In praise of contamination – Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy

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Students who take my World Regional Geography course know that one of my favorite metaphors for understanding and appreciating the world’s cultural diversity is ‘contamination.’  But this is not an idea that I dreamed up.  Nearly a decade ago, Kwame Anthony Appiah wrote an essay in The New York Times Magazine called “The Case for Contamination.”  And other writers, such as Salman Rushdie, have long celebrated “mongrolisation” of culture.  Mixture and impurity are the basic conditions of culture anyway.  Most of us are the product of mixture.  And the world would probably be a better place were people to embrace this fact, rather than indulge in fantasies of purity.

Appiah’s essay is written as an argument for a cosmopolitan ethics of globalization.  He writes,

The ideals of purity and preservation have licensed a great deal of mischief in the past century, but they have never had much to do with lived culture. Ours may be an era of mass migration, but the global spread and hybridization of culture — through travel, trade or conquest — is hardly a recent development. Alexander’s empire molded both the states and the sculpture of Egypt and North India; the Mongols and then the Mughals shaped great swaths of Asia; the Bantu migrations populated half the African continent. Islamic states stretch from Morocco to Indonesia; Christianity reached Africa, Europe and Asia within a few centuries of the death of Jesus of Nazareth; Buddhism long ago migrated from India into much of East and Southeast Asia. Jews and people whose ancestors came from many parts of China have long lived in vast diasporas. The traders of the Silk Road changed the style of elite dress in Italy; someone buried Chinese pottery in 15th-century Swahili graves. I have heard it said that the bagpipes started out in Egypt and came to Scotland with the Roman infantry. None of this is modern.

Appiah’s use of contamination is inspired by the comic Roman playwright Terence who, as a former African slave from Carthage, was himself a product of cultural hybridization.  Terence’s style of writing, which loosely sampled earlier Greek plays, was referred to by Roman literary critics as ‘contamination.’  Calling it “that endless process of imitation and revision,” Appiah finds no better proponent of contamination than Rushdie, who tells us that his fatwa-inducing novel,  The Satanic Verses, ”celebrates hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas, politics, movies, songs. It rejoices in mongrelisation and fears the absolutism of the Pure. Mélange, hotch-potch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world.”

Writers seem to get this aspect of culture better than most.  And particularly South Asian authors writing in English.  The postcolonial context in which they write, and their tendency to live comfortably in several different worlds – India, Britain, America – seems to lend itself to a cosmopolitan disposition toward the world that shares Appiah’s ethics of globalization.

Amitov Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy – Sea of Poppies, River of Smoke, and Flood of Fire – suggests a similar ethics of globalization.  Tracking the opium trade between India and China during the time leading up to and encompassing the First Opium War, the books offer a searing indictment of imperial arrogance, especially of the British colonial kind, where peddling drugs for profit was elevated to the morally righteous claim of a divine right, all in the name of ‘free trade.’  But Chinese imperial arrogance does not fare much better, with official suspicion of foreignness compounding the tragedy of China’s humiliating defeat by the British.

View of the European Factories, Canton, 1805-06 - by William Daniell (from wikipedia)

View of the European Factories, Canton, 1805-06 – by William Daniell (from wikipedia)

What interests Ghosh the most in telling this story is the hybrid cultural world of mixture upon which it plays out.  His novels demonstrate a deep fascination with language as the ultimate expression of this mixture, with readers introduced to a 19th century creole of mixed Hindustani, Arabic, Chinese, English, and several other languages of the Indian Ocean basin.  It’s a creole commonly used among traders, sailors, merchantmen, and even elite business and government leaders – the lingua franca of the opium trade.  The novels also depict the port cities of Calcutta, Guangzhou, Singapore, and Bombay as melange-filled cultural hubs within this network of trade, where earning a livelihood required among commoners a highly skilled fluency in several languages, creoles, cultures, and belief systems.  In Guangzhou’s foreign enclave, and up and down the Pearl River estuary, Zoroastrian traders from South Asia, Muslim lascars and Bengali soldiers, mix with Dan boat people and Hakka merchants from China.  It’s a portrait of China’s effervescent maritime frontier, the space beyond the great ramparts that enclose the city of Guangzhou itself, a space full of vibrancy and newness, but one also shadowed by imperialism, violence, and injustice.  It’s the kind of newness that Appiah’s essay calls on us to recognize, not as impurity infecting the ‘true culture’ of China, but as the space in which culture itself is renewed and recreated.

There’s a wonderful moment in the third book, Flood of Fire, when a motley crew of Muslim lascars, along with a Chinese nationalist and a former Indian raja who was stripped of his lands and imprisoned by the British, are stationed on a decommissioned American merchantman, the Cambridge.  The Chinese have purchased the ship, which was actually built by the Indians in Bombay, in hopes of modernizing their maritime defenses.  In that moment of futility against the juggernaut of imperialism (the Cambridge is easily sunk by the British warship Nemesis), one sees an ethics of globalization realized, where a mixed Indian Ocean crew on an Indian-built Chinese-owned former American ship strive to defend a China that would prefer to just be left alone.  While the violence of imperialism – rendered most vividly in the form of the Nemesis – wins the day, it is the fluid and creative mixing of peoples trying to carve out a life along the taut webs of trade, imperialism and warfare, that is the true heart of Ghosh’s story.

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The fake Olympics redux

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Seen any snow lately?

Several years back, I wrote a short piece for The China Beat (subsequently revised and published in the volume China in 2008) about all the accusations of fakery that were swirling around the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  The essay sought to provide some postmodern critique of the ways authenticity, mimicry, and forgery have long been used, particularly in the English language media, to disparage China’s rise and its pursuit of modernity.  So I was particularly intrigued, once Beijing got the nod to host the 2022 winter games, to see the scandal of fakery being dusted off and re-issued by critics of IOC’s decision to award the games to Beijing over Almaty, in Kazakhstan.

This time, however, the accusations are harder to dismiss as remnants of a Eurocentric intellectual discourse.  This time, it’s a much more basic issue.  In 2022, the Winter Olympics will likely be conducted, for the first time ever, almost entirely on fake snow.  Almaty’s bid committee sought to make this fact a centerpiece of its efforts to sway the IOC in its favor, with the not-so-subtle jab at Beijing underlying its official slogan: “Keeping it Real.”  Then we learned that one of the official songs for the Beijing winter games bid, “The Snow and Ice Dance,” was a knock-off version of “Let it Go” from the Disney film Frozen.  Fake snow!  Fake song!  Looks like we’re on our way to another Chinese Olympics!  There will undoubtedly be more claims of fakery leading up to the 2022 games, and most of these will be spurious if not entertaining.  Already journalists are bemoaning the lack of a tradition of winter sports in China and the likelihood that one will have to be invented and propped up between now and 2022.

But the environmental issues underlying the fake Olympics are serious.  In 2008, Beijing spared no expense to produce blue skies during the two weeks of Olympic competition.  Factories, power plants, and constructions sites were closed.  Cars were taken off the streets.  They even seeded the clouds to encourage some dust-dampening rain.  And it worked.  Those two weeks brought some of the cleanest air China’s capital had seen in decades.  Studies revealed significant positive results for the cardiovascular health of Beijing’s citizens after just two weeks of clean air.  But since 2008, the air has only gotten worse, and cleaning up the air in the winter, when coal smoke and dust are at their highest concentrations, will be a much bigger challenge.

Probably the bigger problem, though, is the fact that making artificial snow requires a lot of water, which is very rare in northern China.  Especially in the winter.  “No problem,” say Beijing 2022’s planners.  “Plenty of water.  Global warming is making the winters wetter, and water is being piped up from the south.”  The 2022 Winter Olympics will be a testament to China’s belief that its environmental problems can be solved with technological fixes.  The lack of water in Beijing is viewed not as a social or political issue of sustainability vs. excessive development and economic growth.  It is viewed as a relatively minor hiccup awaiting the appropriate technology along China’s inevitable path to modernization and prosperity.  Hosting the Winter Olympics in the equivalent of a desert will drive the point home:  we can conquer nature.  No problem.

Then there’s the question of how the venue construction will impact one of Beijing’s two national-level nature reserves:  Songshan Nature Preserve.  Shortly after the IOC made their announcement, local biologists began to point out on social media (in posts that have since been censored) that part of the alpine skiing venue fell within the boundaries of the reserve.  As reported in the journal Nature,

On 1 August, Wang Xi, who recently received his PhD and works at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai, overlaid maps from the International Olympic Committee’s evaluation report with those from the reserve’s website and posted the result on his Weibo account: both the start and end of the alpine runs fall within the reserve, he found.  Xi told Nature’s news team that his main motivation was to spread news of the possible ecological impact on plants there, including three orchid species that are classified at the highest protection level under Beijing’s conservation system. “It’s a chance for the government to connect with the people and talk to each other to solve this problem,” he says. “I am not against the Olympic Games, but they should be carried out in an environmentally friendly way.”

Wang’s post received nearly 250,000 hits, and was forwarded over a thousand times before it was deleted (but here’s another version).  Clearly Beijing wants to maintain the appearance of an environmentally friendly Olympics, whatever that might mean for the mega-resort style of development necessitated by hosting the events.  But the proximity of the nature reserve presents a test case that will be closely watched by many.  Again, from Nature:

Lei Gu, a postdoctoral researcher in evolution and conservation biology at Peking University, says that Songshan is not that important in terms of biodiversity. The bigger problem, he says, is that a government that has been increasingly issuing statements and regulations that emphasize its commitment to environmental sustainability and conservation seems to be backing away from its promises. In May, for example, China’s environment ministry released a notice, signed by ten government agencies, that stated that any development at odds with a reserve’s function is “strictly forbidden”. … Gu and Xi both worry that seeing the strict policies fail in Beijing would send a broader signal to local governments. If Beijing violates Songshan’s reserve, “it will be easier for local governments to give construction projects higher priority than conservation issues”, says Gu. “The real impact is the breaking of Chinese laws and policies on nature reserves.”

Apparently, in order to deal with this problem, authorities have decided to simply adjust the boundaries of the nature reserve (actually making the reserve bigger), so that the Olympic venues fall outside the reserve.  Zhang Suzhi, the deputy head of Yanqing county was quoted in the Beijing News saying, “The locations of the Winter Olympic venues are not included in the reserve after the adjustment.”  Well, that was easy.  No problem.

Questions will no doubt continue to linger.  The South China Morning Post reported that “the northern section of the reserve covering the proposed venue sites was still identified on a map on the reserve ‘s website on Friday [August 7th] as a ‘core area’, meaning it was off-limits to all human activity except scientific research.”  Meanwhile deputy head Zhang insisted that the adjustment improved the whole situation, improving the region’s “sustainable development” and “ecological preservation”.  So, maybe we need to add one more item to our list of Olympic fakery:  fake environmentalism.

From South China Morning Post

From South China Morning Post

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Another study on the health costs of air pollution in China

China PM2.5 emissions. From berkeleyearth.org

China PM2.5 emissions. From berkeleyearth.org

Berkeley Earth, a California-based climate science research non-profit, has released a study on the effects of air pollution on mortality in China.  Calling China’s air pollution “the greatest environmental catastrophe in the world today,” the study claims that 17% of all deaths in China are caused by polluted air.  That translates to over 4,000 deaths per day.  This is more than double the mortality rate attributed to air pollution in a recent study by the China Coal Consumption Cap Project.  The Berkeley Earth study also claims that nearly 40% of China’s population breathes “unhealthy” air on a daily basis.  Not surprisingly, the chief culprit is PM2.5.  While the mortality rate suggested by the Berkeley Earth study is shocking, and has made for splashy news coverage, the levels of air pollution indicated in the study have been well-known for some time.  The study also weighs in on Beijing’s promise to clean up the air before the 2022 Winter Olympics (air quality in Beijing is typically worst during the winter months), claiming that since most of Beijing’s air pollution is not generated in Beijing but in the heavily industrialized regions around Sijiazhuang and Handan, to the south, as well as Tangshan to the east, cleaning up Beijing’s air will prove difficult without tackling a much larger region of the country.  A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2012, however, suggested that Beijing’s high-cost efforts to clean up the air for the 2008 Olympics (including removing millions of vehicles from the roads, seeding clouds, and shutting down factories, power plants, and construction sites) had actually been remarkably successful at reducing air pollution and producing measurable health benefits for Beijing residents.  Still, producing healthier air in the winter will be a much greater challenge.

See Berkeley Earth’s press release here.  The group was founded in 2010 specifically to scrutinize the science behind global warming with an eye toward taking so-called ‘climate skeptics’ or ‘climate deniers’ seriously.  The group even received partial funding from the Koch brothers, who have waged a systematic campaign to discredit the science behind global warming.  Significantly, in 2012, after two years of data gathering and analysis, the group published its findings, concluding that not only was global warming “real” but that “Humans are almost entirely the cause.”  Since the group’s “conversion” from ‘climate skeptics’ to joining the international consensus on the anthropogenic causes of global warming, they have focused much of their work on what needs to be done to battle climate change.  Not surprisingly, China – with its enormous coal consumption – has figured prominently on their list of action items.  This study is part of a package of work advocating China’s shift from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas and, more controversially, nuclear energy, in order to meet its growing energy needs.

Given the government’s earlier reaction to Chai Jing’s Under the Dome, it is unlikely that this study will see wide distribution in China.  But then, nobody knows better than the Chinese themselves the daily costs of bad air.

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Under the Dome: China’s ‘Silent Spring’ moment flickers and fades

Red Pepper's translation of a political cartoon on reactions within China to "Under the Dome" (From China Digital Times)

Rebel Pepper’s translation of a political cartoon on reactions within China to “Under the Dome” (From China Digital Times)

It seemed too good to be true.  When former CCTV anchor Chai Jing’s 104-minute self-produced documentary “Under the Dome” was initially posted it clearly struck a nerve.  In the first 48 hours of its posting on Tencent, it received over 60 million views.  Resembling a TED talk, “Under the Dome” features Chai talking her audience through video, images, statistics, animation, investigative reporting and interviews that address three principle questions: 1) what is smog? 2) where does it come from? and 3) what should be done about it?  “Under the Dome’s” enthusiastic reception, and the fact that it was produced by a CCTV journalist and released with the cooperation of such powerful state media platforms as Youku and People’s Daily online, suggested to some observers that China’s ‘Silent Spring’ moment had finally arrived, when an open and frank national conversation about the state of China’s environment could finally be had.

But within a few days, online access to “Under the Dome” within China had been blocked.  China’s media watchdogs had clearly been nervous about the documentary from the beginning and its release was quickly met with directives to media outlets (and leaked to China Digital Times) to “regulate” public opinion surrounding the documentary.  This was followed by more specific instructions “to create a favorable atmosphere of public opinion” during the days leading up to annual session of the National People’s Congress and

refrain from sensationalizing certain sensitive topics coming from the Internet and society. Media and websites of all types and levels (including Weibo, WeChat, and news portals) must absolutely discontinue coverage of the documentary “Under the Dome” and its creator, as well as reports, commentaries, interviews, and special topics that concern or extend to this film and its creator. Websites and services that have already carried content must take down special features or clamp down on the backend. Discontinue reporting on discussions related to certain departments and work units concerned with this film. Strengthen management of forums, blogs, Weibo, WeChat, and other interactive platforms, and resolutely block and delete speech that uses this as an opportunity to cast doubt or attack the government.

This was followed by the unambiguous command to “delete” “Under the Dome” from all video streaming websites in China.  At this point, the documentary had been viewed about 200 million times.  While its release coinciding with the beginning of the National People’s Congress was almost surely purposeful, the timing clearly pushed beyond the comfort zone of the Central Propaganda Office.  But what ultimately killed “Under the Dome” was probably less its searing message itself than the intense reaction it generated.  The Party State is often surprisingly tolerant of criticism within China, especially when that criticism focuses on environmental issues.  But when people are galvanized around a single message, when that criticism begins to take on the appearance of a larger social movement, when it becomes, in other words, a collective act of criticism – that’s where the Party draws the line.  And it did not take long at all for “Under the Dome” to reach and summarily decimate that line.

In a recent post on WeChat (and translated on China Digital Times), popular science and psychology writer Tang Yinghong argued that “Under the Dome” went viral not because it provided any new information about pollution to a population somehow kept in the dark about such things.  The dangerous level of air pollution in China is something that most people are familiar with, and Chai Jing’s documentary provided little material that wasn’t already readily available to the general public.  Instead, Tang attributes the documentary’s popularity  to what he calls the “liberating effect of conformity” or, basically, the freedom to vent.  “Under the Dome” in other words expressed the pent-up feelings of millions.  Tang’s analysis indirectly condemns the Party-State’s attempts to control access to information and shape “public opinion” as achieving the opposite of its intended effect:  “If authorities allowed society to freely discuss, reflect, and criticize smog since it first appeared in China, then there would be no way for Chai Jing’s video to have gained such wide publicity.”

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More on the ivory trade: China announces a one-year ban

Chinese actress Li Bingbing, second from right, and business leaders endorse ivory trade ban at the launch of a public service advertisement, Dec 5, 2014. [chinadaily.com.cn]

Chinese actress Li Bingbing, second from right, and business leaders endorse ivory trade ban at the launch of a public service advertisement, Dec 5, 2014. [chinadaily.com.cn]

Magnus Fiskesjo (Cornell University and NYU-Shanghai) recently posted this update on H-Asia on the recent announcement of a one-year moratorium on ivory imports in China.  Also, a New York Times report on it can be found here.  The report is fairly dismissive of the move, quoting Shruti Suresh of the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency saying “It’s just window dressing.”  Suresh and other wildlife activists “fear that the Chinese government, which has openly called for relaxing international ivory trade limits, will use the yearlong moratorium as an excuse to say a ban failed to stop poaching and then call for the reopening of the international trade in ivory at the next major Cites conference, to be held in 2016.”  None of this is discussed by Fiskesjo, but he usefully points out that the ban may be timed to coincide with Prince William’s visit to China.  The Prince apparently has strong conservation interests and has been working with Yao Ming and David Beckham on anti-poaching publicity.

Prince William visiting Wild Elephant Valley in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan (British Embassy Photo via Shanghaiist)

Prince William visiting Wild Elephant Valley in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan (British Embassy Photo via Shanghaiist)

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More on the ivory trade in China: can elephants be saved by shanzhai ivory? Probably not.

The distribution of legal ivory market in China in 2013. Most of the ivory processing factories and retail outlets are located in and nearby Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Fuzhou.  From Gao and Clark 2014.

The distribution of legal ivory market in China in 2013. Most of the ivory processing factories and retail outlets are located in and nearby Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Fuzhou. From Gao and Clark 2014.

The latest issue of the journal Biological Conservation features a study by Gao Yufang and Susan Clark, both of Yale University, on the trends and drivers of the ivory trade in China.  One of their most interesting arguments is that part of the recent uptick in China’s ivory trade – and therefore in African elephant poaching as well – is driven by China’s moves to recognize and preserve ‘intangible cultural heritage’, as well as by related increases in investment in China’s arts industries and markets:

In the early 21th century, the nearly extinct Chinese ivory industry…began a revival owing to a social movement focused on preserving China’s intangible cultural heritage. In November 2002, the 16th National People’s Congress (the highest legislative body in China) stated that, “we must give our support…to the protection of major cultural heritage and outstanding folk arts” … A nation-wide taskforce was established, made up of the Ministries of Culture, Education, Finance, the National Development and Reform Commission, and others. Institutions, including research centers, theme museums, and heritage transmission centers, were created at national, provincial, and local levels. Moreover, a national inventory of intangible cultural heritage was launched in 2005, and publicity initiatives were undertaken.

Ivory carving as a profession and tradition is one of the many traditional cultural forms that seized this opportunity for revitalization. The industry promoted the ivory carving culture in exhibitions, newspapers, TV, radios, and on the Internet. In May 2006, Beijing and Guangzhou ivory carving was included in the first National List of Intangible Cultural Heritages. This recognition guaranteed that the ivory industry could receive substantial support from the state. Indeed, preserving national intangible cultural heritage was the main reason proposed by the SFA in its attempt to acquire CITES approval to import ivory from Southern African countries. Recognition of intangible cultural heritage preservation continues today and thus enhances the cultural and aesthetic values of ivory artworks.

Noting the recent huge increase in China’s art auction market, they also argue that, “The rapid expansion of the ivory trade after 2009, particularly in the gray market…is animated by a boom in arts investment.”

Carved ivory on sale in China.  From eia-international.org/ivory-trade-advocate-ducks-his-critics-at-cites-meeting

Carved ivory on sale in China. From eia-international.org/ivory-trade-advocate-ducks-his-critics-at-cites-meeting

All of this makes the work of reducing, or outright banning, the ivory trade in China culturally and politically complicated and difficult.  There is a very deep and significant nostalgia in China for traditional cultural arts and craft skills, like ivory carving.  That nostalgia is also caught up in the current wave of popular nationalism and a general trend in cultural conservatism that highly values distinctively Chinese arts such as ivory  carving.  The best solution, it seem, would be come up with a suitable substitute, a kind of shanzhai ivory that preserves the carving crafts without killing the elephants.  The Chinese, after all, are shanzhai specialists.  Surely it’s not too much to ask for a viable shanzhai ivory?  However, as Zhou Zhao-Min (an enforcement officer with the Yunnan Public Security Bureau) recently wrote in the journal Nature, fake ivory has failed to dent the illegal trade.  And fake ivory raises its own problems:

Because synthetic and authentic ivory are so similar, unscrupulous traders caught smuggling illegal ivory can claim that it is synthetic; they can also pass off synthetic ivory as genuine when they sell it. The situation may be aggravated by legitimate traders, because they are entitled to compensation if destructive sampling is carried out to conclusively distinguish real from synthetic ivory

Zhou has investigated 57 cases of suspected illegal ivory trading since 2011. “Of these, 27 attempted to disguise samples of genuine ivory by mixing them with fake ivory, and only 513 of 1,714 items actually proved to be synthetic.”

Posted in Consumption, Environment, Globalization | Leave a comment

Migration as ethnic integration

Workers from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region prepare to board a chartered train recently as they set off for Guangdong province to start new jobs. Huang Guobao / Xinhua

Workers from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region prepare to board a chartered train recently as they set off for Guangdong province to start new jobs. Huang Guobao / Xinhua

Last May, following a deadly suicide attack on an Urumqi street market that left 39 dead and 94 injured, Xi Jinping called for further integration of Uighurs into mainstream Chinese society.  Uighur separatism, China’s leaders have assumed, was responsible for this and several other bursts of violence in Xinjiang over the past year.  Migration would be a primary means of achieving a less volatile situation, Mr. Xi said.  This meant encouraging more Han migrants to relocate to Xinjiang (how this might quell separatist sentiment in a region where Han people already dominate the economy is not entirely clear).  It also meant encouraging a reverse migration of Uighurs to ‘China proper’ in order to, as Xi put it, “enhance mutual understanding among different ethnic groups and boost ties between them.”  This is part of Xi’s broader agenda of pushing interethnic “contact, exchange, and mingling” including policies encouraging interethnic marriage, mixed ethnic residential communities in Xinjiang, and encouraging more ethnically mixed schools.

Xi was essentially calling for the continuation of labor export programs in Xinjiang that have been arranging factory employment in Guangdong Province.  These programs have stalled since 2009 when a huge brawl between Uighur and Han workers at a Guangdong toy factory resulted in two Uighur deaths, scores of injuries, and a wave of riots in Urumqi as Xinjiang Uighurs demanded a justice for the two workers who had been killed in what many believed to be a fight instigated by the Han.  The Urumqi riots precipitated a huge state clampdown on basic freedoms in Xinjiang, particularly for Muslims, causing much resentment among Uighurs.  As I’ve noted on this blog already, many Uighurs feel that China is trying to erase their way of life in the name of security and economic prosperity in Xinjiang.

Uighur girls eat in a Xinjiang restaurant in 2009, near the gates of a Nike factory in Huizhou, Guangdong, where more than a thousand workers were contracted from a rural town near Kashgar in Xinjiang (Sharron Lovell/Global Post)

Uighur girls eat in a Xinjiang restaurant in 2009, near the gates of a Nike factory in Huizhou, Guangdong, where more than a thousand workers were contracted from a rural town near Kashgar in Xinjiang (Sharron Lovell/Global Post)

Since 2009, Guangdong factories have been reluctant to participate in Xinjiang’s labor export schemes, but Xi’s call last May has resulted in a revised set of rules meant to encourage more labor export.  As reported in the New York Times:

The workers are required to undergo “ideological and political review” by the local authorities. They also must be trained in speaking Mandarin Chinese, urban living and the law. For every 50 workers it exports, the Xinjiang government must assign a local official to accompany the workers, paying for his or her salary, as well as chefs to cook halal food at the factories.

The guidance says companies taking on the workers will be vetted by Guangdong officials. The companies are advised to cultivate ethnic minority role models. The companies should help the workers adapt to the local environment, such as enrolling children in schools or making hospital visits.

For their efforts, the accommodating companies will receive subsidies from the Guangdong government. The companies get a one-time payment of 3,000 renminbi, or $480, for every Xinjiang worker they hire, provided they hire at least 30 workers and retain them for at least one year. The companies also get a payment of 1,000 renminbi per worker if they offer a 60-hour program of adaptation training for the workers. The Guangdong government will also give a subsidy of 1,500 renminbi per month to each Xinjiang official accompanying the workers.

According to China Daily, Guangdong plans to import 5,000 workers from Xinjiang over the next three years.  In 2014, 1,000 have already migrated.  Chinese media have been championing the can-do spirit of these migrants, viewing them as pioneers of ethnic integration and national unity.

Posted in Frontiers, Migration, Minzu | Leave a comment