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Culture the soul of a city: Urumqi Mayor
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By Zhang Yunxing

China.org.cn staff reporter

In Mayor Gela Yishamudin's eyes, Urumqi is not only a clean, modern, and habitable city but also a place rich in culture.

Gela Yishamudin, Mayor of Urumqi [Zhang Yunxing/China.org.cn] 

Yishamudin, in his forties and just elected Mayor of Urumqi City last February, has his own understanding of cultural importance to a city: "Every building, every street should have its own cultural meaning. Residents or tourists must feel the city's culture rather than experience a place built up of steel and concrete. Without cultural foundations, a city is a place that has no vitality."

Urumqi, once an important town on the new northern route of the Silk Road, is now the political, economic and cultural center of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Across the city's administrative area of 12,000 square kilometers, which is five times the size of Luxembourg, lives a population of over 3 million from over 40 ethnic groups.

Different people with a variety of cultures make Urumqi a unique place where people of all colors and religions coexist, mixing the contemporary and the traditional.

"We have our own culture and also mainstream ethnic cultures; we will do our best to pass these down, but we also welcome other exotic cultures," the mayor said.

Strolling around the city, one might as easily encounter people wearing traditional ethnic dresses as western suits, or youth closely following the latest fashion. Around the Grand International Bazzar, traditional Uygur businesses have KFC and Carrefour as neighbors.

Get everything you need in Wangfujing Department Store, whose façade is covered with 30-foot high cosmetics billboards and is no different from Beijing's outlets. Miraj, a low-profile but exquisitely decorated restaurant, serves such authentic Islamic dishes as flavored rice with lamb, home-made yoghourt, and shashlik.

"In Urumqi, you can feel the culture anytime and anywhere – Arabic and Islamic architecture, the Grand International Bazzar, Islamic food and Muqam performance, all of these reflect culture. What the city government should do is to extract all the essences to further develop and display at their best."

Urumqi, capital city of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. [Zhang Yunxing/China.org.cn]

This September, Urumqi will stage a sculpture festival, scouring the world for a variety of works to demonstrate the city's commitment to culture. Urumqi has already won the bid to host next year's China Chef Festival. Yishamudin said it would be a very good platform to display Xinjiang and Urumqi's culinary culture.

The cultural aspect is always taken into consideration in the city's development and renovation. Urumqi is now building a high-class music venue, the city's first. "A city needs such things to improve the overall quality of its citizens," said the mayor. Qifang Street, which used to be the site of a major textile factory, is now a place where innovative art products and businesses gather, like Beijing's 798 District.

(China.org.cn May 18, 2009)

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