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Xinjiang, identities on borrowed time

Maxime Crozet | China

A man put an embroidered doppa (the traditional cap) on his son.

A photographic journey through a region whose identity is threatened by “sinicization.”

On the North-Western borders of China lies the immense region of Xinjiang (literally, “New Frontier”). Until a few years ago, the region had a majority of Uyghurs, a Sunni Muslim people speaking a Turkic language, and also included Kazakh, Hui, Kyrgyz, Mongol, Tajik, and other Central Asian minorities. Han Chinese arrived by the millions in the last decades and now amount to 40% of the local population.

The CCP’s strategy, aimed at suffocating any possible hope of autonomy and “sinicizing” this border region, is transforming Xinjiang into a giant laboratory of social control and global surveillance. The ferocious repression of Uyghurs and the totalitarian control of all local populations, is now getting even worse.


During a trip from the Caspian Sea to Kazakhstan and Pakistan in March-June 2018, I crisscrossed for several weeks this vast borderland of China. Looking for the new frontiers along the oases that mark the old Silk Road, beyond the empty and solitary spaces, I filled my memory with barefaced horizons. In the small streets of old Kashgar, or during a match of Buzkashi (a sort of polo played with a dead goat) or a traditional wedding, I let myself flow with the different local cultures, looking for harmony. I wanted to preserve at the borders of the deserts, the steppes, the snow-white mountains of Central Asia, some intimate footprints of people on borrowed time, threatened by the advance of a new Cultural Revolution.



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