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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Turkmen in China

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China Facts
Area:    9,596,560 sq. km.
Capital:    Beijing
Total Population:    1,237,000,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Several indicators point to the possibility of continuation of the Uyghur protest and rebellion, including: 1) a territorial concentration 2) several political and militant organizations, and 3) continuing government repression. Factors that might contain the rebellion include: 1) governmental efforts at economic improvement of the region, 2) transnational support for the Chinese government, and 3) the lack of serious armed conflicts in neighboring countries.


Analytic Summary

Among the Turkmen (Turkic minorities including Uyghurs, Kazakhs and Tajiks) the Uyghurs are the largest group. The vast majority of them reside in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region (GROUPCON = 3). The Uyghurs (and other Turkmen) are Muslims and speak a distinct language from Mandarin Chinese (LANG = 1). They first appeared in the Chinese history in the mid-eighth century as part of the East Turkic steppe confederation. Around 744 CE the Uyghurs established a political power known as Karabalgasun, which thrived from the mid-10th to 12th century. The Uygurs came under foreign domination by the Tangut state of Xixia, the Karakitai, and the Mongols (the Yuan dynasty), between 1028 and 1036, in 1128 – 1129, and from 1209, respectively. From the 13th century to the mid-18th century the region experienced alternation of political power until the Qing dynasty took control in 1759. Xinjiang, a frontier region of China was not always securely under central government control. There were several rebellions. Twice, Turkic peoples in the Xinjiang region formed independent republics. The first, the Turkish Islamic Republic of Eastern Turkistan, lasted from 1933-1934. The second, the Eastern Turkistan Republic, lasted from 1944-1949. During their time, each controlled only small portions of today's Xinjiang region. The People's Liberation army took control of the Xinjiang region in 1949, but it was not under central communist government control until 1955.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the Communist government encouraged a massive influx of Han Chinese involved in development projects in the region, altering the demographic balance to the point that at present, Uyghurs constitute a bare majority (52%) as compared to Han Chinese (48%). Turkmen in China have been historically disadvantaged economically, with lower average incomes and under-representation in commercial activities, professions and government. Although the Chinese government has invested heavily in developing regions in which Turkmen reside, they still lag economically, as admitted in a white paper published by the state news agency. Discrimination against Uyghurs is apparent in the hiring for jobs created by recent development projects in Xinjiang, which have gone to the Han, almost exclusively (ECDIS04-06 = 3). They also have traditionally been underrepresented politically – although Turkmen do hold official positions in the autonomous provinces, they are still tightly controlled by the central government, dominated by Han Chinese. Furthermore, under the pretense of fighting terrorism, the central government has further curtailed political participation by Turkmen (POLDIS04-06 = 4). Since 1996, when ethnic violence broke out in Xinjiang, the government has undertaken a massive campaign of repression. Xinjiang now has the dubious distinction of having the highest average number of executions per month – nearly 2 – in the country. Most of the executions are political in nature. The group also has some restrictions placed on cultural life. While mosques do operate in the country, they are under state control. Some Sufi sects have also faced particular persecution by the government. Religious repression is greater in the Xinjiang region than anywhere else in China, as the central government fears its use to mobilize separatism (CULPO104-06 = 3). The state does fund some Uyghur and Arabic (used for religious purposes) language education (CULPO204-06 = 2).

Primary grievances of Turkmen in China are political in nature. Most desire widespread autonomy with a smaller number preferring autonomy. Some of these desire union with kindred groups in Central Asia. They also desire greater participation in the central government, although this grievance seems related to the need to guarantee any autonomy agreement (POLGR04-06 = 4). Economic grievances include greater control of natural resource wealth and greater economic opportunities in general (ECGR04-06 = 2). Finally, Turkmen desire greater cultural, in particular religious, freedoms (CULGR04-06 = 1).

There are numerous Uyghur exile groups in neighboring countries, including Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey. China has cooperated with Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan in a group called the “Shanghai Five” to monitor Uyghur political activity (under the euphemism “Muslim fundamentalism”) in the region. As part of this cooperation, politically active Uyghurs have been deported to China from several Central Asian states.

Turkmen – and in particular Uyghurs – have a history of rebellion against central authority. Rebellions against the central government occurred in 1936, 1937, 1944, and 1954. More recently, violence broke out in the late 1990s (REB96-00 = 2). No incidents have been reported in past few years (REB01-06 = 0), probably due to repression. In recent years, protest has been constrained largely to verbal opposition (PROT01-03 = 1), though in 2004 hundreds of people in Xinjiang protested due to state land seizures (PROT04 = 3).



Amnesty International. Various reports. 2001-2003.

Bodeen, Christopher. 6/15/2004. "Report: Hundreds protest government land grab in Muslim region of China Leads to Update with comments from police officer confirming protest." Associated Press Worldstream

Bovingdon, Gardner. “Autonomy in Xinjiang: Han Nationalist Imperatives and Uyghur Discontent.” Policy Studies 11. East-West Center Washington.

Congressional – Executive Commission on China. 5/17/2004. “Practicing Islam in Today’s China: Differing Realities for the Uighurs and the Hui.” US Government Printing Office.

Gladney, Dru C. 1996. Muslim Chinese: Ethnic Nationalism in the People’s Republic. Cambridge: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University

Information Office of the State Council. White paper on the “History and Development of Xinjiang.” 2003.

Keesings Contemporary Archives, 1990-93.

Lexis-Nexis news reports, 1990-2006

Minorities at Risk, Phase II Chronology and codings by Amy Wong.

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: China. 2001-2006.


© 2004 - 2024 • Minorities At Risk Project

Information current as of December 31, 2006