Column by Ghulam Osman
European colonists were interested in local cultures. Some of them were fond of them and some others were even astonished by their beauty. Hence, some of the scholars and scientists of the colonizing countries studied the local culture and wrote books about it. They protected the cultural heritages of the colonized, as if they protected their own. Even though they took some of the precious cultural treasures to their own countries respectively, they displayed them in museums as cultural artefacts. From this we can see their humanness.
However, the Chinese invaders showed striking consistence in destroying the cultural traces of Uyghurs in East Turkistan, irrespective of which political system or government that they represented. In particular, any cultural sign, symbol and artefacts testifying to the fact that Uyghurs created independent countries in history were destroyed resolutely. In his memoir, Isa Yusup Alptekin, a Uyghur politician, wrote that Chinese have the tendency to destroy everything as remnants of a previous government, including government buildings, as if there were no such a government before.
Moreover, the family members of those who worked for the previous government, along with other leaders, well-respected elderly members of local communities and intellectuals—in short, anybody who would have influence on the community members—were also eliminated as a political routine.
In those years, in the 2000s, when low-paced cultural invasion and violence on Uyghur culture were put in place, to create a fake space, where there is no difference between Uyghur and Chinese cultures, the Chinese government tried to justify a lie, through rumors, that some of Uyghur cultural heritages were actually theirs. For them, there could be nothing learnable from Uyghurs, as if to learn something from an ethnic minority (or an enslaved nation) would be offensive to their chauvinistic arrogance.
In the meanwhile, they despised, mocked and desacralized some of our cultural practices through cultural violence and hegemony, intending to force us to abandon them. We must acknowledge that some of my Uyghur compatriots have deviated from the beautiful aspects of our culture through the indefatigable and consistent efforts of Chinese to gravitate towards the barbaric aspects of Chinese culture.
For instance, in his book called “Ugly Chinese,” the Taiwanese writer Bai Yang summarized the characteristics of Chinese with four words: being dirty, unethical, noisy, and paranoid. Amongst these characteristics, we can see that Uyghurs have learnt being noisy from Chinese. In terms of greetings, to which Uyghur culture gives utmost importance with sophisticated mannerism, Uyghurs have, to some extent, become as barbaric as Chinese, who do not care for greetings or know no other greeting words than “have you already eaten?”—thanks to the long-term cultural influences. For example, several European travelers were pleased to describe the habit of Uyghurs cleaning the streets in front of their houses by spraying water on it after sweeping it, voluntarily, which would have only been done by paid workers in their own respective countries.
Moreover, not throwing trash or anything dirty in a creek was also one of the virtues of Uyghurs. It was even considered a sin to throw trash in a dry creek bed. For the water from the creeks would be used by the people in the downstream. When the dry creek was filled with water one day, then the trash in the creek bed would be flown in it, causing adverse health effect to the people in the downstream. We also had a social habit to leave the door of our houses open for some time after sunset in consideration of the arrival of a traveler who might ask for water, food, or shelter. Lots of such beautiful cultural practices disappeared gradually, thanks to the pressures of everyday life.
On the contrary, we were busy accepting lots of bad habits of Chinese (Now Chinese have changed their whole plan, and abandoned its strategy of melting Uyghurs; instead, they have determined to eliminate Uyghurs physically. This has made all these habits a thing of the past.)
Do Chinese, like Europeans, take any interest in local culture? Are there any Chinese who write books about and do research on it? It is hard to confirm if there is any. There are perhaps some writing books about it. However, it is impossible to talk about the scientific values of their books. For Chinese writers never talk about local culture in an unbiased and neutral manner; they approach to it with despise. They have the innate tendency to distort the beautiful and impressive aspects of local culture, by falsely claiming that they came from Chinese culture. In short, while the chauvinistic nature of Chinese is manifest in the ethnic policies of the Chinese government, these books are far from being scientific. It is not difficult to see from this that the cultural violence of Chinese, which stems from their collective narcissism, inhibits them from taking interest in any culture other than theirs, to be sure, and they are even not interested in the culture of other advanced peoples, unless they have to.
When it comes to the cultural traces, heritage and afterfacts, they usually adopt two key strategies—either to destroy or appropriate them.
In East Turkistan, there are a few thousands of cave paintings in Turpan, depicting the stories of Buddhism, which was worshipped by Uyghurs for more than a millennium. The teachings of the Buddha were described in these paintings which are well known to the Western world. The European explorer, Sven Hedin, did a lot of research on them. Some European explorers brought a lot of cultural antiques of Uyghurs, including wall murals, to Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Berlin, and London. They were displayed in museums afterwards. They are still there. Right before the communist China takeover, (which forbade the foreign explorers to continue their fieldwork research there) a group of American explorers and scientists also visited there, and they managed to make a replica of the carved paintings on the walls and brought them back to the United States.
German explorer Annemarie von Gabain was one of the scientists dedicated their whole life to studying the history, language and art of Uyghurs. She visited East Turkistan several times. On her last trip to East Turkistan in the 1980s, she cried painfully when she discovered a lot of wall paintings being destroyed deliberately—the eyes of the painted figures were carved out barbarically!
As such, those paintings in the caves were deliberately destroyed by Chinese, because neither could Chinese bring it to China, nor could it be changed by them to suit their political purposes. Apart from this, some objects buried in ancient tombs with mummies were either destroyed or brought to China to use them later for a propaganda story that they were discovered in such and such places inside China, after proper time arises with a proper script carefully prepared. As these operations were conducted in secret, it was almost impossible to tell truth from lies.
Let take another example: in 1980, a fossil human skull was discovered in one of the mountains, Atush’s northwest, my hometown. This was later handed over to the Culture and Art Bureau of Atush city. The chief of this agency, Chen Peishan, disappeared along with the skull. Actually, prefecture of Kizilsu, of which Atush is the capital, organized a car for him to hide concerned Uyghurs in Urumqi contacted the authorities, which hid the authorities of the Kyrgyz autonomous in Ulugqat county, as part of the prefecture.
Upon knowing this issue, some information about his whereabouts. Then some Uyghur intellectuals brought this issue to the attention of the then puppet Uyghur Chairman, Ismail Ahmad. A new contact was made at his request. However, as the Uyghur officials were not taken seriously even by an ordinary Chinese, the prefecture authorities tried to cover it up as usually.
However, insisted and adamant, Mr Ahmad called them in person to get firsthand information, which left them with no other option than handing in the skull to a museum in Urumqi and later it was named “the Atush man.”
The original plan was to take the skull to China by plane and to make up a fake history that it was dug in somewhere in China. However, this plan was proved unsuccessful, for the skull was discovered not by the archaeologists working for the Chinese government but by a student who went to Atush as a tourist, which made it impossible to keep it as a secret, On the contrary, it became an open secret.
Secondly, it drew the attention of the puppet Uyghur official who stepped in to check its whereabouts consistently, which prevented Chinese from handling it in a Chinese way.
This was just a failed attempt at theft among many. But this could tell us that it is reasonable to believe that there may have been many other successful stealing operations of Uyghur cultural treasures by Chinese.
Generally, Chinese have kept selling their lies in the area of cultural heritage, along with their habit of making up false or revised history. As these cultural artifacts have a political value, they are used as evidence for the false history. In this regard, Chinese are shameless. For instance, while the whole world knows that the Great Wall starts from Shanhaiguan and ends in Jiayuguan, they shamelessly claimed a wall discovered in Kuchar county in East Turkistan in the midst of an ancient construction site as the remaining part of the Great Wall. Even Chinese scholars are not ashamed of adding lies to their research for political purposes.
Even though they know that their unscientific and unethical action will be discovered by others one day, they can’t help but continuing with their deception, distortions and lies. Perhaps the kleptomaniac nature of Chinese as part of their national consciousness is all powerful to resist.
(Ghulam Osman is Uyghur leader & President of East Turkistan Government in-Exile)