I don’t remember ever reading this before, and I might be just a bit behind on my World Affairs Trivia. The LA Times has a fascinating article about the Uighurs of China, and the time they keep in the Xinjiang province:
When communist China was formed in 1949, Mao Tse-tung decreed that everybody should follow a single time zone, no matter that the country is as wide as the continental United States.
But Uighurs, the dominant minority in China’s northwestern Xinjiang province, balked at running their lives on Beijing time, which would have them getting up in the pitch dark and going to sleep at sunset.
“It is as ridiculous as having Los Angeles following New York time,” said Alim Seytoff, who left Xinjiang in 1996 and is now secretary-general of the Uyghur American Assn. in Washington.
So the Uighurs follow their own unofficial time, which is two hours earlier — in effect following the dictates of the sun rather than of Beijing, about 2,000 miles away.
The separate time zones are in fact a metaphor for the chasm between the Uighurs and Han Chinese living in uneasy proximity in Xinjiang. Since 1949, the ethnic Chinese have grown from 9% to more than 40% of the province’s population, and Uighurs accuse the Chinese government of suppressing their culture and faith.
By the time I got to the end of the article, I was convinced that it must be an early April Fool’s joke. But it’s not! All of China really does follow Beijing time, meaning that 5 am in Beijing is 5 am in every part of China. Time to rise and shine, whether it’s the sun you see, or the moon.
Ali Tash, a 28-year-old tour guide, said it’s really quite simple. Pointing at empty sofas in a hotel lobby, he explained how he would set up a hypothetical meeting with a Chinese friend and a Uighur friend. “So I say to the Chinese guy, come at 4 o’clock, and to the Uighur guy, come at 2 o’clock, and then everybody will be there the same time. No problem.”
This reminds me of how Muslims in the West get into a tizzy over the beginning and end of Ramadaan, and the day of Eid al-‘Adha. Most conversations are like this in my community:
Other Sister: Will you be at the masjid on Monday morning?
Me: No, why? 😕
Other Sister: Don’t you like coming to the Big Masjid for Eid?
Me: It’s too early for me… *trying to avoid the inevitable*
Other Sister: *persistent* When are you doing Eid? *suspicious now*
Me: On Tuesday *bright smile*
Other Sister: *look of horror and distaste* But, sister, for the sake of unity… *long lecture begins*
Ladies and gents, can’t we just do like the Uighurs? You have your time, I have mine. Be grateful my time is different from yours only 3 days (or perhaps 6 if we combine them) a year. At least it’s not a daily conundrum we have to face.