07.09.2012 - 02.10.2012 21 °C
This was our second trip to China, a somewhat inevitable necessity on an overland trip like ours as most other routes across the world are blocked for various reasons. We decided this time to travel to some more remote corners of the country, the more ethnically diverse and therefore less Han China (92% of Chinese are ethnically Han). This would take more time and effort. And sadly we were not rewarded. We were too late. Everywhere we went the bulldozers had beaten us. Old towns, cities even, were being demolished in the name of progress, replaced with identi-kit concrete structures as-seen-all-over-China. History and cultural diversity is currently being whipped out, cultural (Han) hegemony is being established in its place. It makes for boring and depressing travel.
One example. We visited Kashgar in the far west, covered in a film of dust from the demolished homes. It is an ancient city, was a pivotal point on the Silk Route and until recent times had a majority population of the Uighur people. They have long been fighting for their independence from China, China fighting back to keep the territory. One of China's tactics is to try and Han-ify the region aka, colonise it. In a country with a one-child policy, Han Chinese who move to Kashgar are rewarded for doing so with permission to have multiple children. They also get their first 3 years there tax free and their relocation costs paid for them. The result, Han are now the majority in the region - there are 8,000 new arrivals every day. This has created some serious civil unrest and now there are riot police 24/7 on the main street corners in town because uprisings against the Han and local government are common.
Moving on from destruction it's hard not to be taken-aback by the propaganda. The Uighur Mosques and Tibetan Monasteries we visited were littered with information boards re-writing history to show the 'friendship' and 'harmony' of the locals with the Han. We also got to witness some serious modern day government-led enciting of hatred. While we were in China the Japanese government bought the Diaoyu Islands from the current Japanese owners. China has disputed Japanese ownership of these remote, uninhabited islands since WWII and this new transaction really riled them up. It proved to be a great opportunity for the government to stir up some nationalism.
Every news channel and news paper headlined the story. As we sat in a restaurant with the news on we watched locals roar their distaste and approval to scenes of Chinese school children practising for air raids - as if the Japanese were about to invade, this then cut to footage of the Japanese actually invading back in 1930. Such scenes, and aggravating language being used by the government big wigs led to some nasty reactions. Japanese manufacturing plants and stores in China were closed because of sabotage, riots took over the streets with Japanese flags being burnt, in a bus station of a national park we saw a bus stickered with a Chinese flag with the hand written slogan 'F*!k Japan & the Philippines'. It was an intense reaction to a small issue (still ongoing more than a month later), building on a hate of a common enemy that has been cultivated by the leadership for 80 years.
Just a few examples of what's not to like about China. It wasn't all bad of course and I will write a whole separate blog on the good. Still, I wouldn't say it was a fun place to travel nor a highlight of the trip. I will take from it an interesting insight into a different place (a future superpower??). I'm glad I'm not Chinese. And perhaps the world has a little to fear from a government who can so easily stir up the hate of a billion people and turn it into violence.