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Strategies for an Urban Cultural Life

The effects of human activity on the environment over the past few centuries have given rise to some of today's most pressing challenges. This article is the fifth in a five-part series outlining economic, ecological, political, and cultural stratgies for creating a more sustainable and equitable world.

Jesse Doyle: Sounds of the Beijing Underground

The music scene in China is currently undergoing a much needed revival and it's being stemmed from the capital and cultural heart of the nation, Beijing. Deep inside the city's university district there is an establishment which is at the forefront of this revival, an venue which is fundamentally changing the way Chinese youth are thinking. The lyrics being sung from within its walls are a far shot from the cultural conformity which people have come to expect from the largely government-controlled Chinese music industry. For the youth in Beijing, indie rock club D-22 provides refuge from the monotonous sounds of mando and cantopop, which have dominated the party-controlled radio waves in recent times. The bands gracing the stage of D-22 have certainly struck a chord with China's youth who are more than open to hearing fresh sounds. One of these bands is P.K. 14, whose front man, Yang Haisong, also runs the independent label Maybe Mars Records with Peking University professor Michael Pettis, known locally as the "Godfather of Beijing Rock." The label has been instrumental in nurturing the Beijing indie-rock scene, which over the past five years has undergone a major transformation from a somewhat nascent scene to one of the most developed and promising in all of Asia. Pettis is no stranger to the world of underground rock. During the 1980s, in New York's East Village he ran the indie-rock club SIN, which played host to a number of groundbreaking bands including Sonic Youth and Swans. From there he moved into the world of investment banking and worked the markets for 14 years in New York before sensing the need for a change of scene. After a trip to Beijing Pettis felt that it was the place to be. Having secured a position as a professor at Beijing's Tsinghua University's School of Economics and Management he made the move. Now Pettis finds himself shaping the indie-rock scene with D-22 alongside his professorship just as he did some twenty years ago, albeit in unfamiliar territory.

Ed Hancox: Obama's Missed Uyghur Moment

It could have been a powerful image—America’s first multicultural president promoting the benefits of an ethnically diverse society to the Chinese—but during his trip to China this week, Barack Obama chose to steer clear of comments that could be perceived as lecturing the Chinese on their (poor) human rights record, and that included any reference to their treatment of their Tibetan and Uyghur ethnic minorities.

Lecturing another country on their shortcomings during a state visit is usually a diplomatic no-no.  Unfortunately, for the past year the Obama Administration has generally taken the position that silence is golden when it comes to China and the issue of human rights, including not meeting with the Dalai Lama when he visited the United States last month. For the Chinese, the Dalai Lama is an international irritant, a highly visible spokesman reminding the world of China’s ongoing attempts to eradicate the indigenous Tibetan culture and replace it with an ethnic Han Chinese one.

Due north of Tibet, China is engaging in a much lower-profile, but just as tenacious, cultural eradication campaign against the Uyghur community in Xinjiang, China’s northwestern-most province. The Uyghurs, a Turkic people practicing the Muslim faith, have lived in the region for well over a millennia; their empire once stretched over a broad swath of Central Asia. Today the Uyghurs find themselves a minority within what’s officially called the “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region” of China.

It is the result of a process that started more than 60 years ago when the Uyghurs’ briefly-independent nation of “East Turkestan” was gobbled up by Beijing and the People’s Liberation Army in 1949, a mere five years after its founding.  In 1949, just 7 percent of Xinjiang’s population was Han Chinese, but today that figure is over 40 percent—the result, the Uyghurs say, of an aggressive Han resettlement policy orchestrated by Beijing. The Chinese government meanwhile has opposed the teaching of the Uyghur language, closed mosques, arrested Uyghur religious and cultural leaders, and, the Uyghurs claim, kept them from getting jobs in their homeland, prompting a large migration of Uyghurs from Xinjiang.  (Uyghurs now make up just 45 percent of the population in their “Autonomous Region.”)



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