LIFE / CULTURE
Multiethnic family reflects Xinjiang’s diversity, unity
Culinary heritage
Published: May 26, 2022 12:07 PM
A cook serves up a roasted whole lamb in Hotan Prefecture in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in 2017.Photo: VCG

A cook serves up a roasted whole lamb in Hotan Prefecture in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in 2017.Photo: VCG

Food in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Photo: VCG

Food in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Photo: VCG

Food in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Photo: VCG

Food in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Photo: VCG

In Tacheng Prefecture, a city in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, a restaurant called Rose Garden stands out for the great variety of food it serves.

Diners from different ethnic groups can always find one or two dishes to their liking on the menu, whether it be the Uygur pilaf, the Tartar pastries, or dumplings favored by many Han people.

For the owner, Halida Yilahun, the secret to Rose Garden's assortment of dishes lies in the help she gets from her extended family of over 50 members, who are from various ethnic groups.

"I've learned to make many delicacies on the menu from my relatives during family meals, when they all cooked some specialty dishes of their ethnic groups to share with us," said Halida Yilahun, a member of the Uygur ethnic group.

Her husband is from the Uzbek ethnic group, her two brothers-in-law are Tartar and Kazakh, and she has a younger brother from the Han ethnic group.

Xinjiang has been a multiethnic region since ancient times. People from 56 ethnic groups now live in Xinjiang, according to the regional ethnic affairs commission.

In the community where Halida Yilahun's family lives, members of 14 ethnic groups live in harmony, and households as ethnically diverse as hers are common in Tacheng.

After marrying a young man of the Russian ethnic group two years ago, Halida Yilahun's elder daughter Muhramu gave birth to a boy in 2021.

Dumplings have long been favored by diners at Rose Garden. 

Halida Yilahun learned to make them while looking after her younger brother Du Ronglu.

In 1986, Du came to Xinjiang from East China's Shandong Province to find work. Young and thin, he could only do odd jobs on construction sites, earning a meager wage. Concerned, Halida Yilahun's father offered Du the job of herding for the family, and treated Du as his own son.

"When I was first brought to meet the family, Dad offered me a bowl of hot milk tea. It was my happiest moment since I came to Xinjiang. Drinking the milk tea, I became a part of the family," Du recalled.

Several years later, Du went back to Shandong after receiving letters from his relatives asking for his return. While there, he often practiced his Uygur language skills, hoping to be reunited from his family in Xinjiang again one day.

When Du returned to Xinjiang in 2016, his Uygur parents had passed away. However, Du's children were able to reunite with their brothers and sisters in Xinjiang, continuing the family ties into the next generation.

"Thanks to my grandfather, I now have a younger brother and a sister of the Han ethnic group," said Muhramu.

Influenced by her family, Muhramu followed a career in the arts and became the principal violinist of the orchestra of the Xinjiang Art Theater.

As someone working in the arts, Muhramu has always found it ridiculous that the US fabricates lies about "cultural extinction" in Xinjiang.

"I have never felt any cultural oppression of any sort. 

On the contrary, what we have been doing is making innovations with traditional ethnic music," Muhramu said.

As an example, she cited the "Muqam Waltz," which the orchestra is rehearsing. 

The piece is an innovative attempt at incorporating Western musical instruments into a traditional folk-music form called Muqam.

As of June 2021, Xinjiang had a total of 4,640 projects in intangible cultural heritage. 

Of these, 96 projects have been included in the national list of intangible cultural heritage, while three are on the UNESCO list: The Uygur Muqam of Xinjiang, Manas, and Meshrep.

Muhramu said nearly half of the employees in her orchestra are from ethnic minorities, and they don't feel alienated at all.

"During the holidays of other ethnic minorities, we will celebrate together like a family," she said.

In 2022, Muhramu's son will celebrate his first birthday. 

"When he grows up, I hope he will be grateful to his parents and seniors, be as broad-minded as his great-grandfather, and unite with people from all ethnic groups," she said.