A Han Musician’s Song Slams Stereotypes of China’s Xinjiang Region

Bazaar in Hotan, Xinjiang. Photo from Flickr User Evgeni Zotov. (CC: AT-NC-SA)

Bazaar in Hotan, Xinjiang. Photo from Flickr User Evgeni Zotov. (CC: AT-NC-SA)

The region of Xinjiang, where ethnic tensions between China's majority Han Chinese and minority Uyghur Muslims have at times erupted into violence, has been a sensitive topic across Chinese social media ever since riots shook the regional capital Urumqi back in the summer of 2009.

Recently, a new song titled “What Has Xinjiang Done to You?” has broken the silence and triggered discussion about stereotypes and inter-cultural misunderstandings on China's Twitter-like Weibo platform. The song is written by Liu Shuang (Weibo screen name: “Call me Mr. Leon”), who graduated from People’s Republic Security University and now describes himself, with a hint of self-mockery, as a “part-time folk police singer”.

Many Han Chinese in the region are descendants of “sent-down youths” or “zhiqing” who were sent from urban cities to live and work in rural areas and “develop the frontier” between the beginning of the communist era in the mid-1950s and the end of Cultural Revolution in the mid-1970s.

Since 2000, another round of Han Chinese migration to Xinjiang has taken place under the government's ‘Western Development’ policy.

The Uyghurs are a Turkic-speaking Muslim community predominant in Xinjiang, many of whom resent the mass influx of Han Chinese and the over-development of ancient cities such as Kashgar.

They also view the secularism promoted by authorities as a threat to their religion and culture, and a vicious cycle of violent protests and police suppression has only fuelled the mistrust. The unrest has culminated in a number of deadly “terrorist attacks”, as Chinese authorities label them, which in turn has contributed to a decline in tourism in the region.

Meanwhile, the government has been trying to impose a series of restrictions in the name of security, including banning long beards and niqabs from public places, with those violating the orders facing potential sentencing. Minors in Xinjiang are moreover prohibited from participating in religious activities, which is not the case elsewhere in China.

Liu, a Han Chinese who was born and brought up in Xinjiang, wrote the song to express his love for Uyghurs and his frustration over outsiders’ biases and distortions of his homeland:

小时候我妈妈常给我讲 这里的民族热情善良

祖祖辈辈参军支援边疆 架起了高楼守卫边防

可长大一切都变了模样 有事没事就特么诋毁新疆

笑眯眯 打招呼问我哪儿人 我说新疆你语气一落千丈

看见维吾尔你就上下打量 侧过身包儿你就往怀里面藏

恐怖主义残忍烧杀砍伤 你想都没想罪名加我们头上

五年前七五事件是场空城灾难 五年了心灵都无法疗伤

我们也目睹过尸横街头 没蜡烛没祈福只有肮脏

虽然我是一个汉族小伙儿 可毕竟是生我养我的地方

就算有天这儿变成坟场 也永远都是我的故乡

新疆怎么你了 我说新疆怎么你了

新疆怎么你了 都是同胞何必呢

我说新疆怎么你了 我说新疆怎么你了

新疆怎么你了 你要这样伤害她呢

摘下你们的有色眼镜 说话能不能不要带着刺儿

新疆怎么你了 你要这样伤害他呢

新疆怎么你了 我说新疆怎么你们了

新疆怎么你了 你要这样伤害他呢

When I was a child, mum always told me ethnic groups here are hospitable and virtuous.

Older generations joined armies aiding at the frontier of the country, where they built towers to defend borders.

Everything has changed since I've grown up, people are now fond of smearing Xinjiang.

Every time I'm asked in friendly conversation about my birthplace, when I mention Xinjiang their tone chills me at once.

Uyghurs are always treated with suspicion, when you see them you tuck your bag into your armpit.

Terrorism means deaths and injuries, but you blatantly accused us of absurd charges.

The Urumqi riots were a catastrophe five years ago, and the wounds have not healed.

We all witnessed corpses in streets, with no candles nor prayers but only filth.

Even though I am an ethnic Han, I was born and live here.

Even if one day it is a cemetery, the region would still be my home.

What has Xinjiang done to you, what has Xinjiang ever done to you?

What has Xinjiang done to you, why do we despise one another as we are all countrymen?

What has Xinjiang done to you, What has Xinjiang done to you?

What has Xinjiang done to you, why do you hurt her?

Put your stereotypes aside, can't you stop squabbling?

What has Xinjiang done to you, why do you hurt her?

What has Xinjiang done to you, What has Xinjiang done to you?

What has Xinjiang done to you, why do you hurt her?

Despite “ethnic unity” being a core theme of authorities’ propaganda, people beyond Xinjiang often stereotype Uyghurs as an untrustworthy minority, a trait mentioned in Liu's song. These prejudices deepen antagonism between the Han Chinese and Uyghurs and make it impossible for constructive dialogue on resolving tensions in the region.

Liu's thought-provoking question “What Has Xinjiang Ever Done to You?” has encouraged Han Chinese to rethink how they characterize the region and its people.

Aixiong Baobao, a Han Chinese in Xinjiang, exclaimed on Weibo:


Alas. I, as an ethnic Han, want to say that thousands of people died on July 5th that year, but have any compatriots prayed for us? The region's Internet was cut off for over half a year with amnesia left behind. Please everyone stop discriminating and misunderstanding. You will love this land as you get to know Xinjiang. Prejudice and misunderstanding trigger riots.

Paopao Shuijing believes outsiders are missing out on Xinjiang's unique culture, in particular Xinjiang music:


I am a resident of Xinjiang, and also an ethnic Han. You may never have heard the songs from Xinjiang.

After listening to the song, Gui Yao, who has never been to Xinjiang concurred:

虽然没去过新疆 但我讨厌所有种族歧视 民族歧视 地域歧视新疆河南等等地方都饱受这些苦难 真的很不公平 我相信大部分人都是善良的

Although I have never been to Xinjiang, I hate all forms of discrimination – racial, ethnic and regional discrimination. Xinjiang, Henan and many other regions have suffered from that and it is really unfair. I believe that most people [in these regions] are good and kind.

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