Generally speaking, Xinjiang is a region with diverse ethnic groups, culture and religions, which is its most distinctive feature. There are 13 aboriginal ethnic groups and altogether 53 ethnic groups now. Besides Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Catholicism and Shamanism are also poplar in Xinjiang.
Since there are so many ethnic groups and religions coexist together, the relationship between ethnic groups and religions are certainly important here.
The harmony between ethnic groups in Xinjiang can not be denied, and it is not a slogan or symbol, but the common interest of various ethnic groups. Ethnic groups have lived here together for some thousand years and there is no lack of wisdom in dealing with ethnic group relations.
As viewed from a political angle, it has long been acknowledged by various ethnic groups that the solidarity and stability of Xinjiang is indestructible.
To take a close look at life details, the peace and well-being of Xinjiang can be found everywhere and people have been quite used to it.
In both urban and country Xinjiang, it’s quite common that people of different ethnic groups become neighbors, colleagues, acquaintances and friends. They study, work, play and live together. They sit side by side on bus, pass and greet each other on the street and help each other when needed.
Of course there are many differences between ethnic groups, such as different body features, languages, customs, aesthetic tastes and religions, but thanks to the long time coexistence the commonness has been cemented while the differences are respected. That’s a colorful and beautiful scene.
It’s not only the exterior but also the valuable connotation of the multinational region.
For instance, in summer there are a lot of night markets on streets of Xinjiang, which are open till very late at night. Most night markets sell food, but there are also flea markets for some small goods. On night markets, stallholders from different ethnic groups and places sell various snacks to attract local residents and tourists. There are places for leisure and relaxation. You can not only take a taste of feature food from different places, but also enjoy beers and chat with friends. What an easygoing and cozy environment! It draws a stark portrait of a harmonious and stable Xinjiang society.
It is also widely known that there are some serious factors, mainly national secessionism and illegal religious activities, jeopardizing the stability of Xinjiang. There are indeed a few separatists in Xinjiang who ever made many terroristic events, but the government has always kept a close eye on national separatism, religious extremism and violent terrorism, and taken effective measures to strike and defend against them with the support from people of various ethnic groups.
All those who have been to Xinjiang can exactly feel the tranquility of the society, which has no difference from other peaceful places.
Xinjiang is also a place with a strong religious flavor.
Its history, culture and customs are all tinged with religions. In ethnic groups like Uygur, Kazak, Hui, Kirgiz, Tajik and Tatar, almost all people are Muslims.
Xinjiang has a diversity of religions and all the globally spread religions have ever been missionized here and had profound influence. Although Xinjiang is not the cradle of any global religion, it’s the critical zone where various religions spread and evolve. Religion is a unique angle to look at Xinjiang and Xinjiang is also an enlightening place to understand religions.
There used to be many religions in Xinjiang’s history, such as Shamanism, Zoroastrianism, Manichean, Nestorianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Christianity, Catholicism and Orthodox, among which are ethnic or tribal religions with distinctive ethnic and regional features, cosmopolitan religions like Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam and also some primitive religions worshiping totems. Of course such mix of religions is frequent in the history of religions.
Totemism is quite common in primitive religions. There are various totems in religions of Xinjiang’s ethnic groups, from the sun and moon in the nature to animals like the tiger, wolf, lion and rat, and even genitalia of human beings. The nomadic Turkis worshipped the wolf while ancient Khotan people who cultivated the land worshipped the rat. Ancient Gaoche, Wusun and Xiajiasi people viewed themselves as the offspring of the wolf while the contemporary Kazak say they are born by the sun. The Tajik people love a dance that mimics the eagle while inheritors of the lion dance can still be found among descendants of Lop Nor People. Not only primitive religions did ever prevail among ancient Xinjiang’s ethnic groups, but some subtle traces can also be found in current ethnic customs, such as Mazar worship and stabbing branches, tying ribbons and hanging tails of cows and horse on Mazars.
Ethnic religion is one category of religions. To understand the existence of ethnic religion helps in the sense of materials exploitation and being circumstantial evidence of thoughts to understand the commonness and difference, and development and variation of religions, and the relationship between religion and nation. Ethnic religion can only influence specific scope that is usually confined within the ethnic group or tribe. Since it prominently embodies the ethnic group’s living environment, psychological feature and ethical values and is closely related to its psychological and social structure, it is very difficult to spread to other ethnic groups. For instance, although Taoism entered the Western Regions a long time ago and coexists with other religions, it has all along been confined within some Han people. Many ethnic groups and tribes ever had ethnic religions in their early ages. Although they were finally converted to other religions, the factors of ethnic religion didn’t go with the wind, but have somewhat been syncretized into new religions.
It is because cosmopolitan religions resonate among people in individuality and are independent of people’s nation that they can transcend the difference between ethnic groups and spread and be accepted among them. Buddhism, Christianity and Islam have such immanent condition to widely spread among various ethnic groups and races. Xinjiang plays a special role in the spread of these major cosmopolitan religions. It is located at the important development and transition belt both for Buddhism and Christianity spreading eastward and Islam going north. At this belt are there Kashi, Khotan, Kuqa，Turpan and Dunhuang of Gansu. A large number of cultural relics about the spread and development of religions have been left there, which provides precious clues for late generations to know and understand religions.
Xinjiang’s religions are not only diverse in categories and schools, but also coexist in harmony and learn from each other, which display great liberality and benignity. Before the 10th century Buddhism flourished in Xinjiang, but during the Middle Ages Buddhism and Islam each dominated the north and south of Tianshan Mountain, and during the recent five hundred years Muslims spread all over Xinjiang. Although the status of various religions keeps changing constantly, some dying out and some being introduced, the old waning and the new waxing, the situation of various religions, no matter aboriginal or foreign, coexisting together has existed all along the history of Xinjiang.
Today’s Xinjiang is still a society where many religions coexist. A large population believes in various religions and people enjoy sufficient freedom of choosing a religion or being infidelic. Since most people are Muslims, mosques are distributed everywhere in Xinjiang among which is the most renowned Etigar Mosque in Kashi. On important feast days a large number of people gather on the plaza in front of the Mosque.
The Id Kah Mosque in Kashi
Through the previous changes, it has formed the structure of large mixed community and compact community of various nationalities in Xinjiang. In Xinjiang different ethnic groups live together in one area while still live in individual homogeneous communities. The total population is over 20 million, 40% of which are the Han people and 60% of which are ethnic minorities. The Uygur people mainly concentrate on the oases of Tarim Basin; the Kazak people live in the grassland surrounding the Junggar Basin; the Tajik people are mainly distributed on the Pamir Plateau; the Xibe people live by Yili River; the Han people are mainly distributed in cities and northern Xinjiang. In places like Urumqi, Korla, Turpan, Hami, Changji, Bule, Yili and Karamay, the characteristic of multi-ethnic mixed community is quite distinct.
With China's growing economy and market the floating population to Xinjiang for investment, business and work has increased rapidly. Besides the aboriginal Uygur, Han, Kazak, Hui, Mongolian, Kirgiz, Xibe, Tajik, Manchu, Uzbek, Russian, Daur and Tatar there are people from various places of China, including people from Henan, Sichuan, Gansu, Shanxi, Shandong, Hunan, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Guangdong, Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin etc. Certainly, foreigners from Russia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Japan, Europe and America can also be seen on streets. For example, during the cotton-picking season every year, more than one hundred thousand farmers from the hinterland come to Xinjiang for a short-term work. They come while the cotton blossoms and leave after all the cotton are placed in storage. There are also many construction sites in Xinjiang, where a lot of construction workers gather from other places.
Standing on the streets in Urumqi, what you can hear is not only the dialects of Han people from different places, but also different languages of ethnic minorities; what you can see is not only the yellow race with dark hair and eyes, but also the blond white people. It’s like a living exhibition of ethnic groups and races.
The Xinjiang people is a collective concept. In this category, people from different ethnic groups, different places and with different cultural backgrounds all have distinct characters. People from different ethnic groups and different places show different features of personality. For instance, the Hui people impress people with delicious meals while the Xibe people have developed a complex language system; people from northeast China are forthright by nature while those from the south are meticulous; Zhejiang people are good at business while Sichuan people are born industrious. They can all be easily identified by these social and experiential labels.
Since people from various ethnic groups and places live together, Xinjiang people have a variety of looks and accents and gather together rich and colorful customs, traditions and behaviors. These have endowed Xinjiang people with a rich and diverse connotation that is difficult to grasp.
Mixed accents, various cuisines, different cultural backgrounds and unique customs come together and draw a kaleidoscopic picture of Xinjiang people.
But Xinjiang people also have some common characteristics. There common things benefit from the subtle transformation of natural environment, the long-term influence of historical and cultural backgrounds, and mutual learning and influence between different ethnic groups and places.
Although from different ethnic groups and places, Xinjiang people generally have an open and frank disposition with generosity and enthusiasm. Straightforwardness of the north and subtle sensibility of the south have been well combined here and unsophisticatedness of ethnic minorities and etiquette of Han people influence each other.
Besides personality and characters, Xinjiang people also demonstrate some obvious common inclination in the aesthetic concepts, diet preference, costumes, culture, education, and environmental awareness.
Due to the long-term mixed residence, the commonness of Xinjiang people is not only exhibited in terms of thought, personality and behavior, but even in appearances.
Mutual adaption is a smart choice with no need of wisdom. For example, although Xinjinag’s Han people keep the same cultural tradition and customs with those in the hinterland, local impacts can often be found in their living habits, thinking and behavior. According to the Gaochang Biography of Zhou History, for ancient Han people in Turpan region, “the costumes of men were just like ethnic minorities and those of women were somewhat like the Han people”. In nowadays, Xinjiang’s Han people, especially for those born and growing up here, love mutton, Xinjiang-style pilaf and milk tea just like Muslims, although they don’t believe in Islam. Many Han parents have their boys circumcised at a young age for health benefit, although they don’t hold a circumcision ceremony like ethnic minorities. They share the same ancestors with Han people in the hinterland, but their appearance, character and thinking have changed vaguely and formed a new geographical characteristic and humanistic spirit.
Also, Xinjiang’s ethnic minorities have been greatly influenced by Han culture. Some people can sing Peking Opera well and some are good at playing mah-jong.
There are plenty of advantages for a multi-ethnic region and a mixed community.
People here are broad-minded and can accept different religious beliefs, traditions, customs, food and life styles.
People here are open-minded, not conservative and have no blind xenophobia and rare geographical discrimination.
People here have a joyful personality and enjoy frequent humor, heavy drinking and continuous singing and dancing.
People here are full of guts and have the perseverance and courage of hunting tigers or wolfs and fighting against cyclones on deserts.
People here are smart and capable. No matter where they go, they can make great achievements with only a bit advantages.
Certainly, people here can also fully enjoy the fruits of modern civilization since the fashion trend has such a wide influence that the changes of social life are unpredictable and no one can stop them.
Chinese people have deep feelings for Xinjiang. The multi-level complex of politics, economy, culture and blood originates from the control of the West Region by the central government since the Western Han Dynasty, from the going west of oriental civilization through the Silk Road, from the influence of Buddhism from the west on central China, from a large quantity of technologies, species and musical melodies transferred from the West Region to the hinterland, from the good relations between ancient western ethnic groups and central dynasties, and even from the misconception that the headstream of the Yellow River is on the mountains around the Tarim Basin.
Thus Chinese people always have special feelings for Xinjiang and even Chairman Mao Zedong couldn’t help mentioning Yutian of Xinjiang at the happy moment of the founding ceremony of China in 1949.
Therefore, when the song “The Wonderful Xinjiang” becomes popular around the country, it not only represents Xinjiang people’s love to their home, but also embodies the sympathy between Xinjiang and the hinterland.