与英语读者一起解读中国新疆

作者:文扬

新疆维吾尔自治区,中国西北部一块面积约为7个英国,或者6个新西兰,或者2个新南威尔士州大小的边疆地区。

因为它地处偏远,经济相对落后,人们在谈论中国时很难直接想到它,以至于很多第一次踏上这块土地的人们,都不由得惊叹中国之大:居然还有这么一大块经常被人遗忘的角落!

被人们遗忘,主要是因为它长期以来处在中国经济奇迹光环的阴影之下。它远离海岸线,为三座巨大的山脉所分割,气候条件很差,不具备率先进行开发、超前实现起飞的地域优势。

但在另外一种考虑中,即中国的国家安全战略的考虑中,它的受重视程度,却超过了任何其他地区。

打开地图即可看到,新疆有着5600公里长的边境线,与蒙古、俄罗斯、哈萨克斯坦、塔吉克斯坦、吉尔吉斯斯坦、阿富汗、巴基斯坦、印度共八个国家接壤。

而居住在新疆的2千1百多万人口中,共有55个不同民族混居在一起,其中就包括这些邻国的民族。而且有8种宗教共处在一起,其中就包括伊斯兰教、基督教、东正教等这些在中亚各国盛行的宗教。

如何在这样一个幅员辽阔、多民族共处、多宗教并行、边境线绵长、与多个外国接壤的边疆地区实现和平稳定、经济发展和民生改善,这样一个课题,不仅是对于中国政府,即使是放在世界范围内,也是一个具有罕见难度的战略性问题。

虽然从历史讲,中国中央政府对于这片土地的有效管治,一直可以追溯到公元前一百多年的汉武帝时期,但真正在现代国家主权和领土完整这个意义上的国家统治,是从1949年中华人民共和国成立之后开始的。

国共内战结束后,当时进入新疆的中国人民解放军近二十万人就地集体转业,组建新疆军区生产建设兵团,在大沙漠边缘的戈壁荒滩上开垦农田,进行屯垦戍边。

非亲眼所见,外人难以想象这是怎样的一种“开垦”和“建设”。开垦,不是与当地原住民争抢土地,而是在荒无人烟的石头滩上划地为田,从最原始的耕作开始。建设,也没有任何从外地调运的物资和技术支援,而是完全凭军垦战士人拉肩扛,白手起家。

安家落户的所谓“家”,“房子”是在地上挖的地洞,“妻子”是组织上从外地调派来分配给大家的女人,衣服是补丁摞补丁的旧军装,吃的是维持生存最基本的食物。刚刚结束了战争的中国军人,继续以战争的方式转入生产,为后来的建设打下了最初的基础。

这是只有在中国边疆地区才会出现的故事。若对应到英语读者的理解中,就犹如是当年来到新世界的定居者,不是与原住民争抢最好的土地,而是选择无人开垦的偏远荒地;不是依靠从当地获取的财富,而是艰苦奋斗白手起家;在与所有原住民和平共处、相互促进的互利合作中,建设起一片片新的家园、一座座新的城市。

今天的新疆,已经到处都现代化了。当年屯垦戍边的情景,只在博物馆和遗址公园里才能看到了。但新疆生产建设兵团这个中国特色的组织形式仍然持续着,一个城市,也就是一个师,师市合一、政企合一。

用自由民主这两个概念可以解读西方的边疆开拓史,因为征服和掠夺也是自由。但在中国的边疆开拓史上,只有生产建设这两个概念。过去如此,今天也仍然如此。

2011年10月11日

Chatting with English readers about Xinjiang China

By Jerry Wen Yang / Translated from Chinese by Robert Goh

The Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region lies in northwestern China, with an area about seven times that of the UK, six times that of New Zealand, or twice the size of New South Wales in Australia.

It is located in a remote part of the country, with a relatively backward economy. So, when people talk about China, Xinjiang does not immediately come to mind. So much so that when people finally set foot in this region for the first time, many of them cannot help but wonder at China’s sheer size: imagine how large all of China must be, to be able to encompass such a large forgotten corner!

Xinjiang can be described as forgotten mainly because it has long been overshadowed by the halo of China’s economic miracle. It’s far from the coastline, criss-crossed by three huge mountain ranges, and its climatic conditions are rather poor, so it certainly doesn’t boast of leading development.

However, from another perspective, namely that of China’s national security, its importance exceeds that of any other region.

Open a map and you’ll see that Xinjiang boasts a 5600 kilometre-long border with Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India – a total of eight nations.

Of the 21 million people living in Xinjiang, there is a total of 55 different nationalities in the mix, including those of the neighbouring countries. And eight kinds of religions coexist, including Islam, Orthodox Christianity, Buddhism etc; these are the prevailing beliefs of the nations of Central Asia.

How to bring about peace, stability, economic development and how to improve people’s livelihoods in such a sprawling border region where different races live together, where dissimilar religions run parallel, and where the national border stretches so long, touching many countries, is a subject which poses rare and difficult strategic issues not only for the Chinese government, but even for the world at large.

Historically speaking, effective governance by the Chinese central government over this region can be traced back to before 100 BC, during the time of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty. However, real national rule in the modern sense of state sovereignty and territorial integrity dawned only after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

After the Civil War, reclamation of the desert land and organized settlement began when the People’s Liberation Army entered Xinjiang with almost 200,000 men. It set up the Xinjiang Military Area Production and Construction Corps in the Gobi wastelands on the edge of the great deserts, opening up farmland for cultivation.

Unless one sees it with one’s own eyes, it’s hard for outsiders to envisage what kind of “reclamation” and “construction” was involved. Reclamation here wasn’t a matter of land-grabbing from local indigenous peoples, but transforming stony dunes into fields in desolate locations, starting off with the most primitive farming. And construction? There were no materials or resources transported from outside and technical aid was nil. It was left entirely to the soldiers to open up the land with their own back-breaking efforts, creating homes with their bare hands.

And the so-called “homes” and “houses” – words that call up to mind domestic comfort and bliss – were actually rude pits dug in the ground, The “wives” were women so assigned and deployed from outside by the organisation, clothing was patched and repatched old army wear, and what they subsisted on was the most basic survival food. China’s soldiers had just come out of a war; now the war momentum was shunted into production, towards laying infrastructure for future construction.

Such is this tale that can only emerge out of China’s frontier region. English readers may realise that when settlers came upon the New World, the best lands were taken away from the native peoples. But here the settlers chose instead remote wastelands that no one cultivated. Rather than tapping into local assets, they turned to hard work starting from scratch. They peacefully came to terms with all the indigenous peoples, promoting mutually beneficial cooperation, building new homes one by one, and constructing new cities one after another.

Today Xinjiang is modern place. The pioneering scenes of heroic struggles against the land back then can now only be seen in museums and parks that preserve such remains. But the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps still lives on. So, a civilian city is also an Army division; military organization and civilian city are one, and the government and industry are also one.

One may justify the West’s history of frontier expansion and colonisation through the twin concepts of freedom and democracy, because conquest and plunder can occur under the guise of freedom. But in the history of the opening up of China’s border region in Xinjiang, the only two concepts were production and construction. It was so then, and it remains so today.

Jerry Wen Yang