Multicultural city of Tacheng beckons from Silk Road’s farthest reaches

By Li Jingjing in Tacheng Source:Global Times Published: 2016/9/7 20:03:39 Last Updated: 2016/9/7 20:08:39

Kazakh riders in costume take part in the Kyz Kuu, a traditional kissing game that translates to "girl chasing." In the photo, the young woman is seen hitting the young man in victory after he failed to catch up with her for a kiss. Photo: courtesy of Tourism Bureau of Tacheng

 In Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, on the border with Kazakhstan, lies the small city of Tacheng, a shining example of coexistence and friendship between the region's different ethnicities.

Tacheng, with a population of 170,000, is home to 25 of China's total 56 officially recognized ethnic minorities, including Han, Kazak, Hui, Uyghur, Daur, Russian, Xibe and Tatar.

Meeting of minorities

It's not hard to notice the city's multicultural population. A quick glance on any street reveals a mix of people with different skin tone, hair color and traditional clothing.

Populations of Russians, Kazaks and Tatars settled in Xinjiang hundreds of years ago. The Xibe and Daur, who originally lived in Northeast China, migrated to Xinjiang to defend  borders during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Tacheng has since become a melting pot. According to a recent census, 37 percent of households claim roots in at least two ethnic minorities, with some extended families including as many as seven minorities.

Tacheng has been markedly shaped by Russian culture, apparent in several striking examples of red-bricked architecture. But nothing represents the Russian influence better than the city's embrace of the accordion.

Not only does the city host a small museum dedicated to the instrument, residents of all ages gather every Friday and Saturday night in Culture Square to dance to folk tunes of many ethnicities played by professional accordion musicians.

And these accordion block parties can be record-breaking. During the city's second annual Accordion Art Festival in August, Tacheng broke the Guinness World Record for largest accordion ensemble with 1,517 people.

Traditional Uyghur Snacks. Photo: courtesy of Tourism Bureau of Tacheng

A history of us

There are few places in China that offer visitors such a diverse representation of different and increasingly rare cultures.

With less than 4,000 people, the Tatars are China's smallest minority group, according to a 2010 census.

But Zaitunna Kalimuwa makes up for her minority's small population with a big smile.

Fluent in Chinese, Kazakh and Uyghur, Kalimuwa is the president of the Tatar Cultural Association who actively works to preserve Tatar culture. She currently dedicates her home to housing a folk custom museum, where she hosts visitors from near and far not only to view the intricate embroidery, but also taste a variety of her traditional homemade Tatar desserts.

Like Kalimuwa, families in other minority communities similarly have opened their homes to visitors, such as the Xibe and Daur.

"For generations … we've all been a tight-knit community [in Tacheng]. We never separate each other by ethnicity," Kalimuwa told the Global Times.

Although Tacheng is a remote and relatively unknown city, its people have helped trailblaze many social and political changes throughout Chinese history. A Tatar woman established an all-women's school here in 1938. Tacheng was also among the first places in China to experience the wave of Marxism following Russia's October Revolution in 1917.

But no influence is stronger than that brought by the ancient Silk Road. Tacheng's Silk Road Museum houses a collection of photos and materials that illustrate the city's history along the historic trade route - thanks to 60-year-old Adil Abdurahman.

The local Uyghur man spent 37 years collecting more than 300 clippings from newspapers in eight different languages, including Chinese, Uyghur and Kazakh.

He has separated all those clippings into different categories, which are available for visitors to research.

Abdurahman told the Global Times he sees the collection as his most valuable possession. Before he received corporate sponsorship for the museum, Abdurahman stored his records in his basement, checking on them three times a day in fear they would be damaged or stolen.

"We haven't had any turbulence here since the 1930s. I'm a witness of history. Even during the most turbulent time of the Cultural Revolution, there were good relations between all ethnicities here," said Abuduahman, who through his work hopes to inspire younger people to love their hometown and their country.

"In fact we are all just members of a bigger China family, [where] all ethnicities are equal and harmonious."

Wild frontiers

Tacheng's unique cultural makeup is in part due to its location - Kazakhstan borders its north and west sides, while Bakhtu Port opens to Kazakhstan and beyond.

Bakhtu, a major State port, allows Kazakh nationals to enjoy 3-day entry visas to Tacheng.

Nearby lies the newly-built Port Culture Center, where visitors can learn about the history of the Silk Road, particularly the city's role as a trade hub between China, Western Asia and Europe.

The area also has much to offer for outdoor enthusiasts. Between the Tarbagatai Mountains along the border lies a lush pasture full of wildlife. In addition, the Kulusitai plains, China's second-largest grasslands, attracts many visitors during peak season between May and July.

But despite these highlights, Tacheng remains relatively unknown compared to neighboring cities Altay and Ili.

Zhang Yan, secretary of Tacheng Municipal Committee, told the Global Times that more efforts are underway to boost tourism, increase trains and flights, and organize more cultural and athletic events.

"I feel that Tacheng's advantages match current popular tourism trends in greater China," said Zhang, adding that Tacheng is an ideal destination for those seeking to explore the region's natural beauty.


Newspaper headline: Amazing plains

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