NPR logo The Uighurs' Unknown Struggle

National Geographic

The Uighurs' Unknown Struggle

The Tibetan struggle for sovereignty is a story often sung. It's hard not to sympathize with a cause headed by the lovable Dalai Lama. But there is a story in December's National Geographic magazine about a contemporaneous struggle for survival in China: that of the Uighur people, a Turkic Muslim ethnic group in Central Asia. Photographs by Carolyn Drake bring this previously marginalized story into the fold.

The history of the Uighur people, who now live mostly in China's northwestern Xinjiang region, is incredibly vast and rich. A sort of buffer between Europe and China, the Xinjiang region has historically been a hub for trade and travel, but it has also benefited from its remote and sometimes inhospitable location: It has, until recently, retained a cultural identity. In recent years, though, the Chinese government has come to recognize the valuable resources indigenous to Xinjiang, which contains 40 percent of China's coal reserves — more than a fifth of its natural gas, as well as gold and mineral deposits.

It's been a hot zone for development — and thus a region of escalating violence and unrest. As the Uighur struggle to preserve their culture, they are also, in some cases, forced to modernize. Learn more about the Uighur people and their situation by reading the full article and viewing more photos on ngm.com.

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