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

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

Maxime Crozet

On the North-Eastern 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.

An old Uyghur man in a village near Turpan.
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An old Uyghur man in a village near Turpan. © Maxime Crozet

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.

An Aksakal (an old and wise man) in his village booth near Turpan.
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An Aksakal (an old and wise man) in his village booth near Turpan. © Maxime Crozet

Traditional urban centers are being destroyed and replaced by Chinese-style buildings, and civilians are involved in the repression under the pretext of security. It is impossible to travel in Xinjiang without perceiving the implacable gaze of the authorities. Even the rare tourists should pass checkpoints, submit themselves to interminable controls, and expect to be repeatedly interrogated. For the Han Chinese, this is China’s Far West, a real “New Frontier” to be reorganized as part of Beijing’s effort to create a “New Silk Road.”

Teams of knights compete in the Buzkashi, the signature sport of the nomadic populations of Central Asia.
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Teams of knights compete in the Buzkashi, the signature sport of the nomadic populations of Central Asia. © Maxime Crozet

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.

 

A match of Buzkashi. The equestrian sport is also popular in Afghanistan.
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A match of Buzkashi. The equestrian sport is also popular in Afghanistan. © Maxime Crozet
Two women of the Tajik minority snuggle together.
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Two women of the Tajik minority snuggle together. © Maxime Crozet
An old man in a village in the Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County.
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An old man in a village in the Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County. © Maxime Crozet
A young girl posing gladly outside her antiquated home.
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A young girl posing gladly outside her antiquated home. © Maxime Crozet
A bridegroom in a village near Tashkurgan.
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A bridegroom in a village near Tashkurgan. © Maxime Crozet
Tajik women in Tashkurgan, at the Chinese border of the Pamir Plateau.
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Tajik women in Tashkurgan, at the Chinese border of the Pamir Plateau. © Maxime Crozet
ajik women in Tashkurgan, at the Chinese border of the Pamir Plateau.
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Tajik women in Tashkurgan, at the Chinese border of the Pamir Plateau. © Maxime Crozet
Uyghur men in the old city of Kashgar.
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Uyghur men in the old city of Kashgar. © Maxime Crozet
Uyghur men in the old city of Kashgar.
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Uyghur men in the old city of Kashgar. © Maxime Crozet
A knight riding at the border of Pamir.
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A knight riding at the border of Pamir. © Maxime Crozet
A horde of knights suddenly appears on the horizon in the Karakorum mountain range.
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A horde of knights suddenly appears on the horizon in the Karakorum mountain range. © Maxime Crozet
An Uyghur woman at her home’s door in Kashgar.
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An Uyghur woman at her home’s door in Kashgar. © Maxime Crozet
A man affectionately carries his daughter, dressed for a family celebration
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A man affectionately carries his daughter, dressed for a family celebration. © Maxime Crozet
A young man in the Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County.
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A young man in the Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County. © Maxime Crozet
A woman plays the daf (traditional Persian frame drum) at a wedding
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A woman plays the daf (traditional Persian frame drum) at a wedding. © Maxime Crozet
Selling apples in Kashgar’s Grand Bazar
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Selling apples in Kashgar’s Grand Bazar. © Maxime Crozet

 

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Author: Maxime Crozet

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