“I CAN speak Chinese, I’m so awesome!” reads a sign on the wall of the Mingde primary school in Shufu, a town near the oasis city of Kashgar in the far western province of Xinjiang. Nearby, children’s artworks hang beneath another banner which proclaims: “The motherland is in my heart.” Though every pupil at the school is Uighur, one of China’s ethnic minority peoples, most lessons here are taught in Mandarin—a very different language from their Turkic one. It is the same at ever more schools across the region. Educating young Uighurs in Mandarin may one day help them find work—but it is also a means by which the government hopes to subdue Xinjiang and its many inhabitants who chafe at rule from Beijing.
Xinjiang began to fall under China’s control in the mid-18th century. It was then mainly populated by ethnic Uighurs, whose culture and Muslim faith set them apart from much of the rest of China; Kashgar is far closer to Kabul and Islamabad than it is to Beijing. Despite the migration into Xinjiang of Hans, China’s ethnic majority, minorities (mainly Uighurs) still make up 60% of its residents, compared with less than 10% in China overall.