By Hendy Yuniarto
Xinjiang is known for its beautiful natural scenery, and often dubbed “Heaven on Earth” by tourists. The cultural diversity between ethnic groups in the region enriches your experience in western China’s Xinjiang. What makes Xinjiang different is the harmony within its multiethnic society. Tacheng and Yili are two cities in Xinjiang that showed us an example of how we can build diversity and unity in communities while coexisting peacefully.
Tacheng is a small city located in the westernmost Xinjiang, China. With around 170,000 people, this small town is home to 25 of China’s 56 officially recognized ethnic minorities, including Uyghur, Kazak, Hui, Tatar, Russian, Xibe, etc. Different ethnic groups in the city have been living side by side for hundreds of years. In the mid-19th century, the city was bustling with the tea trade between China and Russia.
It’s not hard to witness the city’s multicultural population. A glance at any street will reveal a mix of people with different skin tones, hair colors, and traditional clothing. According to the latest census data, 37 percent of households in the city belong to at least two ethnic minorities, and many of them have four different ethnicities in one family.
I visited several families to get a feel of this unique harmonious atmosphere in the city. My first visit was to a Tatar family, called the Yimanshu family. The thing that left a deep impression on me when I visited their house was the preservation of cultural traditions in the family through generations. The family name “Yimanshu” also refers to the oak tree in their house’s courtyard. The owners of this residence are Refati and Zaituna, who is also the chairman of the Tatar Cultural Union, and the heir of the intangible cultural heritage of Tacheng as well as the national one. Tatars are a minority group with a population of less than 4,000 in China.
The Yimanshu family and most Tatar people enjoy making traditional food and cakes using their inherited skills. These cooking skills also became a major source of their livelihood when the taste of Tatar cakes became very popular around the country. Visitors will be treated hospitably by serving traditional Tatar cakes, ice cream, and fruit in the cool courtyard of their house. We also felt the warmth and tranquility of the family when they were performing their folk dances and songs, a special trait of Tatars.
The house I visited next belonged to the Wuraken, a multiethnic family in the Haerdun area, known for its multiethnic residential area, where Uighur, Han, Kazakh, Hui, and 14 other ethnic groups live. The Wureken family is one of the multiethnic families there, and consists mostly of Han, Kazakh, Mongol, Kyrgyz, and other ethnic groups.
This family is a reflection of many other multiethnic families in Tacheng. After several generations, they’re still living together side by side and managed to improve their incomes. Now, the new houses with its lavish interiors and modern household appliances replaced the old narrow ones.
The third family I visited was the Khalidan Yilahong family. She is a Uighur, and her husband is from Uzbekistan. Their house had a beautiful rose garden and a dining hall. When it’s time for meals, each family will prepare a different type of ethnic food that turns their everyday dinner table into a multiethnic food feast.
Many multiethnic families in Tacheng Xinjiang show that ethnic diversity is not the obstacle to peace and coexistence. Sharing, acceptance and tolerance is the key to cultivating a harmonious society.
The second multiethnic community life is Liuxing Street in Yili City. The Liuxing Street is also a perfect example of Xinjiang ethnic diversity. Liuxing Street is an ancient residential block built in the mid-1930s (1934-1936) by German engineers.
The shape of this residential block is hexagonal, with six main streets stretching from the center, dividing the street into six fan-shaped. There are residential houses, schools, shops, restaurants, mosques, and an orthodox church in this block. Although Liuxing Street covers only 47 hectares, it became the residence of eight ethnic groups, including Han, Kazakh, Hui, Uygur, Russian, Tatar, and other ethnicities.
Liuxing Street reflects a fusion of western and eastern architecture and today it has become a unique cultural tourism spot because of people’s unity. Liuxing Street has been included in the cultural heritage and historic preservation by the city government. In this block, there are about 850 households with a population of more than 2,000 people.
The culture and traditions of the multiethnic people in Tacheng and Yili reflect the multiethnic society’s integration. They’ve been living side by side and embracing diversity for years. Their culture is still well-preserved and passed down from generation to generation. These simple scenes revealed the peaceful ethnic diversity in Xinjiang, China, and that’s exactly why the concept of “Harmony in Diversity” became deeply rooted in the hearts and minds of Xinjiang people.