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Beyond the Mountains: Life in Xinjiang

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Tianshan Mountains, stretching for thousands of miles across China’s northwestern frontier, divides the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in half – the relatively affluent north and the less developed south. For some time, people in the south with a bigger ethnic minority population didn’t understand the rapid development in the north while those in the north lacked accurate views of the south, let alone people from outside the region.

After decades of development and interaction, people from both sides of the mountains became acquainted with each other. Mountains are physical boundaries that can be crossed, but “a dose of prejudice comes from the mountains in our mind that prevent us from seeing the truth,” according to Han Bin, director of the documentary “Beyond the Mountains: Life in Xinjiang.”

Terrorist attacks that have plagued the region for almost three decades left people in and outside the region in shock and panic. A number of people from other provinces and regions of China unwittingly looked at Uygurs with tainted spectacles, noted Chen Ruijun, a construction firm official who went to support Xinjiang’s development in 2008 and 2009 when extremist riots were rampant in the region. The fear and accompanying preconception have gradually subdued with greater understanding and faster development.

In recent years, a fair portion of Western media coverage regarding China have painted a negative picture due to lack of information as well as lack of trust. Xinjiang, home to over 12 million Uygurs, has experienced a larger share of the stigma and distortion. Foreign reporting on Xinjiang has predominantly centered around allegations of so-called “human rights abuses by the Chinese government.”

As such, the real Xinjiang is drowned in endless outrageous and sensational headlines about “detention camps” and “forced labor” in textile, tomato production, and even solar power sectors, to name just a few. Such rhetoric, imbued with prejudice and presumption, amounts to an insurmountable mountain in the minds of many people.

“Beyond the Mountains: Life in Xinjiang,” the 80-minute documentary, is told through a collection of individual stories that, together, chronicle the process of change in the region. It’s also about breaking stereotypes and clearing up misconceptions for people in and outside the region.

The film features the magnificent landscape of this vast land, as well as the modern-day life of its people from different ethnic groups. It contains four parts: “Changing times,” “Following the money,” “New generations” and “Man and nature,” presenting multiple facets of today’s Xinjiang and its people.

The following are a few stories from this documentary.

Sabyt Abukhadir lives in north Xinjiang’s Zhaosu County where generations depend on the lush, rolling highland meadows for a living. His grandson Erjanat Nurkidir is majoring in dance at Ili Normal University. The two had a fight as Sabyt believed dancing was only for girls. The wrangle didn’t end until Sabyt watched Erjanat dancing on the stage. “My kid was so good that it made me cry,” he said.

In south Xinjiang, such a change in mentality is much harder. Many women in the four prefectures of south Xinjiang have never left home. “Women who leave home to work won’t find a husband,” according to the traditional thinking there.

But Zileyhan Eysa, a farmer from Kuqa County of Aksu, decided to leave for the north to work in a textile factory in hopes of earning money so that her seriously ill mother could get proper treatment. “If I didn’t come here, Mom would already be dead,” she said.

There’s also Samira Arkin, who is now a bridal shop owner in Kashgar where an intriguing mixture of heritage and modernity makes the city even more charming. But women there were very conservative, from what they do to what they wear. “Every girl is born a diamond; they want to shine. Every girl has a wedding dress dream, and this is her right,” said Samira. She came back home after graduation from college in 2010 and found many women covered themselves up and even some women in the Old Town couldn’t go out as they like. “It’s hard for me to take. I wanted to change how they dress and how they think about it.”

When she said she wanted to wear a white bridal gown at her own wedding, her relatives were against it. But that didn’t stop her. Over the years in operating the wedding business, she’s pleased that she’s changed how young brides think at least.

Besides the stories that depicts Xinjiang’s changes where young people exert immense passion to bring a change in the thinking, the documentary also tells stories of people who work to protect the land that they love. Yang Zongzong has a very “peculiar” hobby – finding and cataloguing every species of plants. “To me, it is the appreciation of the beauty in the most ordinary,” he said. So far, he’s gathered 10,000 to 20,000 specimens, studying their morphology, genetics and environmental signature. Plant growth is mostly affected by the environment, so any shift in climate recorded by their growth is indicative of changes in climate change and natural conditions.

These stories of dedication and breaking with tradition isn’t so much disregard for the past as much as looking toward a more progressive future. Their courage stems from wanting to better themselves or to realize their potential, often at great personal cost. They understand that the old way of life may not be suitable for them. As Erjanat Nurkidir says, “Perhaps the herder’s life suits my Grandpa’s generation. But in the new era I can have my own ideas and pursue my own dreams.”

(Film by Han Bin and his production team; text by Wang Xiaonan)

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Will Astronauts Have Private Time to Themselves During the Three-Month Trip to The Space Station?

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Three Chinese astronauts logged into space on June 17 to fly to the Chinese space station. This is China’s first manned space mission in nearly five years, and the taikonauts will spend three months in space to help build the station and conduct experiments. Their flight has opened up endless reveries for many Chinese.

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Father’s Day: Three ‘Treasures’ Xi Jinping Gets From his Father

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Falling on the third Sunday of June, Father’s Day will be celebrated on June 20 this year.

Fathers always have a great influence on their children – the same applies to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

There are at least three characteristics that Xi has inherited from his father Xi Zhongxun (1913-2002), a leader of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the state.

File photo of Xi Jinping (L) with his father Xi Zhongxun. /CMG

People-oriented philosophy

Many Chinese leaders started their careers from the grassroots, going through the difficulties ordinary people face and understanding the people’s needs, which lays a solid foundation for their practical and people-oriented approach in formulating national policies.

The people-oriented philosophy is one of the most important treasures Xi Jinping got from his father, who believed that officials and the masses are equal and they must always live among the people.

The father once told his boy: “No matter what your job title is, serve the people diligently, consider the interests of the people with all your heart, maintain close ties with the people, and always stay approachable to the people.”

Adhering to the path of “serving the people,” Xi Jinping visited China’s 14 contiguous areas of extreme poverty after becoming general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee in November 2012. He went to villages and households, and told communities that he is just “a servant of the people.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping talks to people while visiting Fudao, a 19-km-long pedestrian walkway in Fuzhou, southeast China’s Fujian Province, March 24, 2021. /Xinhua

During his domestic inspection tours, Xi Jinping always chatted with the locals, cared about their daily life and stressed the responsibilities of serving the people with other officials.

The Party has won the people’s wholehearted support because it has always served the people with heart and soul and striven for the well-being of all ethnic groups, Xi has said on many occasions.

Down-to-earth approach

Inheriting his father’s down-to-earth approach, Xi Jinping visited all the villages in Zhengding, Hebei Province during his tenure of county Party chief in the 1980s. Then in Ningde, Fujian, he visited nine counties within the first three months as secretary of the CPC Ningde Prefectural Committee, and traveled to most townships later on. 

Xi Zhongxun (C) visits rural Huiyang, south China’s Guangdong Province, August 1978. /CMG

After he was transferred to east China’s Zhejiang Province in 2002, he visited all 90 counties in over a year. During his brief tenure in Shanghai in 2007, he visited all its 19 districts and counties in seven months.

The formulation of the country’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for Economic and Social Development and future targets for 2035 also reflected Xi Jinping’s adherence to investigation and research.

By convening and presiding over a number of symposiums, he listened to opinions and advices on the country’s economic and social development in the plan period from all walks of life.

Living a simple life

The Xi’s has a tradition of being strict with children and living a simple life. Xi Zhongxun believed if a senior Party official wanted to discipline others, he should begin first with himself and his family.

Xi Jinping and his younger brother used to wear clothes and shoes from their elder sisters. After Xi Jinping became a leading official, his mother called a family meeting to ban the siblings from engaging in business where Xi Jinping worked.

Xi Jinping has carried on his family’s tradition and been strict with his family members. Wherever he worked, he told them not to do business there or do anything in his name, or else he “would be ruthless.” Whether in Fujian, Zhejiang or Shanghai, he pledged at official meetings that no one was allowed to seek personal benefit using his name and welcomed supervision in this regard.

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Peng Liyuan Calls for Global Efforts in AIDS and TB Prevention and Treatment

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Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, called on people from all walks of life in all countries to join hands and take action to strengthen the prevention and treatment of AIDS and tuberculosis (TB), in order to benefit all mankind and build a global community of health for all.

Peng, also World Health Organization (WHO) Goodwill Ambassador for Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, made the remarks via video link on Monday at the opening ceremony of a special high-level event on the sidelines of the United Nations High-Level Meeting on AIDS.

The event aimed to provide a platform for WHO member states to reassert their commitment to ending TB deaths among people living with HIV and deliberate on how they will intensify the response to HIV-associated TB in the context of COVID-19.

Peng said the global fight against AIDS and TB has achieved remarkable results in recent years thanks to the concerted efforts made by the international community.

China has gradually established a cooperation mechanism between prevention and control institutions of AIDS and TB, she said. The country has kept the prevalence of AIDS at a low level, and in the past 20 years, the incidence of TB has dropped by more than 40 percent and the mortality rate by more than 70 percent.

These achievements have been made due to the attention paid by the Chinese government, the efforts of the medical personnel and the silent contributions of the volunteers, she said.

Peng also shared some touching stories and expressed her respect for people and volunteers worldwide who have contributed to the prevention and treatment of the diseases.

Major communicable diseases are among the common challenges facing mankind, and it is people’s common wish to end the threats of AIDS and TB, said Peng.

She added that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought more challenges to the containment of the diseases, calling for global efforts to protect lives and forge ahead.

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