The Han/Uyghur demographic trend in Xinjiang

For the past 10-20 years, following the change in economic activities and the apparent political integration and first hand experiences, people from Hong Kong I know seem to be a lot more knowledgeable about things in mainland China. However, prejudice might have largely gone now, ignorance is still widespread.

One example is that certain writer (aka toilet tissue head) who made his career by indiscriminately bashing the mainland grabbing any remotely related issue (people called this "piggybacking"/抽水) still find wide audience here. Another example is the ignorance of even some (according to his resume) British educated HK commentator.

This is a piece from Ming Pao today, from a "scholar/commentator" from Hong Kong. The author made argument like this, by comparing Xinjiang with Palestine. His "reasoning" is like this
  • Palestine had been relatively peaceful between 1967 to 1987
  • Because Palestinians had jobs (benefited from the oil industry employment in the middle east) -- I am no expert in the middle east so I suppose he is right about the fact, except that I thought oil didn't bring that much money until 1973, and this seems to echo the CCP's economic development brings stability line
  • He then argued that Israel did something wrong in 1977 by colonizing the West Bank, which is the point of inflexion and triggered the Palestinian uprising
  • Then he blamed China's Han immigration into Xinjiang, drawing parallel with Israel 1977-1987 and then concluded that China should heed the Israeli lesson and change its policy in Xinjiang
I do think there are some many problems in China's "minority policy" in general, not just in Xinjiang, but Tibet and elsewhere, i.e., in general. I also agree with some of the suggestions the author made (eg more communication, learning their culture, etc. though these seem to have nothing to do with the Israel-Palestine lesson he brought out).

What surprised me is that both the Ming Pao editor and the author (presumably a postgraduate from SOAS London) failed to check the facts which are crucial to his argument, which is common knowledge for those who care to do a little web surfing or knows China's modern history a bit.

Since the Han immigration started (and sorted of completed) between 1960-1977, which was more than 10 years before the 1977 time point he quoted for his Israel example, and we all know that the unrest in Xinjiang started about 10 years after 1987. There is a more than 20 year gap in the author's reasoning. Since 1978 there had been large scale emigration of Han out of Xinjiang, though more "drifters" moved in since mid-1990s, it had not reached the 1978 level in terms of % and the troubled started by mid-1990 before the second wave of Han move-in (which is predominantly urban and non-government directly). His conclusion may be right, and perhaps his discussion on Palestine, but his simply took the wrong line of reasoning.

These facts are easy to check (e.g. a goolge search landed me here). But more importantly, anyone who is familiar with the modern history of China would know that everything in China changed in 1978, and would bother to check this if he is drawing comparison to whatever happened in China during these years.

Of course, I think many of their criticism on the mainland (and its government mainly) are valid and needed. But the line of argument they put forward are just laughable, and therefore, at best destructive.

Here is a chart for Han/Uyghur population as a % of total in Xinjiang from 1978-2006 (source), showing an initial decline (repatriation of the youth sent there during Mao era back to the cities such as Shanghai after 1978) and gradual rebound after 1990s (business opportunity pulled). I don't have the pre-1978 figures, but this should be enough to show that 1977-1978 was about the peak time since we know that people were sent there in the early to mid-1970s.

Han % in 1978: 41.6% , 1990: 37.6%, 2006: 39.3%.

p.s Yazouzhoukan (Asiaweek, as translated by ESWN) and Time probably have the most comprehensive chronological recount of the incident. The Time report also noted that the Han % in Urumqi is 70% today. But it should be noted that the Han immigration are mainly to new mining cities such as Karamai (oil) and new cotton farm such as Kuitun, etc. While the Urumqi Han population had also grew significantly, the Han % was already 62% before the communists took over around 1950. (the peak was 77% in 1980)

Urumqi was called Di-hua (迪化) by the Manchu Empire, literally meaning "To enlighetn/civilise (the barbarians)". ROC retained that name. After the communist took over, they changed it to Urumqi in 1954 -- a name refered to by the Mongolian/Dzungar meaning beautiful pasture. The Dzungar were slaughtered by the Manchu emperor and Han and Uyghur moved to fill the vacuum, which explained the high Han % before 1949

(2000 data added/tabulized by ESWN):

Year Total Uighur %Uighur Han %Han
1949 100,710 18,310 16.99 67,588 62.29
1950 121,746 21,074 17.30 77,554 63.70
1951 125,275 21,955 17.52 78,902 62.98
1955 171,897 31,769 18.48 109,842 63.89
1960 634,844 76,496 12.04 477,321 75.18
1965 615,189 62,439 10.14 463,804 75.39
1968 679,165 72,339 10.65 511,547 75.31
1972 765,788 73,265 9.56 587,813 76.75
1975 930,430 91,708 9.85 716,550 77.01
1980 1,060,502 108,239 10.20 812,557 76.62
1985 1,172,335 138,546 11.81 868,789 74.10
1990 1,384,300 173,200 12.51 1,007,355 73.30
1996 1,478,922 188,327 12.73 1,076,319 72.77
2000 2,081,834 266,475 12.80 1,567,621 75.30

p.s.2 a commentator from a globalvoice referral link seems to be unhappy about my chart, he nonetheless provided a link to a very good book, Xinjiang - China's Muslim Borderland, where via google book you can peep on a few pages with very good data.
As to his accusations, (1) you need to download the file in the link and it is winrar compressed, and source is in Chinese, (2) FYI the Han % in 1949 in XJ was 6.74% from various source, from the book above it said the Han % was about 5% in 1941 and 30% in early 1880s (pp. 244-245), noting the census was likely to be less accurate back then.
The "borderland" book also discussed the history and other aspects of XJ, highly recommended based on the preview.

No comments: