The letter was written to Mr. Ruan Yunfei 冉云飞, a well-known Chinese writer and blogger, by someone from a very small minority group in Xinjiang after the Urumqi Incident. It provides a unique perspective into the ethnic relations in the region. It is unique because the author is neither Han nor Uighur and the voice from smaller minority groups in Xinjiang is seldom heard. The author expresses her views with extraordinary candidacy and courage.
I thank Mr. Ran for helping me contact the author. I am very grateful to the author who gave me permission to translate the letter and publish it on the Fool’s Mountain. She also worked with me patiently in the past few days to clarify many points in the letter. Our communication is reflected in the translation and the notes at the end of the letter.
The author wants the readers to know that the information she provided in her letter about the policies and conditions of ethnic minority eduction reflects her experience in a particular university and at a particular time (early 2000) in Xinjiang. The author does not claim to know situations in every universities in Xinjiang or in the whole country. Readers should be careful when making generalizations. She also said there might be some changes in the policies and conditions of ethnic minority eduction in recent years that she is not aware of.
The original letter is here.
Letter from Xinjiang – Reflections on the Xinjiang Issue
I don’t know if you still remember me, but I went to visit you last October when I was attending a conference in Chengdu.
The reason I write to you today is I want to share some thoughts on the Urumqi Incident as someone from Xinjiang.
I grew up in a frontier town in Northern Xinjiang. The local Uighurs is a small number. Most of the locals belong to other smaller ethnic groups and are obedient.
Although we also have corrupted officials there, there are almost no revolts against the government.
I went to university in Xinjiang. In the universities in Xinjiang, Min Kao Han民考汉 students, that is, ethnic minorities who graduate from schools taught in Chinese, are all allocated to one class. Han Chinese students have their own classes. Moreover, there are also classes for Min Kao Min民考民 students, that is, those taught in minority languages. These Min Kao Min民考民 students are mostly ethnic minorities but there are also a small number of Han students.
自 从我们上大学后，所有的课程都必须用汉语教学了。而我们上公共课时，汉族会有一个合堂，民考汉和民考民会有一个合堂。当我们少数民族课堂上课时，因为学生 听不懂汉语的专业词汇，老师一着急，经常就蹦出维语来了，而我们这些民考汉的学生都听不懂，很懊恼；维族学生也一样，因为从小学习汉语，维语的专业词汇也 听不懂。影响了我们两方面学生的成绩。
When we go to university, all the classes have to be taught in Chinese. When we attend common courses [as opposed to courses for different majors – translator], Han Chinese students are taught together while Min Kao Han民考汉 students and Min Kao Min民考民 students are grouped together and taught in one classroom. In the class of ethnic minorities, the teacher has to resort to Uighur sometimes when the students can not understand the technical terms in Chinese [teachers for minority students are mostly Uighur – translator]. When this happens, we Min Kao Han民考汉 students are very frustrated [because they are schooled in Chinese and they can not understand Uighur – translator]. It is the same with some Uighur students. They are schooled in Chinese and neither can they understand the technical terms in Uighur. This affects our grades. [See NOTE 1]
I heard in Inner Mongolia all classes in the university are taught in both Chinese and Mongolian including sports. There, the Department of Chinese Language中文系 is called the Department of Han Chinese Language汉语系 because Chinese languages include more than just Han Chinese language (this fact is overlooked by many).
新疆的大学都有预科班，所有新疆的民考汉（出疆的）、民考民和汉考民学生都要上。民考汉上一年预科，基本上就是在重复中学的课程（学费很贵），在疆内读大学的民考汉则不用读预科。民考民和汉考民要上两年预科。预科如果毕不了业则需要继续降级，一直读到考过HSK（汉 语过级考试，相当于中国的托福。很难考，题目很怪，汉族学生都不会）。考不过的学生中，条件差的读了一两年预科就回家了，有些条件好的哈萨克族学生则可以 留学哈萨克斯坦（据说她们去那里留学，哈国有优惠政策）。而很多勉强过关，或者作弊过关的学生，后来的专业课对她们来说则是梦魔，因为都是汉语。所以大批 量的少数民族学生成绩超差。这样也会影响到少数民族毕业生的就业，尤其是民考民的学生，就业很困难。
All Xinjiang universities have preparatory classes for students before they start university courses. All Min Kao Han民考汉 students who will attend universities outside of Xinjiang, Min Kao Min民考民 students and Han Kao Min汉考民 students [See NOTE 2] are required to take these preparatory classes. Only those Min Kao Han民考汉 students who attend universities inside Xinjiang are not required to take these classes. Min Kao Han民考汉 students who want to study in universities outside of Xinjiang attend one year of preparatory classes。 These classes are basically a repetition of high school materials and the fees are very expensive. Min Kao Min民考民students and Han Kao Min汉考民 students need to take two years of preparatory classes. If you can not pass these preparatory classes, you have to keep studying until you pass HSK exam (a Chinese language proficiency test, an equivalent of TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). The test is very difficult. Some questions are so odd that even Han Chinese students can not get it right.) Among those who fail to pass the test, some from poorer families go back home after one or two years of preparatory classes. Some Kazak students can afford to study abroad in Kazakhstan (I heard that Kazakhstan government gives preferential treatment to Kazak students from China).For those students who barely pass the Chinese language test or only make their way through cheating, studying their majors later in the university is a nightmare because the classes are all taught in Chinese. As a result of the language barrier, many minority students have bad grades. This also affects minority graduates entering the job market, especially those Min Kao Min民考民 students. They have a very hard time finding a job. [See NOTE 3]
I saw many instances of religious interference in my university. For example, during the month of Ramadan, the woman in charge of our dormitory will “raid” our rooms at night to make sure the Muslim students are not observing Ramadan. The university will also request Min Kao Min民考民 students (most of whom are Muslims) to gather in the school’s dining hall after class and eat their meals together.
我 觉得少数民族的信仰自由，很难得到保障。一方面是信仰伊斯兰教被政府阻挠，另一方面是信仰其它宗教受到本民族的阻挠。我大学期间，我的一个同学，她们几个 姐妹都私下里信仰了基督教，而在她们（穆斯林）民族里，信仰其它宗教是很受歧视和排挤的。（虽然我不喜欢基督教，但是我支持她们信仰自由）
I find it difficult to ensure religious freedom for ethnic groups. On the one hand, the government interferes with Islamic practices. On the other hand, practicing a religion other than Islam is disapproved by other Muslims. During my study in the university, one of my classmates and several of her sisters converted to Christianity in private. In their ethnic group (Muslims), people who practice a non-Islamic religion are very much discriminated against and isolated. (Although I don’t like Christianity, I support their freedom of belief.)
On the one hand, both Han Chinese and Uighurs have prejudice against each other. One the other hand, people like us who are from a much smaller minority group have even less social status. Han Chinese think we are a minority people and discriminate against us; Muslims thinks if we are not Muslims we must be like Han Chinese and they discriminate against us too.
In addition, I want to share some thoughts on Wang Lixiong’s book My Far West, Your East Turkistan. I think Wang Lixiong’s book misses the target. He misunderstands the Xinjiang problem. He frames the problem in a bipolar opposition between him and his Uighur friend and forgets Xinjiang is a multi-cultural society of over 40 ethnic groups. This bipolar reasoning can also be seen in the title of his book. Everything is about “you” and “me”. It leaves no room for “a third person”. Wang Lixiong ignores the opinions of other groups in Xinjiang. The Hui driver who accompanied him on the trip had different opinions on many issues. Wang Lixiong simply dismissed them as a result of brain-washing by the government. He never attempted to understand why the Hui driver had different thoughts from the Uighur.
This is the first point I want to make.
Secondly, Wang Lixiong seems to have a preconception that ethnic relations in Xinjiang are just antagonistic. In reality, many different ethnic groups in Xinjiang live peacefully together throughout history. Wang Lixiong’s book is based on a notion of antagonistic ethnic relations. I don’t think he has really reached out to the common folks.
另外我还想说一下，作为一个少数的少数民族，我对于新疆独立的看法。从我个人立场上来说，我不赞成新疆独立。因为我觉得穆斯林民族的民主势力太软弱了，一旦新疆独立，必然成立一个原教旨主义国家，我是反对政教合一的国家的。也 许有人说那是她们民族的传统（说这话的人根本不考虑生活在新疆昂的其她民族），但是我想说，在原教旨主义国家里，很多自由难以保证。其一，同性恋必然是会 受到打压的（在原教主主义国家，常常处死同性恋者）；二是女性也会有更多的社会桎梏。（目前的乌鲁木齐，许许多多的穆斯林女性，脱下了长袍，穿着时尚，她 们愿意拥有这种可以选择自己生活的自由，而在原教旨主义国家，这样的自由恐怕是很难很难）；三是信仰其它宗教的自由也必然遭受更大的冲击；四是，其她少数 民族怎么办？不信仰伊斯兰教的少数民族怎么办？
What’s more, I would like to talk about Xinjiang independence as someone from a very small minority group in Xinjiang. Personally, I don’t support Xinjiang independence. The reason is I think the democratic forces among the Muslims are too weak. As soon as Xinjiang goes independent, it will become a fundamentalist country. I am against joining the church and the state. Maybe someone will say that’s their tradition. Those who say so completely disregard other ethnic groups who also live in Xinjiang. I think in a fundamentalist society, it is hard to ensure much freedom. First, gay and lesbian rights are oppressed. In some fundamentalist societies, gays and lesbians are executed. Second, women will face more shackles in the society. In today’s Urumqi, many Muslim women put away their traditional robes and wear fashionable clothes. They want the freedom of choice. It will be very difficult for women to enjoy such freedom in a fundamentalist society. Third, the freedom to practice a non-Islamic religion will be threatened. Fourth, what about other minority groups who do not believe in Islam?
所 以，从立场上我是不赞同新疆独立的。从新疆的现实来讲，更加不可能实现独立。新疆的周边中亚国家早已与中国政府组成了上海合作组织，这个组织已经从反恐走 向了经济合作（哈萨克的油管直通中国内地），连俄罗斯也想掺和进去。而且对于中亚国家来说，她们需要中国这个强邻来与俄罗斯之间形成制衡，保障她们的主权 不会过多受到俄罗斯的干预。所以周边国家不会支持新疆独立。
Consequently, from this perspective, I disapprove of Xinjiang independence. In reality, Xinjiang independence is unrealistic. Xinjiang’s neighboring countries in Central Asia have joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization with the Chinese government. Countries in this organization joined forces on the issue of anti-terrorism and they also begin to cooperate on economic issues (oil pipes run from Kazakhstan to inland China). It seems Russia wants to join the organization too. Moreover, for Central Asian countries, they need a strong neighbor like China to hold off Russia and to ensure Russia will not interfere too much in their internal affairs. That’s why I don’t think the neighboring countries will support Xinjiang independence.
Speaking of Xinjiang itself, it has over 40 (47? I forget) ethnic groups, most of which are not Muslims. What these ethnic groups need is not a Uighur-dominated regime in the place of a Han-dominated regime. It is a democratic system that they need. They have already had enough living under the shadow of the dominant ethnic groups.
The Xinjiang problem is not a problem between ethnic groups. It is a problem of freedom and democracy. The Chinese government will not give freedom and democracy to its people; neither will it give to the Uighurs. That’s why the problem can not be solved. When the unsolved problem erupts, it erupts as an ethnic conflict.
I am very concerned about the situation in Xinjiang. I hope everyone I know is sound and well. If you Mr. Ran can publish my letter, it will be my pleasure.
[NOTE 1] There are also courses where Han students and minority students are taught in the same classroom. These courses include common courses that are less important, for example, Regional History of Xinjiang, or Computer 101. They also include courses for different majors. But for those important common courses (e.g., Calculus), Han students and minority students are taught in separate classrooms. And in general, teachers for Han students in important common courses are better qualified than those for minority students. Teachers for minority students are mostly Uighur. The author thinks using less qualified teachers for minority students in important common courses affect these students’ performance later in studying their majors.
[NOTE 2] According to Baidu Encyclopedia, Han Kao Min汉考民 students are ethnically Han students who attend schools using minority languages as language of instruction and take college entrance exam in minority languages. These Han students are usually from those Han families that live among minority communities.
[NOTE 3] In Xinjiang, students enter these preparatory classes after they pass their college entrance exam. Only after they successfully pass these preparatory classes and the HSK exam, they can start their 4-year university courses. It seems setting up these preparatory courses means that a lot of the minority students have to spend more time and money before starting university than their Han counterparts. The author said there are financial aids for students studying the preparatory classes. But the quota is very small and the competition is intense. The money often goes to students with connections not those who really need it.
In Xinjiang, before taking the college entrance exam , Han students and minority students are given different lists of universities and majors to choose from. In general, Han students have the widest variety of universities and fields at their choice. Min Kao Min民考民 students have less choices. In particular, very little advanced fields seem be open to them. Min Kao Han民考汉 students have the least choices. In addition, Han students are given past admission scores of universities and fields that can help them make better decisions but minority students are given none.
Although in the college entrance exam minority students receive extra scores based on their minority status, this preferential treatment on scores does not really open up chances for minority students to enter universities in Xinjiang. For example, in the field of Road and Bridge Construction, Han students and minority students have separate admission quota. As a result, minority students are competing among themselves (so does the Han students). When everyone is getting extra scores based on the minority status, there is really no preferential treatment. (Please note that although minority students do not gain any advantage over Han students under the “extra score” policy, preferential treatment on quota for minority students can open up more chances for them to get into university – thanks to LC for pointing this out.)
[NOTE 4] The term Min Kao Han 民考汉 literally means “minority testing using Han”. Last year, FM translated two posts from Min Kao Han Forum: Don’t indulge our “race complex” and Oppose Belief Opportunists: My Thoughts On Modern-Day Uighur Christians.