One of my Uyghur friends, let's give him the initials TR, recently won an all-expense paid trip to Malaysia in a national English speech contest sponsored by CCTV, the major state television broadcasting company in China. The other winners, none of whom were from Xinjiang, procured passports and visas easily in their home provinces. In Xinjiang, however, minorities who request passports often meet hurdle after hurdle when trying to leave the country. Strangely, Uyghurs who reside outside of Xinjiang seem to have little difficulty with travel documents, as evidenced by another friend who got her passport in Jiangsu Province, without any concrete plans to go abroad. The agency here often requires minorities to secure a foreign visa before applying for a passport. Of course, this is an exercise in futility because one cannot receive a foreign visa without a passport in the first place!
Anyway, TR presented an official letter from CCTV documenting his upcoming Malaysia trip, but no visa, which the agency promptly rejected as insufficient. Confused, TR called his father, a prominent doctor who runs one of Urumqi's hospitals, who said, "You're just a kid. You don't know how it's done." His father then came to the police station, gave the bureaucrat his business card, and offered that if anyone in the office had any problems, they could seek medical advice from him anytime. Aside from the typical remark about discrimination and corruption in Xinjiang, this story raises two more important points. First, minority policy in Xinjiang seems more vigilant, despite being an autonomous region, and therefore inconsistent with other provinces in China. If Xinjiang denies visas to Uyghurs, I would have expected other provinces to do the same. Second, state organizations sometimes are disconnected from regional agendas, as shown by the fact that a government-run company funded TR's trip, even though the passport agency clearly tried to prevent him from traveling abroad. Needless to say, after his father's visit, TR's passport was approved, and he is now vacationing in Malaysia.