XINJIANG: Disappearing village

Chinese Culture

From the series XINJIANG: Exploring China’s new frontier

A lonely oasis, tucked deep in the Taklamakan Desert, Daya Boyi is a sparsely populated village, which is home to some 300 families, who are all are ethnic Uyghurs.

“We enjoy living a nomadic life. But the children are at the county seat, so we need to go to see them. Otherwise, we don’t have to leave the village,” said Zibidehan Subi, 45, who has lived in the same home in the village since she got married at age 15.

Subi’s youngest son, Ali Abdulla, who is a middle school student in the Yutian county seat, is constantly thinking about when he can leave the desert.

“I want to take good care of my parents when I get a good job in the future,” Ali Abdulla said.

Darya Boyi is cut off from the outside world, and modern conveniences. Tasks such as gathering tree roots for cooking fuel is an old survival skill. But, even those skills are changing with the times.

Villagers have survived in the Taklamakan for 400 years, but the drying up of the Keriya River, and the encroaching sands, have resulted in 50 families moving to the government-built resettlement houses on the outskirts of Yutian. Another 100 low-income families are expected to be relocated by 2018.

This will include Zibidehan’s family.

“I have no skills other than herding. If I’m being relocated out of here, I can hardly make a living,” said Zibidehan’s husband Abdulla Qasimu.

Darya Boyi only has trees, sand and livestock. So, farming is not an option, and building roads needs money and time. The easiest and quickest solution seems to be relocation.

“Xinjiang aims to help its remaining two million poor residents out of poverty. This is mainly by removing them from scattered poor villages to more prosperous areas, or to upgrading the old places with modernity. And this once very isolated place is also changing,” said Han Bin of Darya Boyi.

The herders’ way of life will soon end, but old villagers, like Zibidehan, want to stay in Darya Boyi.

“We would love to live an easy life till we die. Conditions are harsh, but that’s the life of nomads. Allah made me a herdswoman; that’s my life. It just like the five fingers cannot be the same; life is what you make of it,” Zibidehan said.