One time zone for China

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? πŸ˜•

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.


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17 Responses to One time zone for China

  1. Umm Travis says:

    WOW πŸ™‚ thats pretty cool!

    About the Eid thing — that would totally suck LOL… I didnt know ppl took it so seriously… perhaps they should follow the hadith πŸ™‚ then it would be easier… you know, sighting the moon? Here in Egypt some ppl think they should just follow Saudi, even if the Egypt peeps said they saw the mooN!


    • biscuitinabasket says:

      Hey salaams Umm Travis!

      One question about the Eid thing – I used to live in Dubai, and the aukaaf there consisted of elders who are generational moonsighters. I believe it is the same in Saudi. It is my opinion that, since most of us living in countries where people will probably not have the highest level of expertise in these matters, should we not leave it to people who do know “better”, and hence follow Saudi? Dubai used to sight the moon themself, but reserve their decision until Saudi decided (which was weird).

      This topic was part of a huge discussion last year, and is a very open area of discussion. Very confusing too! πŸ™‚

  2. realistic bird says:

    That is very interesting, never heard that before. Hmmm yeah we all have such conversations on eid πŸ˜†

  3. Umm Travis, oh yeah, they take it seriously, all right! πŸ™‚ And then they guilt-trip you for following the hadith. Sometimes, they’ll say the saw the moon when there was no chance of it being visible, and pull out the Islamic injunction of never doubting the word of your fellow Muslim. Gets quite elaborate, this moon thing πŸ˜†

    realistic bird, You know what? I think I’ll miss those Eid conversations if we ever manage to get our acts straight. They’ve almost become a tradition by now! πŸ˜€

  4. Ajla says:

    I ❀ Uighurs.

    HAHAHA @ discussion. So typical!
    I say for the sake of unity, let’s all change our names to Ajla. πŸ˜€

    • hahahaaaa guys too? I’m seeing at least a 50% rejection rate on this plan. πŸ˜› And the other 50% is going to have a mutiny coz they want it to be their name. There goes that plan 😯 It’ll be easier to gain consensus on the moon “issue.” πŸ˜†

  5. biscuitinabasket says:

    Hey salaams!

    Another fact, since we are all anoraks here – India has 3 time zones, but everyone follows Delhi, so only the one time zone in India.

    • sheneilla says:


      India does not “follow” delhi time. The longitude runs thru allahabad……… which is right in the middle of the country, dividing it almost into 2.

  6. BuJassem says:

    I went to Urumuchi, capital of the Xingyang province a few years back. Took 4 hrs to fly from UAE to there.. and another 4 hrs to Beijing so we didn’t bother. It was summer, and we did not notice the weird time difference. But I asked a lot about the occupying Han in that area. It’s sad. reminds me of Palestine, especially coz the Ughur are Muslim. The annoying thing is that the Han chinese have got as much land as Israel can only dream of, but they still find they need to occupy other lands. The area I visited was arid and beautiful. The mountains were heavenly, especially the lakes at 2000m altitude etc. The grape valleys were to die for. Should go and visit. Btw, I didn’t speak a word of the Ughur language or Chinese (mandarin) but I can count in turkish and trust me, the muslims there understood that! I was the bargain hunter for the whole family!!

  7. BuJassem, Sounds like it was a fascinating journey you had! Thank you for that insight…I wish I could peek into your mind and download your memories! And welcome to my blog πŸ™‚

  8. BuJassem says:

    wow, what a warm welcome!!! thank you thank you πŸ™‚
    it was a fascinating journey now that i think about it, but back in 2002 i hated it coz people kept looking at us like we’re from mars or farther afield and no one spoke english. ordering and eating food was a torturing experience because we obviously stopped at the first hurdle – the language. things then got progressively worse coz we then became their dinner – i.e. entertainment!!! ouch.. i remember once we went to a posh place to dine and found very nice food on one of the tables, and pointed to it indicating that we’d like to order the same dishes.. but what we got instead was food worthy of death-row prisioners.. then we had to resort to pencil and paper to draw chickens and stuff.. and literally, we got a frigging boiled chicken.. not funny at all.

    feel free to ask me questions about the chinese trip (or other trips) and will do my bestest to answer πŸ™‚

    thanks for the warm welcome.. yaaay, a lovely blog + owner!

  9. ‘Tis no more than any new reader deserves, so don’t mention it πŸ™‚ And thank you very much for your very kind thoughts–much appreciated! πŸ™‚

    Ah, yes…ordering food when you can’t communicate in the language of the natives…I don’t think anything is as trying as that! I’m sorry, but even though it might not have been funny, I laughed out loud at the boiled chicken. I’m smiling again right now, actually πŸ˜€ Thanks for sharing that!

    Since I can ask you anything about your Chinese trip…here’s one: what were the Muslims there like? Do masjids fill up for salaah, or at least Jumu’ah? Anything you can share about Muslims of China would be very interesting to me, especially since you were in Uighur heartland!

  10. BuJassem says:

    good stuff, thanks and salaam πŸ™‚
    i repeat, the chicken was WHOLE and boiled.. the whole thing.. i think they also left a few feathers. i kid you not. the skin was all there, most revolting!

    as for the muslims.. it was super interesting in that perspective. we learnt from them (through our translator, yes we hired one) that they are discriminated against big time by the han… all these stupid permits they are needed to get etc that yellow chinese don’t need. and how the government subsidises han chinese to live in ughuer land.

    a few women wore hijab and they put it more like a scarf, with most of the hair still showing, but u can identify them as muslims. the best best food we found there was a bit chello kebab (iranian stuff).. very yummy.. also very cheap.. 1 yuan per skewer. they assured us the bbq’ed meat was halal, and i tell u, it tasted heavenly. u’d find it all over the streets in the poorer (read muslim) parts of urumuchi

    it was a few yrs ago but my memory does not recall ANY masjids.. so cannot really answer that part of ur question. i guessed when they prayed, they did so in secret locations.. coz u know what the chinese communist party thinks of religion… catholics are banned and pray in private, so i guess same with muslims.. even though they are natives.. and catholics are mainly han chinese and a new phenomenon..

    still they haven’t found a way to stop chinese people from being called Edward Choi or Jenny Chung even if they are not christians!

  11. BuJassem, Wasalaam πŸ™‚ Ok…now that chicken is sounding disturbingly unappetizing 😦 I probably would have gagged at that point! Some people enjoy experimenting with food when they travel, but I prefer taking a suitcase of saltine crackers and powdered milk so that I don’t have to endure things like this! Well, I’d probably end up foregoing things like the chello kebab, too, in the process πŸ˜€

    Interesting about the lack of masjids…I didn’t figure there’d be any newer masjids, but thought that since we’ve seen pictures of older Uighur-area masjids, they might be around in the city too. That really is too bad. And I did rather forget about religion needing to be conducted in secret in China. Thanks for reminding me. May Allah reward them for the additional efforts they must go through just to pray to Him. Ameen.

    I did not realize that the Han are subsidized to live in Uighur lands…I guess this is a global strategy to disenfranchise native peoples. 😦

    Thanks for that very very informative comment! It quite put me in a foreign place for a few moments πŸ™‚

  12. BuJassem says:

    Salam ya D.Niqabi.. don’t get all negative on me please coz you’re the one that asked for a window into my mind to see the experiences etc… we.. maybe i went a bit overboard!!! hehehe do u blame me?

    really sad about the lack of masjids.. reminds me of my student days in oxford.. we had to rent out music halls and lecture theatres to perform jum3a.. it was quite an effort. makes u take things for granted like masajid and so on.. u can just walk into a mosque etc.. here you had to plan to pray well in advance!

    the goddamn yellow chinese are so negative towards other races.. they took much more land than they originally had.. tayyeb invade but don’t restrict religion! mind you, as u probably know they restrict it amongst themselves, han catholics.

    saddam subsidised arabs to live on kurdish lands.. so it’s not a prob for the communists to subsidise living in ughuer land!

    have a fantastic and blessed jum3a

  13. Wasalaam, ya BuJassem πŸ™‚ Oh, now, if you think that was negativity, you should know that I’ve turned off the negative side of my brain for this year (for my own good!). This was just me thinking off the cuff…and no, you did not go overboard at all. That was just me reacting to putting myself in the moment, rather than outside the moment.

    That reminds me of our early days in the States. There was literally 3 masjids in the Greater Los Angeles area twenty-five years ago. Now, we have maybe 25 masjids, small and big, in dedicated buildings, hotel banquet rooms, warehouses, and a few architecturally identifiable as masjids…dome and everything. Just going for taraweeh was such a humongous effort…so I know exactly what you are talking about. Yet, today, these same masjids, new as they are, are totally taken for granted, as if they’ve been around forever!

    What’s the point of invading if you can’t stifle the things that matter most to the native populations? I’m sure that is what most invading colonial entities hold as a primary philosophy. First you invade, then you loot, then you subjugate. You can’t subjugate by taking away the things that are not held dear, right? So, subsidizing land grabs is not enough 😦 (Being realistic again, not negative. Me negative? Never!)

    Alhamdulillah, it was a fabulously blessed Jum’ah…hope it was the same for you!

  14. BuJassem says:

    cute! you know i got a serious almost-niqabi cousin living in Corona? how ironic? hehe i’d love to go down there again.. last time i was very small.

    negative is good if it’s realistic, but once you start getting depressed it’s time to start taking those pills,, hehe just kidding.

    wishing you great physical and mental health and to all readers of this superb blogue.

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