Qarangghu Tagh: The Villages Afar

I was recently alerted to this documentary called Qarangghu Tagh by Saipulla Mutellip. It was nominated for a Hong Kong Documentary Award. I don’t know much about it but I did find an explanation on this website:

This is the first known independent Uyghur documentary for public screening by a native Uyghur film maker about Xinjiang entirely without government background or involvement.

Qarangghu Tagh is an impoverished mountain area near Khotan in the southernmost part of Xinjiang. The villages are situated on high mountains at altitudes above 3000m. The area is so remote that it has no road connecting it to the world outside. Even to this day, the only access to Qarangghu Tagh is a long, narrow and meandering mountain path that takes 8-9 hours on donkey back, or 3-4 hours by motorbike to get through. One might expect such a self-subsistent community so isolated from the rest of the world to be left in peace.

However, history of the larger world has not left Qarangghu Tagh alone. In 1934 the army led by the Tonggan (Hui) warlord Ma Hushan was defeated in battles fought out in Xinjiang by the army of Sheng Shicai, the Han warlord from Liaoning Province recognized by the Kuomintang. Ma’s soldiers retreated to Khotan and inaugurated four years’ of brutal rule in Khotan. The people of Khotan were subjected to atrocious killing and looting. Some of Ma’s soldiers went up the mountain to Qarangghu Tagh and committed a massacre in one of the villages. This event that destroyed the world of the ordinary people of Qarangghu Tagh is not written down in any historical records, but the people of Qarangghu Tagh have remembered it in a folk song that everybody in the village can sing.

During the 1934 massacre, the unfeigned and mild folks of Qarangghu Tagh did not put up any resistance because the simple lives of rural living had not occasioned the training of strong leaders. Today, after more than half a century, education in the village is still barely existing.

The director-cinematographer of Qarangghu Tagh is a native Uyghur of Xinjiang. He travelled to Qarangghu Tagh for the first time in 2009 to observe the people’s way of life. It was in that trip when he first heard villagers sing the folk song about the 1934 massacre. Then he started to research on that incident and returned to Qarangghu Tagh multiple times between 2009 and December 2012 to interview villagers including survivors of the massacre and their descendants.  He worked alone on most of the research and creative tasks within a minimal budget and other social constraints. He is the director, researcher, cinematographer and co-editor of this film. It took him six years until 2014 to complete this project.

Fascinating to say the least. Sinoturcica also has a more in-depth look at the film, as well as the history surrounding the events cataloged. I had never heard of the massacre but the information provided in the above-mentioned blog reminds me of a part in Ana Yurt where one of the characters is taken captive by Tunggans and travels from the north to Kashgar and eventually to Hotan. I’m not sure whether it specifically referenced Qarangghu Tagh, but it did mention the bloodshed and horrors and the pillaging of every village they came across so I wonder if the documentary and the book speak of the same group. But read the linked blog for more information (and pictures!) on the historical events.

Here is a trailer for the documentary:


Unfortunately, I am not sure where you would be able to watch it. Perhaps you can suggest a screening to an organisation near you, or contact the director or producer directly:

Saipulla Mutalip, Film Director
Jessica Yeung, Film Producer


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