“Being a Local” vs. “Belonging”

This article discusses the region of Xinjiang in northwestern China and the ethnic makeup of the area. While the area historically is home to the Uyghur, a minority group in China as a nation, the group is slowly making its way in the Chinese mainstream lifestyle and the area of Xinjiang is slowly re-identifying as part of the “Chinese nation-state”. Due to the fact that the both the Han and Uyghur ethnic groups inhabit the Xinjiang region, there are often tensions (sometimes violent) between the two groups. As a result of these tensions, violent outbursts have lead to numerous civilian deaths in towns throughout the region. The region’s richness in oil has attracted government attention and has also aided to the military action that has been put in place mostly from Beijing. With the rest of China looking to take hold of Xinjiang and immerse them into Chinese society, it destabilizes Xinjiang Uyghurs to support themselves financially, especially since many of them lack proficient skills in Mandarin. The interference from Chinese society is causing the Uyghur community to feel increasingly isolated within their own environment.

The writer of this article describes a situation she had with a Han cab driver. She asks the driver if he “is both a local and a person from Xinjiang”. The driver proceeds to specifically identify himself from a town from within the region but specifically avoids identifying himself as a Xinjiang “ren” (person). It is clear through this that in this culture it is widely practiced to explain your “ethnic association” rather than “physical location”. The idea of “ren” is widely used throughout China. The word “ren” is attached to the endings of various locations throughout China. For example, Xingjian ren denotes people from Xinjiang, Beijing ren denotes people from Beijing, Zhongguo ren denotes a person from China non-specifically. This word represents the power to ethnically categorize through language. By attaching ren to the end of the location you can immediately assign ethnic origin and identity. This begs the question of the construction of ethnic identity and how ethnicity and race come to be by the labels and words in which we use to describe people and their characteristics. Do you see this word as a negative? Does this word create solidarity within Chinese society or does it relate to the violence seen in areas such as Xinjiang that would suggest the issues faces race and ethnicity in China?