An Uyghur Chieftain in China’s Civil War

How did Uyghur chieftain Yolbars Khan come to be buried in a Chinese Nationalist grave in Taipei? The answer reveals much about China’s violent relationship with its most western province.

Yolbars Khan in Kumul (Hami), Xinjiang, c.1932. CPA Media Pte Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo.

Taipei’s largest Muslim cemetery is in a residential neighbourhood not far from the central business district and the Taipei 101 skyscraper. Most of the headstones, with their golden Arabic script alongside Chinese characters, are well maintained, but just off the main road a set of overgrown stairs leads up to a crumbling mausoleum that seems to receive little attention from caretakers (or visitors). At the top of the stairs is a small family tomb which eschews the hybrid Chinese-Islamic architecture of the neighbouring plots in favour of a distinctly Central Asian design: bricks, tiles, minaret towers and a crescent-topped dome.

The tomb belongs to Yolbars Khan, a Uyghur chieftain who came to play an unlikely role supporting the Nationalists during China’s civil war. The epitaph next to it – engraved in both Chinese and Uyghur – was composed by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, the former leader of the Republic of China who spent his final 25 years as a dictator in Taiwan. Chiang’s epitaph memorialises, in glowing terms, Yolbars Khan’s role ‘defending the frontier’ and mourns his sudden passing on 27 July 1971.

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