Back To Top

Shifting focus on Xinjiang

Xinjiang’s image has been tainted with negative perceptions.

No thanks to the merciless terror attacks and violent clashes carried out by some people from the autonomous region, Xinjiang natives are suffering from prejudice against them.

Kurbanjan Samat, a 32-year-old Uighur, believes the stereotype stems from the lack of understanding and has vowed to change that, one person at a time.

“Photography is my passion. When I am holding a camera, I feel a sense of social responsibility,” he said.

He started a project last December to photograph Xinjiang people all over China.
Kurbanjan aspires to repaint the image of Xinjiang and its people through his book. (The Star)
Kurbanjan aspires to repaint the image of Xinjiang and its people through his book. (The Star)

In less than a year, he contacted more than 500 people and captured some 100 on camera.

One-hundred profiles, plus Kurbanjan’s own story, were compiled into a book.

“I Come from Xinjiang” was launched at the Great Hall of the People ― the Chinese parliament right next to Tiananmen Square ― in Beijing two weeks ago.

Many keep Xinjiang people at arm’s length because the northwestern territory is often associated with terrorism, unrest and discrimination.

In March, a group of knife-wielding people, who were later identified as Xinjiang militants, attacked passengers in a railway station in Kunming, Yunnan, leaving 29 dead and 143 injured.

In August, three people were executed for the suicide car crash in Tiananmen Square in 2013, which Beijing blamed on Xinjiang separatists.

This month, a Chinese court sentenced 12 people to death for staging assaults in Shache, Xinjiang, which killed 37 civilians.

Closer to home, 155 Uighurs were recently found crammed inside two apartment units in Bukit Jalil. They were believed to be illegal immigrants using Malaysia as a transit point.

“We feel wronged by the labels affixed on us for what a small part of Xinjiang people had done,” Kurbanjan said.

“They don’t represent Xinjiang. But you can’t just sit around and drench yourselves in pity. You have to do something.”

Originating from Hotan in Xinjiang, Kurbanjan put his full-time job as a documentary videographer aside and embarked on the journey to photograph his fellow Xinjiang brothers and sisters.

He began with 30 of his own friends and, gradually, other people who heard about this project volunteered to be photographed.

“Xinjiang is not made up only of Uighurs,” he noted.

“There are many other ethnic groups as well, such as Han, Hui (Muslim ethnic people), Kazaks, Xibes, Mongols, Tajiks and others. They are from all walks of life and are now in different life stages.”

Most of the 100 people in his book were photographed in their professional capacity.

All looked straight into the camera and their stories were told in first-person accounts.

“I worked close to 20 hours a day because I wanted to finish the work with the fastest speed,” he said.

“Once I was in three different cities in a day to meet and photograph different people. It was exhausting but their stories gave me strength.”

Although his portrait graces the book cover, Kurbanjan repeatedly emphasized that the focus was on the people featured within the pages.

Among them are a lawyer, doctor, teacher, radio DJ, architect, musician, artist, professor, engineer, fruit vendor and “chuanr” (barbecued meat on skewers) seller.

Kurbanjan was eager to tell his readers that these people, like every other Chinese, strive hard for the betterment of their own lives and their country.

“Xinjiang is a sunny place,” he said. “There is a lot of positivity in the people. We also contribute to society and to the progress of our nation.”

But essentially, these are stories of the Chinese people.

“Every Chinese can relate to the hard work of the people featured,” he said.

“We’re all equal, we work hard and we share the same Chinese Dream.”

Kurbanjan has decided to make this a lifelong project. He plans to revisit the same people five years later to see how they are doing in their lives.

For now, he hopes to translate “I Come from Xinjiang” into English, and see to the production of a documentary on the project.

What does he hope to achieve from the book? To change how others see Xinjiang and its people?

“My personal effort is small; I can only influence the people around me. I believe our actions can prove ourselves, and leave a good impression on others.”

By Tho Xin Yi

(The Star)