Kashgar: Tourism hit but confidence remains

Source: Xinhua [17:02 July 12 2009]

It would have been a booming weekend for businessman Kadejiang Abduxiku if a deadly riot hadn't taken place in the northwestern Chinese city of Urumqi, but now he had to sit idly in his shop, expecting no customers.

"I can earn 2,000 yuan (294 U.S. dollars) a day before Sunday's riot, but from Monday till Saturday, I only earned altogether 500 yuan," said Kadejiang, a 43-year-old shop owner of Uygur ethnic group who sells silk scarf mainly to tourists at the largest wholesale market in Kashgar, a major town along the ancient Silk Road.

As a historic city in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Kashgar, whose population is mostly of Uygur ethnic group, attracts millions of tourists from home and abroad every year. The tourism industry plays an important role in boosting the city's economic growth. But the riot on July 5 in the Xinjiang regional capital of Urumqi 1,500 km away, which left 184 people dead and more than 1,000 others injured, has nevertheless exerted a negative impact on the tourism industry in Kashgar.

This can be seen from the depression at Kadejiang's market as most of the owners of the 3,000 stalls had to kill time by chatting, playing chess or just sitting with bored looks. More than 2,000 customers, mostly tourists, came to the market before the riot a day, but now, very few people visited here.

Kadejiang's shop has been in operation since 1994. He needn't pay any taxes except for a 400-yuan rent a month to the market administration authorities.

"The rioters' actions are not good and caused losses to us. I dislike them," he said while shaking his head.

But religious life has not been affected, said Kadejiang, a devout Muslim.

"I went to the mosque to attend the Friday prayer yesterday. I don't want to listen to any rumors (about ethnic conflicts). It's meaningless," he added.

Several scenic spots in the city also witnessed a sharp decline of visitors, such as Apakh Hoja Mazar, a mausoleum for an imperial concubine during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

"We used to receive about 800 visitors a day, but now the number has been less than one tenth over the past several days," said Ayixianmu Guli, a tourist guide at the mausoleum.

Statistics show that the number of tourists to the city rose by 30.5 percent from a year earlier to 726,100 in the first half of the year, generating 320 million yuan in tourism revenue, up 93.62 percent, said Jia Weidong, head of the Kashgar City's Tourism Bureau.

"In June alone, the city received 320,000 visitors and the tourism revenue stood at 130 million yuan, which means that the peak season has just begun," Jia said.

He did not provide an estimated figure about the tourism revenue losses due to the riot.

Although tourist arrivals fell, the life was almost as the same as before in the city. People were seen walking leisurely in the streets on Saturday and young men of different ethnic groups playing basketball together at a square next to the city's main stadium.

On the other hand, signs of local residents' confidence about the future can also be seen.

At Kadejiang's market, most stall owners are of Uygur ethnic group and only 12 of them are of Han ethnic group.

"None of the 12 shops stopped businesses after the riot," said Imamu Mahmutjan, an administrator of the market.

Twenty-year-old Fan Shuangxia from eastern Jiangxi Province was one of the owners. She sells porcelain here.

"The Uygur shop owners are nice to me," said the young woman with a sort of Xinjiang accent, although she came here just a year ago.

"When some Uygur retailers come to my shop to buy goods, they needn't pay money first. They can pay me after the goods are sold out," she said.

At the mausoleum, several tour groups and independent travelers from Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Taiwan and southern China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region were seen visiting the site on Saturday.

"The number of visitors can reach 150 today, double yesterday's figure," tourist guide Guli said.

"Kashgar is a beautiful city with great history and culture. People here are very friendly to me," said 53-year-old Karl from Germany.

"I think it's safe here. I will stay here for several other days, and I'm looking for some companions to share the transport costs for my next travel destination, Tibet," he said.