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Pearl of the Ancient Silk Road

CHINA TODAY,September 04, 2017 Adjust font size:

Multi-cultural Convergence

Urumqi’s distinct character has formed throughout its history due to the sustained commingling of peoples of various ethnic backgrounds.

The 13 ethnic groups that have dwelt longest in the city comprise Han, Uygur, Hui, Kazak, Manchu, Xibe, Mongolian, Kirgiz, Tajik, Tatar, Uzbek, Russian, and Daur peoples. Among them, the Uygur and Hui have centralized residence, while others live both in scattered and condensed communities.

Xinjiang’s cultural diversity has gained it the reputation of“home of song and dance.” Uygur folk music and dance, with a history that goes back centuries, is particularly admired. The classical Twelve Muqams, a type of melody used to guide improvisation and composition, have been played in Xinjiang for generations.

Religious tolerance also embodies Urumqi’s melding of eastern and western cultures. Buddhism came to Xinjiang in the first century BC, and through to the mid-20th century a number of religions were introduced, including Zoroastrianism, Manicheaism, Islam, Catholicism, Christianity, the Orthodox Eastern Church, and Taoism. This conglomeration has created a splendid religious civilization. Evolution over the centuries has culminated in an environment where Islam is the predominant religion while among many others that coexist.

Important places of worship in Urumqi include the Shaanxi Great Mosque, the Southern Mosque, and the Tatar Mosque. The Shaanxi Great Mosque is the oldest and grandest in the city. Built in the reign of Qing Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795) and Emperor Jiaqing (1796-1820), it was renovated in 1906. Unlike other great mosques in Xinjiang, it is a Han-style building incorporating Islamic architectural features. Its main part is a post and panel structure ornamented with encaustic tiles. Supported by 40 Chinese red pillars, the magnificent main temple hall features an arch carved with sections of the Koran. The double-eave octagonal pavilion to its rear is for purposes of observing the moon and declaring fasts. Believers come here at weekends and on festivals to pay respects. In recent years, Muslims from West and South Asia have also come to the Shaanxi Great Mosque to attend prayers.

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