Clocks Square off in China’s Far West
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.
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. The Uighurs are a Muslim people who look more European than Chinese and use a Turkic language sprinkled with Arabic.