Uygurs lose homes as capital cleans up

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 February, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 February, 2001, 12:00am

The Uygur community in Beijing has paid a heavy price for the capital's rush toward high-rise development. Weigongcun, the last remaining largely Muslim enclave, has been lost to a policy in which entire streets have been razed in the name of cleaning up the city.

Most of Beijing's historic hutongs, narrow winding alleyways dotted with traditional one-level courtyard homes, have suffered a similar fate in favour of more profitable high-rise buildings.

The official line by a government intent on spurring enhanced foreign investment, is that such areas must be cleared because they 'impede traffic, fire-fighting units or generally create an inconvenience'.

Whatever the reason, the end result is that the fragrant aromas and lively sounds emanating from Muslim enclaves are now just fading memories, and disconsolate owners say they have been left without compensation for their losses.

According to Uygur residents Abulait and Erkin (not their real names), they were told a few months ago that they must leave Beijing and return to Xinjiang. When the Government sold the currently empty lot that housed their former restaurant to a British-Japanese joint venture, the men said they lost both their homes and livelihoods at one blow.

Both men acknowledge that many in their community sell hashish or run illegal money changing businesses, giving the authorities another reason to demolish Weigongcun.

'The Han Chinese are scared of us. They think we're all criminals or lazy because of unemployment. But we lose our jobs because of the Han. It's just a vicious cycle,' Erkin said.

The two friends said they and their fellow Uygurs have all tried to earn an honest living, but have been treated like pariahs and often driven to illegal means to survive. Until he was forced to close up shop in Beijing, Erkin was the sole breadwinner supporting his parents and two sisters in his home town near Kashgar.

'We are going back home for a major Muslim holiday in early March to be with our families. But I have so many mixed feelings about seeing the devastation back home,' Abulait said.

'Unemployment and too much spare time have led to massive heroin addiction,' he said, and there is 'an Aids problem' that is as bad as in Yunnan province.

'There is so much hypocrisy behind the 'Go West' movement. With each Han Chinese who moves in and establishes a business in Xinjiang, another Uygur loses a job,' he said.