Images of a Vanishing Culture4 min read

A photo essay from western Xinjiang – Naomi Goddard

Editor’s note: Shaped by their historical position along the ancient silk road, the Uyghurs of Xinjiang have developed a unique culture and identity. While the news is dominated by the re-education camps that attempt to instill in them a standardized identity in line with the PRC, we want to remind readers of their original culture that is under threat, and that Xinjiang is more than its politics. Islam plays a crucial role in Uyghur society, as do values of hospitality to strangers and local community alike. Photographer Naomi Goddard was interested in Uyghur traditions of community and its importance in their everyday work and social life. During her visits to Xinjiang in 2016 and 2017, she witnessed locals carrying out their daily tasks as a collective, from trading livestock to getting their hair cut, and has collected some of her images below (click on the thumbnails to expand.)
Men make a deal over five sheep at Bashkaram Market, near Kashgar. The sheep have their bottoms inspected to ensure they are in good health and of a worthy standard. Mutton is a major meat source (as pork is haram) and a common livestock to trade in Xinjiang.
A man makes horseshoes in Kashgar’s old city while his friend sits chatting to him as he works. Uyghur traders use horses and mules to transport their goods to morning markets.
Families chat on the doorsteps of their sandstone-and-mud homes, while their children play in Kashgar, under the Chinese flag.
A couple eats their lunch of laghman noodles and nan flatbread together. Traditionally, Uyghurs sit on the floor when they eat, accompany their meal with tea and never throw nan bread away – when it gets hard they dip it in their tea.
Men wait together to have their hair cut and beards trimmed at Wushi Market, outside of Kashgar. Under Chinese law, it is illegal for Uyghur men to grow a long beard in Xinjiang.

Two men greet each other at Shufu market, also near Kashgar. Both are wearing ‘dopa’ hats – a square hat embroided with beads which is traditional for the Uyghur.
Women walk through Kashgar’s old town together. Uyghur women typically wear one-piece dresses with bright coloured headscarves made of silk.
Four ladies sit in the late afternoon sun down a local alley in Kuqa, Aksu prefecture. Uyghurs believe that women shouldn’t cross their legs when sitting, especially in front of older generations.
A young boy chewing on his necklace sits on a pile of cabbages that his grandfather has brought to Bashkaram Market to sell. Uyghur men traditionally carry knives, as a symbol of their culture and an item of pride that represents a trade skill handed down for generations.
All images by the author.