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  • What does not fit anywhere

  • Section 1: China does not want to create a new Tibet in the Xinjiang

    The Xinjiang is a China Autonomous Region, in which the original population is Muslim. It was the territory for the Great Game, between UK and Russia for the control of Central Asia, on the second half of XIX Century, while the region – nominally Chinese or independent – was ruled by different warlords.

    The Xinjiang was independent for two short periods in the XX century, under the name of “East Turkestan”. Only since 1950 China straightened his hold, and took over the control of the region, sending waves of Han settlers.

    When Peter Fleming travelled there, in 1936, situation was not under control, and this is what he wrote:

    “You never know what to expect at a banquet in Kashgar and each of our official hosts had prudently brought his own bodyguard. Turkish and Chinese soldiers lounged everywhere; automatic rifles and executioner’s swords were much in evidence, and the Mauser pistols of the waiters knocked ominously against the back of your chair as they knelt over you with the dishes.”

    So, in historical terms, the Xinjiang is not yet really a Chinese region, but more an occupied area. Han Chinese are either newly arrived, or, eventually, are second generation only, with parents which were settlers. They attain higher rankings in the Administration, the Police and the Army than Uyghurs.

    Fifty years are not enough to calm down political tensions, and get an homogeneous society. Uyghurs felt Chinese Han as invaders of their land, and Chinese consider the Xinjiang, and all its riches, as Chinese territory. Xinjiang subsoil is rich in minerals, and petrol. China does not want to have a new Tibet in the Xinjiang, with Muslims instead of Tibetans. Moreover, Uyghurs may receive help of other Muslim countries in case of uprising.

    This is the position of Xinjiang in the map. It is a region with borders with Muslim countries in the West, and with Tibet in the South, and far away (4.000 Km) from the capital of China.

    Going back to the trip, in all Xinjiang (probably a little less in Kashgar) Chinese Police and Army are everywhere, and the controls are strict for residents (facial identification, scanners, control of photos in the phones, police control and patrols everywhere). Control for foreigners, always a little suspect, were continous. We were often questioned, in Chinese, of course. My translator app had ready the scenario of answers

    – we are tourists which follow the Silk Road
    – we follow the South Branch because we love deserts
    – we started x days ago in Kashgar, and we go east
    – from there we go to the Qinghai
    – we leave China from Xining, on June 6, these are my tickets

    We needed to explain this several times a day. Often the questioning finish with a lot of smiles and some selfies, but the fact is that we were under constant scrutiny.

    In any street in towns of Xinjiang you may see at whatever hour, night or day, the red and blue lights of some Police post and/or Police car (there are Police posts on the streets every 300 to 500 meters, more or less), or eventually, Army posts. Although they are labeled as “Police”, nor their weapons, nor their attitude, nor their (armoured) cars where Police like.

    This was a constant view (photo credited to the Internet, of course)

    Apparently Police do not had a centralised database (which I really it is difficult to believe), so we needed to answer to the same questions again and again which was not big deal, as we were saying the truth. The problem arose when the Policeman that questioned us was not willing to take the decision, and he needed to talk to someone with his phone. Sometimes he sent a “face mug” with us holding our passport open to who knows who.

    Yecheng police was not happy to see us there. No foreigners, no international witnesses :). The Xinjiang is not under a declared “State of Emergency”, it is worse than that, because it is a region where the Police makes the Law.

    And Yecheng is one of the focus of territorial tension. In 2013 clashes between Police and local people left 5 dead (although some news say that the number of victims was nearer 100.). Police is present everywhere, conspicuously present, I should say.

  • Buddhist temples, a primer in structure and iconography (2)

    A bodhisattva is a compassionate Buddha-like being who has elected to postpone his or her own enlightenment in order to assist others on their journey. Commonly shown in female form, she is also known colloquially as the “Goddess of Mercy,” and is often depicted pouring from a vial containing “elixir of compassion.” Other representations of this bodhisattva have numerous arms and heads, symbolizing a limitless ability to relieve the suffering of others.

  • Buddhist Monasteries. A primer on Structure and Iconography (1)

    When the pilgrim enters a Catholic Monastery, Shrine or Church there are statues and/or paintings of different people, either Saints, or Vergins, or Martirs. Traditionally we all know who they are due to their respective iconography, say, Saint Anthony has always lilies (he devoted his Purity to the Christ in front of the altar the Blessed Virgin Mary – BTW, the interest on the sexuality of the Saints is a constant in Catholicism -), a book and Jesus young boy is in his arms. So, when we see a statue or a painting that shows a man, with some lilies, a book and bearing a boy, there is no need to ask, you may start preying to get an spouse (he is the Saint to pray if you want to do a good wedding).

  • Buddhist Monastery architecture in China. Vihara (and 3)

    Kuan Yin, also known as Avalokiteshvara, is a bodhisattva who is one of the most widely worshipped deities among the Chinese. A bodhisattva is a compassionate Buddha-like being who has elected to postpone his or her own enlightenment in order to assist others on their journey. Commonly shown in female form, she is also known colloquially as the “Goddess of Mercy,” and is often depicted pouring from a vial containing “elixir of compassion.

  • Buddhist Monastery architecture in China. Vihara (2)

    In the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the Chan (Zen) sect developed a new ‘seven part structure’ for temples. The seven parts – the Buddha hall, dharma hall, monks’ quarters, depository, gate, pure land hall and toilet facilities – completely exclude pagodas, and can be seen to represent the final triumph of the traditional Chinese palace/courtyard system over the original central-pagoda tradition established 1000 years earlier by the White Horse Temple in 67.

  • Buddhist monastery architecture in China (1). General View

    Thanks to Umberto Eco’s the Name of the Rose, we all know the architecture of a Cistercian Monastery: the Church, and next to it the Cloister which is the Center of the public life of the Monastery. Monks sleep in the Dormitorium, which is open to the Cloister’s second floor, and pass their time on the ground level, either in the garden, in the Scriptorium or in the Refectorium. Next to it, logically, stands the kitchen. Usually there is a direct entrance to the Cloister, with storage for goods. The (usually spectacular) Capitular Hall opens, alone, towards the Cloister

  • Buddhist Monastic Life and the Vinaya -1-

    Buddhist Monks are called Bhikkus (“who lives from alms”). Originally, Bhikkhus were people who left everything beneath them and lived on alms, like Jesus’ disciples. Bhikkus wandered the countryside, they stopped somewhere, where they spoke the teachings of Buddha. Lay people feed them, and gave them cover. During the three months of the Monsoon, they gathered together in temporary shelters, which become monasteries later on.

  • Three or Four brush strokes on Buddhism

    I almost wrote this title “Buddhism for Dummies”, but I am sure that you are not Dummy, nor I can explain buddhism, even to Dummies. Initially this post was about the architecture of Buddhist Monasteries in China, but speaking about Monasteries without details about monastic life and Buddhism had no sense… so, let us start with some brushstrokes on Buddhism and its differences compared to Christianity.