messaging, gizmo-maxed companion put our hotel search in perspective-mandatory broadband. Coming from Japan, where thin band is the rule in the boonies, I thought “dream on.”

As it turned out, our concrete Stalinesque mausoleum of a hotel served mediocre food and worse wine, did not deliver warm showers, and had a room temperature alternating between that of the Ar[c]tic and the Gobi Desert — but it miraculously had broadband. Gizmo-journalist heaven! The operator gave me the access number for a cheap dial-up international call service while the cashier matter-of-factly accepted credit cards — all eyebrow-raising events for one accustomed to traveling in Japan.

All this, mind you, in the outback, way closer to Central Asia than Shanghai.

Near Kuche we took a drive through China’s answer to Monument Valley and Cappadoccia, a stunning surreal landscape with Uighur shepherds tending their flocks, pristine rivers, monastic ruins and rainbow-hued, oddly shaped rock formations. Stealing a page from the Japanese, the canyon we visited is ranked in the official Chinese canyon top 10, and small Han Chinese tour groups were equipped with both flags and bullhorns.

But the weekly Friday market is where Uighur Kuche comes into its own. A bustling open-air zone of frenetic haggling, shopping and snacking, nary a word of Chinese can be heard. Donkey carts, taxis and trucks snake their way thought the teeming crowds. Sesame nan are piled high and the delicious odor of lamb kebab wafts through the smoky market.

Aside from a few burkas, many women don their best, flirt with the male hawkers for bargains and revel in the festival-like atmosphere. Swarthy, handsome men sport a stunning array of furry and woolly headgear and most have beards and mustaches. Young men seamlessly shift from menacing scowls to beguiling smiles, comparing notes on the local hotties at a distance.

Although nothing here seemed Chinese, all that is set to change as the government plans to close the market and relocate it to a charmless mall where rents and taxes can be collected.

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Raymond Yoshihiro Aka, 1915-2006

Saturday’s Honolulu Star-Bulletin notes the death of one of the key behind-the-scenes people responsible Japan’s postwar reconstruction.

Raymond Yoshihiro Aka, who was honored by the Japanese emperor for his work strengthening U.S.-Japanese relations, will be buried Friday at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.

Aka was 90 when he died Jan. 5 in Walnut Creek, Calif. The son of Japanese immigrants, Aka was born in Wailuku in 1915 but spent much of his childhood in Okinawa. He graduated from McKinley High School in 1939.

In September 1941, a few months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Aka was drafted while he was a student at the University of Hawaii. He served in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II and then as a warrant officer in the Japanese Liaison Office in Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s Tokyo headquarters after the war.

After his honorable discharge in 1947, he became a civilian employee of the U.S. Department of the Army during Japan’s postwar reconstruction and was involved in the drafting of the Japanese Constitution, civil service, election reform and the establishment of the police reserves.

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Far Outlier Winter Olympic Favorites

I haven’t watched that much of the Torino Winter Olympics, but my favorite medalists so far are:

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King Cotton Diversifies to Togo and Turkestan, c. 1890

Perhaps the most important impact of the American Civil War [on the global cotton industry] was the realization of cotton manufacturers everywhere of the dangers of depending on a single supplier of cotton. In consequence, manufacturers appealed to their respective national governments to open new and more reliable sources of cotton supply, most prominently among them the Manchester Cotton Supply Association, the British Cotton Growing Association, the Association Cotonnière Coloniale, the Kolonialwirtschaftliches Komitee, and the Central Asian Trading Association. Reliability, by implication, usually meant the political control of the territory in which cotton could be grown, and it was in these last decades of the century that cotton manufacturers and imperial states favored colonial cotton production–the French in Mali, the Russians in central Asia, the Germans in Togo, and the British in Egypt, Sudan, and India.

Britain most forcefully pursued such a policy, but other governments followed suit. Germany, for example, diversified its suppliers after the war, with India and Egypt enjoying a significant share of what had become the continent’s most important cotton market. When in 1901 the nation’s cotton spinners, along with the imperial government, sent a “cotton expedition” to the German colony of Togo, they issued a “Mahnruf zum Baumwollbau auf eigener Scholle” because more than a million people in Germany, they argued, had come to depend on a regular supply of cotton. Relying on countries such as the United States, India, and Egypt was dangerous, they believed, not least because these nations used ever more of their own cotton in their own factories. The solution to these problems was to be the growing of cotton in German colonial possessions. Eventually, these cotton manufacturers also helped to hire a number of African American cotton farmers from Alabama to settle in Togo, all of them recent graduates of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. These farmers, chosen personally by none other than Booker T. Washington, did turn Togo into a cotton-exporting colony.

In Russia, efforts to grow cotton on native soil had begun during the Civil War but were vastly expanded after the solidification of Russian rule over Turkestan in the 1870s. During that decade, a group of cotton mill owners got together in Moscow, creating the Central Asian Trading Association to find ways to expand cotton production in central Asia, with the strong support of the imperial government. Over the ensuing years, large-scale infrastructure projects were undertaken, especially the building of railroads and irrigation projects. While at first cotton was transported on the backs of camels–which took three to four months to cover the 600 miles to the nearest railroad depot–the building of railroads cut transportation time to a few days. By 1890 so much cotton was grown in Turkestan (nearly one-quarter of the total amount of cotton used in Russian factories) that one historian has argued that the province had in effect become “the cotton colony of Russian capitalism.” By the end of the 1890s, thanks to these efforts, Russia had turned into one of the most important cotton-growing countries in the world, ranking fifth behind the United States, India, China, and Egypt.

In a major shift, the world cotton industry now came to be structured more by imperial states and their colonies and ever less by the workings of the markets organized by capitalists themselves. States intervened further by raising tariff barriers to the import of manufactured cotton goods. As a result, export markets in countries controlled by the imperial powers themselves increased dramatically in importance. Most significantly, whereas Great Britain had exported 73 percent of its cotton textiles in 1820 to Western Europe and the United States, by 1896 only 24 percent went to those areas and 76 percent was shipped to Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

SOURCE: “Cotton: A Global History,” by Sven Beckert, in Interactions: Transregional Perspectives on World History, edited by Jerry H. Bentley, Renate Bridenthal, Anand Yang (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2005), pp. 56-57

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A Southern White Male Trinity

The history-teacher blogger at Civil War Memory has posted a wonderful tableau that could certainly stand behind the baptismal font of a Southern Baptist Convention-affiliated church in either Memphis, TN, or Danville, VA.

via Cliopatria

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Coxinga, Everyone’s Favorite Loyalist

The Zheng [clan of Coxinga] were defeated [in 1683], and the dream of restoring the Ming was officially over. For bringing an end to the resistance by surrendering, [Coxinga’s grandson] Keshuang was named as the Duke Who Quells the Seas. He became a minor noble in the Manchu aristocracy, and remained in north China, where he was classified as a member of the Bordered Yellow Banner. Shi Lang, the man who defeated him, received even greater honours, and some years after his own death, was officially deemed a name worthy of worship in the Temple of Eminent Statesmen….

There, the story of the Zheng clan should end, except that Chinese biographies often extend into the afterlife. Coxinga, the Zhengs’ most famous son, was no exception.

The desecrated graves of the Zheng clan were restored in 1700, as the first of several steps in which the Manchu conquerors paid their respect to the enemy who had caused them so much trouble. Coxinga remained a hero to the Chinese, and even to the Manchus, who could not help but admire his dogged refusal to betray his beloved Dynasty of Brightness [Ming]. The Manchu state, founded to a large extent on the willingness of Chinese defectors to switch sides, eventually recognised Coxinga as a Paragon of Loyalty in 1787. He was held up to successive generations as a hero to be emulated.

Coxinga’s crowning glory came in 1875, over two centuries after his death, in a China threatened by foreign powers. In recognition of the first Chinese warrior to inflict a resounding defeat upon barbarians from beyond the sea, Coxinga was elevated to divine status with the dedication of a temple to him. In fact, statues and pictures of Coxinga had long been found on altars all around Taiwan, where local people were found to be seeking his aid from beyond the grave. To the Chinese on Taiwan, he was the ‘loyal and pure’ Prince of Yanping, or the Sage King Who Opened Our Mountains.

In 1898, when Taiwan was handed over to the Japanese as a spoil of war, the new Japanese governor immediately paid his respects to Coxinga, the ‘Japanese’ conqueror who had originally wrested the island from foreign invaders. Coxinga was honoured by the island’s new masters with incorporation into the pantheon of Japan’s native Shinto religion, thereby achieving the rare distinction of becoming a god twice.

Coxinga’s sometime ally, the partisan Zhang Huang-yan once wrote that ‘for a thousand autumns, men will tell of this’. Barely a third of that number has passed since Coxinga’s death, and yet the hero remains a popular subject in plays, novels and filrns.

In the twentieth century, his memory became a rallying point for Republican Chinese determined to oust foreign aggressors. Coxinga was regarded as a saintly predecessor by Chiang Kai-shek’s government-in-exile on Taiwan, but also became a hero for the Communists – he was both the man who banished the Western imperialists, and also the conqueror who helped make Taiwan part of China. None can agree if he was a pirate or a king, a loyalist or a madman. But in parts of Taiwan, people still pray to him for rain.

SOURCE: Coxinga and the Fall of the Ming Dynasty, by Jonathan Clements (Sutton, 2005), pp. 259-260

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