Road to redemption

By Huang Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2014-5-16 5:03:01

Dolkun rides his motorcycle out of Chenzhou, Hunan Province on March 31. Photo: Courtesy of

 Dolkun Tunurganjan, 31, a Uyghur from Yining county, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, hadn't expected so many obstacles on the way of his self-funded trip around the country to spread ethnic harmony.

Starting from his hometown with his bicycle on May 22 last year when his wife were four-month pregnant, he planned to travel across 30 provinces or regions within two years.

But nearly a year later, he's only managed eight, including Tibet, Yunnan, Sichuan and Guangdong, even after his bicycle replaced by a motorcycle donated by some residents in Huaihua, Hunan Province in March.

"I was often rejected by hotels or restaurants," Dolkun, who arrives on Tuesday in Wuzhou, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, told the Global Times in his strongly-accented Putonghua via the phone. "Some even said 'Xinjiangers are no good' to my face. That was very hurtful."

One night in May in Beihai, Guangxi, he was turned down by 18 hotels in a row. In the end, he slept by his motorcycle. "There wouldn't have been so many difficulties if not for the incidents," he lamented, referring to the attacks in Kunming on March 1 and in Urumqi on April 30.

Without a map at hand and unable to read Chinese, Dolkun travels mainly by asking for directions. He often gets lost.

Former convict 

Dolkun is 180 centimeters tall, with a high nose, deep-set eyes and a beard, and hails from a rural village in Yining. He previously ran a kebab stall in Zhangye, Gansu Province, but was sent to a prison for seven years for a drunken rape. In the summer of 2012, he returned to Yining after release.

But he was depressed since his name was mud locally, and banks also refused to loan money to him due to his prison record. "My friends all declined to speak to me, saying I had a bad reputation," he told Southern Weekly.

He wanted to do something big to improve his reputation. Last year, an idea to bicycle around the country to promote ethnic harmony came to him. "That's my dream since childhood," he said to the Global Times. Between 17 and 20, he made four long trips on foot or bicycles as far as East China's Jiangsu Province.

In an attempt to gain the trust of strangers more easily, he asked the Communist Youth League Committee in the county to issue an official proof of his identity. The committee deemed the idea was good and passed it to county officials. And soon Dolkun was picked as an exemplar.

The county organized a big farewell ceremony for him that four hundred students joined. The local security bureau also made a special unofficial "traveling around China" identity card for him.

The league also suggested he visit the Youth League Committee in every counties or cities and have them stamp his notebook. Now the 50 plus page book is full of several hundred seals, Dolkun said.

On the road

But the official proofs failed to help much, especially after the Kunming knife attack which claimed 29 lives. Passersby avoided him and more hotels, and even store owners refused to serve him. And he was often taken to police stations, not because of his prison record but because of his Uyghur looks.

Li Xin, a reporter from in Changsha, Hunan, became a major coordinator for Dolkun, who telephoned Li nearly everyday when he met with problems. "I've talked with countless hotel owners and police officers to explain his identity," Li told the Global Times.

Despite lots of setbacks, Dolkun has no plan to give up. "I have to keep my word," he said.

On the back of his motorcycle, beside clothes and blanket, there flies three red flags that read "Xinjiangers live in harmony with people of all ethnic groups." A stereo in the back often plays loud Uyghur music.

As well as talking and explaining to people he met with on the road that "most Uyghurs are good" and "we are one family," he has tried to do good deeds along the road.

After meeting vagrants, he has bought them clothes, food and tickets home.

Another thing he feels proud of is helping quell a dispute between a Han and a Uyghur in Kaili, Guizhou Province in February.

A young Han stabbed a Uyghur after he found that the cell phone the Uyghur sold him was counterfeit. The incident triggered tensions between the local Uyghur community and their Han neighbors, according to Southern Weekly.

After being informed about the case, Dolkun reached out the Uyghur family to act as an intermediary. After two days of persuasion, the family agreed to accept the compensation the Han man offered. The local police provided 5,000 yuan ($800) to Dolkun for gratitude and to support his ride.

Many others offered him a helping. Some Hans helped him mend motorcycles, some Uyghurs offered him free noodles, and some donated him money. A qq chat group to cheer for Dolkun was established, and 26 people have joined and offered to host him when he reaches their cities.

Dolkun said he recorded every donation, totaling 32,000 yuan. But he is still usually broke, surviving on two yuan packets of instant noodles.

Recently he found a good method to earn money while promoting his cause: carrying passengers on his motorcycle at the weekends while waiting for someone at the local Youth League to process a stamp on his notebook.

"I wear ordinary clothes and a helmet. When the passenger gives me payment after we arrive at the destination, I take off the helmet and tell them I'm a Xinjianger," he told the Global Times. "And I charge two yuan less than others."

He previously tried to do that in Uyghur dress one day, but no passengers flagged him down at all, he said.

Troubles of fame

Dolkun feels happy to be reported. After media report, he was more widely recognized and less barriers were in his journey. But on another, troubles also came. After the revealed his cell phone number, he received numerous threatening calls in Uyghur or other languages. Some threatened to kill him, and some offered to pay him to stop. He has changed his phone number twice.

"Some hatred grows from illegal and biased law enforcement," Dolkun said, saying that several Uyghur complained to him that some policemen detain Uyghurs and beat them for no reason. 

"There should be more official publicity of national unity and strict regulations on law enforcement," he said.

Dolkun said he would try to finish the journey in next May.

"We plan to hold a bigger welcoming ceremony when he returns," Parhat, secretary of the Yining Communist Youth League Committee, told the Global Times. "And we will award him a certain amount of money." Besides, he said they would help him with an interest-free loan to start a business.

The person Dolkun wants to see most after his journey ends is his son, now six-month old. "My wife called him Daniel, like the prophet," he said.
Newspaper headline: Uyghur convict sets out on trip to heal ethnic wounds

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