Reviews

Available online at <www.uyghurweb.net/uy/qarajul.pdf>.

This book represents the first book-length memoir of the Cultural Revolution in Xinjiang written by a Uighur activist.  Most significantly, it offers an insider’s view of an underground anti-Chinese organisation previously known to scholars largely through references in internal CCP documents—the Eastern Turkistan Peoples’ Revolutionary Party (Shärqiy Türkistan khälq inqilabiy partiyisi).  As we know, the Cultural Revolution in Xinjiang brought with it public book burnings, mosque demolitions, and an assault on traditional customs and economic life, all described in the first chapter.  Much of this was carried out by enthusiastic young Uighurs, and students in Kashghar responded quickly to the agitation against Xinjiang’s chairman, Wang Enmao, led by Chinese students in Urumchi.  In December 1966 these Kashgar “Rebels” (isyanchilar), as they were known, launched a hunger strike, and succeeded in deposing the local governor Nan Qimin.  They were opposed by the pro-Wang “Defenders” (qoghdighuchilar)—whose ranks included the author himself.  In January 1967, fired by a new call from Mao, anti-Wang students and workers took complete control of Kashghar, the Defenders fleeing to the New City (Yengishähär).  There, under the watchful eye of the Southern Xinjiang military command, they formed the “Kashghar Province United Committee of Proletarian Revolutionaries”.  Zhou Enlai’s order in October 1967 to open the gates of Kashghar led to a truce between the warring parties, but clashes continued well into 1968.  These factional manoeuvrings mirrored events elsewhere in China, but behind the slogans other forces were stirring in southern Xinjiang.  Outrage and bewilderment at the course of events fostered a rising tide of militancy among the Uighur peasantry.  Arms were manufactured, stolen, or seized directly from Chinese soldiers, and militias formed around local leaders.  The most significant of these men was Muhämmäd Imin Qadir in Mäkit, a firebrand in his early twenties with ambitions to wrest his native Dolan valley from Chinese control.  Meanwhile, regular news reports of Soviet encroachment on China’s borders, and Uighur-language broadcasts from Tashkent and Almaty, fuelled thoughts of secession.  The author informs us that local cadres were privy to a documentary film purporting to show an army of Soviet-trained Uighur paratroopers preparing for the imminent invasion!  The organisation which best catered to these sentiments was the Eastern Turkistan Peoples’ Revolutionary Party.  Unfortunately the author at no point provides us with an account of the formation of his party, though it seems to have been based on the remnants of the military and intellectual leadership of the Ili-based Eastern Turkistan Republic (1944-9)—a group which was deliberately dispersed throughout Xinjiang after the Communist takeover in 1950.  Certainly its pro-Soviet orientation identifies it as the heir to this short-lived regime.  In southern Xinjiang the organisation was under the leadership of one Akhunop.  A native of the Aqto region, Akhunop joined up with the southern expedition of the Eastern Turkistan Republic in 1944, and later served as an officer in its army.  When the ETR’s armed forces were incorporated into the Red Army, Akhunop was transferred south to Kashghar, where he commanded a cavalry division.  According to the author, Akhunop was dismissed from the military after China’s war with India in 1961-2.  (Apparently, while on service in Tibet, he was suspected of sympathising with the struggle for Tibetan independence).  Akhunop’s party won friends in high places, recruiting among intellectuals and party officials.  The author himself worked for the Päyziwat party committee, and counted the head of the Kashghar Pedagogical Institute, and the secretary of the Toqquzaq party committee among his comrades.  Almost all appear to have been Uighur, although the author describes at one point the bravery of one Dungan (Hui) woman.  The group was spurred into action in July, 1969, when the CCP called on all Cultural Revolution groups to turn in their arms.  In the following month a disastrous round-up of party members prompted the leadership to implement their plans for an uprising, designed to coincide with an incursion of “foreign”, presumably Soviet, forces.  (No further details are given of this aspect of the plan).  The author set out from Kashghar with his comrades on August 21, and after a 48 hour march the group reached Qarajül, north of Atush, some 50 km from the Soviet border.  There they were surrounded by Chinese forces before they could take further action, and in three clashes the fighters were all either captured or killed.  Only the author escaped, entrusted by Akhunop with an unspecified message to convey across the Soviet border.  On the way, however, he was waylaid by a group of Kyrgyz, who handed him over to the Chinese for a bounty.  The remainder of the book is taken up with the author’s description of his time in Chinese custody, including his experience of re-education programmes, and life in the labour camps.  Sentenced to twenty years, the author bid farewell to many of his comrades in a round of executions carried out in July, 1970.  In the final chapter he offers individual portraits of some of these fighters, explaining their backgrounds and motivations for involvement in the underground movement.  Obviously there is much left unsaid here, and many questions of organisation and ideology are conspicuously avoided.  Nonetheless this book is an extremely valuable starting point for investigation into this dark period of Xinjiang’s history.  On the basis of Kerimi’s first-hand narrative, it should be possible to formulate an appropriate set of questions to guide further research.  Thankfully its small print-run is compensated for by the publisher’s decision to provide the full text online.

David J. Brophy, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
CER: I-3.5.D-351