A recent phenomenon in the Xinjiang region has surprised people — the Han and Uyghurs are developing an unlikely friendship because of parkour. Parkour is a training discipline using movement that developed from military obstacle course training. Practitioners aim to get from one point to another in a complex environment, without assistive equipment and in the fastest and most efficient way possible, and it’s the latest craze in the region. One can easily find groups consisting of Uyghurs and Han practicing their moves and stunts in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi or in Aksu.
Keep calm and play parkour
Jin Xiaolong has been a member of a parkour group in Urumqi for several years, which he also helped to form. “This kind of sport is not only popular in Xinjiang, but it’s also pretty popular across China… As soon as guys see it, they like it because it is passionate and vigorous. When they see it, they feel like: ‘Wow. This is very cool,’” he said to McClatchy. One parkour practitioner mentioned that they don’t see each other as being from different ethnicities, but as brothers.
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Both scholars and members of the typically bickering ethnic groups agree that it is very unusual for Han and Uyghurs to create such a beautiful and peaceful bond. Tang Qi, a resident in Aksu, believes that it wasn’t a piece of surprising news for sports to tear down divisions between enemy groups. “When you pick up a hobby with friends when you are young, you are less susceptible to propaganda,” said Tang.
However, the close bonds of young Han and Uyghurs face a big threat — their families. Timothy Grose, assistant professor of China studies at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, stated that members of both ethnic groups are pressured by their families to distance themselves from the other group. In fact, marriage between the two communities continues to be a taboo.
A long history of bickering and hate
Xinjiang was annexed by the People’s Republic of China in 1949. During this time, 76 percent of the population of the region was comprised of the Uyghurs. Only 6.2 percent of it was actually Han and the remainder consisted of hundreds of other minorities. But in the wake of the annexation, migration of Han Chinese has slowly pushed the Uyghur population down. Currently, the Xinjiang region’s population is comprised of 40 percent Han and 42 percent Uyghurs.
Post-annexation, Beijing has been trying to colonize the Xinjiang Muslim minorities. Initially, many of them resisted by refusing to learn Mandarin and eventually demanding independence. This resistance ticked off Beijing, who regarded territorial integrity important. Moreover, the actions of the Muslim minorities were seen as a “danger to the state security.”
To the Chinese Communist Government, Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are “backward” people, and they’re vocal about it. In one instance during the era of the Communist Party’s Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1962, Beijing attacked ethnicity and religion as “obstacles to progress” and “backward custom.”
Since then, the Han and Uyghurs have been in a constant quarrel. Uyghurs are angry that the government restricts their traditional dress codes and tries to keep them away from their Islamic faith. This anger against the state and a history of discrimination have lead Uyghurs into regular fights with the Han. Tang Qi, a Chinese Han, reminisced about his childhood days in primary school when he wanted to learn Wushu so that he could defend himself in case another brawl between the Han and Uyghurs broke out. Besides this, there is a slew of atrocities committed against the Uyghurs by the Communist Party, including incarcerations, torture, forced labor, and denying basic human freedoms. There are even indications that Uyghurs have become victims of forced organ harvesting.