Xinjiang's hearts, minds open up to Silk Road

Xinhua | Updated: 2018-08-23 15:20
A China-Europe freight train leaves Urumqi for Ukraine, Oct 29, 2017. [PHOTO/XINHUA]

URUMQI -- At a cafe in Kashgar's renovated old town, a German family of four sat in the morning sunshine debating which type of grape was the tastiest or most succulent.

"We bought a hundred types of Turpan grapes to eat in the car. They were all different, and each of us had our favorite," said Achim Loeffler, director of a Shanghai-based chemical firm.

"But other than that, everyone was amazed by the deserts, the mountains, the culture and the food. There was absolutely no disagreement on how delicious the lamb, noodles or naan bread were," his wife, Ute, added, while their son and daughter chuckled in the background.

After living in China for two and a half years, the Loefflers chose northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the heartland of both the ancient and modern Silk Roads, as the destination for the family's last trip before moving back to Germany.

"I'm curious about the old Silk Road, and I like the idea of the modern one linking the East with the West," Loeffler said, "On the trip, we saw a lot of work going on, especially in new infrastructure."

"Kashgar, for example, is old, but also very new," he added.

The ancient oasis city of Kashgar, in the westernmost part of China near the border with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, was an important staging post on the original Silk Road and has been revitalized as a bustling hub of business and different cultures.

From Kashgar to Pakistan's Gwadar Port, there will be new roads, railways, and pipelines along the 3,000-km China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that connects the northern and southern routes of the modern Silk Road.

A one-billion-dollar renovation project has transformed most of the substandard housing in Kashgar's old town into sound, earthquake-proof buildings, while retaining the area's traditional Uyghur charm.

The old town is now a mainstay of the local economy, a favorite among young and old, locals and newcomers. Neither the mercantile culture nor the entrepreneurial spirit has waned over time.

A kilometer away, inside the Id Kah Mosque, tourists stop to stare at a wall-sized wool carpet as a tour guide explains that the 56 pomegranate flowers symbolize the unity of China's 56 ethnic groups, a sentiment echoed by President Xi Jinping when he said that all ethnic groups should hold together like pomegranate seeds to achieve national rejuvenation.

The Belt and Road Initiative was proposed by Xi in 2013 to boost world trade and connectivity through a land-based Silk Road Economic Belt and an oceangoing 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

Nowhere exemplifies the initiative better than Xinjiang, which accounts for a quarter of China's land boundary.

Home to dozens of ethnic groups, it occupies a sixth of China's territory, although habitable oases only cover 9 percent of its area. Despite the barren landscape, Xinjiang is a frontier of cultural exchanges, transportation, and trade.

KEY PASS

In his 1893 adventure novel "Claudius Bombarnac," Jules Verne envisioned a "Grand Transasiatic Railway" running from the Caspian Sea to Beijing. Back then, the idea of a rail link across Eurasia was almost as absurd as launching men to the moon with a cannon.

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