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Published: 12:13, October 04, 2021
Spreading wings
By Xing Wen and Mao Weihua in Urumqi
Published:12:13, October 04, 2021 By Xing Wen and Mao Weihua in Urumqi

(ZHONG JINYE / FOR CHINA DAILY)

Posing for photographs, Gulmira Abliz pushes her chin and head slightly forward to show her sharp jawline. Sometimes she looks directly into the camera with her shining eyes; on other occasions, she looks away from the lens.

For full-length portraits, she plants one foot in front of the other and pulls her shoulders back to create a silhouette that accentuates her trim body.

From her radiant smile and the way in which she practices different poses, it is easy to see she is not only a beautiful woman, but also has confidence in herself.

Gulmira poses at restaurants, shopping malls, fitness centers and tourist attractions in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, during weekends. She plans to become an online influencer by sharing photos and her experiences at such venues on the fashion and lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu, which translates as Little Red Book.

“I formed this career plan two months ago, as many of my female friends have taken to social media to share their lifestyles,” she said. 

She often meets one of her friends at a venue, where they take photos of each other and also post tips about their visit on social media to attract more followers. 

Gulmira, 31, has a 6-year-old daughter who is learning piano and street dancing. She posts video clips of the girl practicing and also shares ideas about parenting on Xiaohongshu, winning praise from the platform’s users.

“I want to record my daughter’s growth on the platform,” she said, adding that she hopes that encouraging comments and praise from netizens can help the girl take part in talent competitions.

Gulmira used to study at Hunan University’s School of Environmental Science and Engineering in Changsha, capital of Hunan province. During that time, she had the chance to become a part-time model, posing for photos for a clothing store on the Taobao e-commerce platform and to appear in programs produced by Hunan Satellite Television.

“Such experience helps me build confidence,” she said.

After graduating in 2013, Gulmira landed a job with a real estate company in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, where she met colleagues and friends who loved to go hiking, play badminton and exercise in the gym during their spare time.

“Their healthy lifestyles inspired me. After I returned to Urumqi and became a civil servant with the local environmental protection bureau, I continued to go hiking twice a month,” she said.

Gulmira often stages livestreaming sessions during her daily workout at the gym.

After giving birth to her daughter, her weight rose to 78 kilograms, but she slimmed down by completing a strict fitness plan. “Many people who witnessed my weight change always ask me how they can shed kilos and keep fit,” she said.

“The diet and traditions of Uygur women become more family-centered after marriage. Many women tend to be overweight or even obese after giving birth. By livestreaming my bodybuilding steps, I want to encourage them to be more self-disciplined and take care of their bodies and health when they become mothers,” she added.

Gulmira said Uygur women used to be conservative, but in recent years increasing numbers of them in Xinjiang have been using social media platforms such as Douyin, Xiaohongshu and Bilibili to highlight their beauty or the attractions of their hometowns, drawing more followers from the region and elsewhere.

Aytunam Ablikim, 29, a Uygur woman living in Moyu county, Hotan prefecture, Xinjiang, uses social media to promote her home area, attracting more than 1.5 million followers on the three above-mentioned platforms.

The Xinjiang University graduate used to work for Xinjiang Ancient Ecological Park in Urumqi, where she frequently posted on her WeChat Moments account interesting video clips of horses raised at the venue.

Her boss found she had video editing skills and encouraged her to film more footage of horses, and in 2019, Aytunam started to post this footage on social media platforms, gradually winning more followers.

Her parents moved to Urumqi from their hometown in Moyu county to run their business before she was born, so Aytunam grew up in the regional capital. Several years ago, her parents decided to move back to their hometown to run a restaurant.

Gulmira Abliz, 31, and her daughter, 6. Gulmira plans to become an online influencer in Urumqi, Xinjiang. (Xing Wen / China Daily)

Last year, Aytunam resigned from her job at the park and followed her parents in returning to Moyu, from where she spent two months traveling across Hotan. 

She was surprised to find that the prefecture boasts many examples of intangible cultural heritage, including the time-honored craft of making mulberry paper. The comfortable lifestyles of the locals and the close connections among neighbors made her want to stay.

“I didn’t know much about my hometown beforehand. After my trip, I decided to film more videos to tell the stories and customs of people in Hotan,” Aytunam said.

The videos she has posted online depict various aspects of Uygur people’s lives. They explain why they like to use a particular herb to make their eyebrows look fuller, how Uygur families celebrate festivals, and the method they use to make nang bread and other traditional regional delicacies.

“I hope to use my online influence to promote Hotan’s reputation as a tourism destination by filming videos to show the hospitality and kindness of local residents,” said Aytunam who also runs a business selling Hotan’s specialties to customers from outside the prefecture.

Salamat Kari, who has made a niche for herself in her hometown of Kashgar, Xinjiang, used to be a tour guide at Kashgar Ancient City, a rammed-earth building complex with a history of 2,000 years. 

After the complex was designated a leading national tourism attraction in 2015, growing numbers of visitors flocked to the venue. Salamat decided to run a homestay business, offering customers accommodations and food as well as singing and dancing performances in the scenic area.

Supported by the local government, she opened Gul’s Home, a three-story homestay that occupies 500 square meters. Salamat posts videos on Douyin of the performances staged at the homestay, attracting more than 250,000 followers.

“Through entrepreneurship, my family is able to live a happy, prosperous life in our hometown,” she said. 

Kurbannisa Matrozi, 26, grew up in the secluded oasis town of Daliyabuyi in the center of the Taklimakan Desert in Yutian county, Hotan. It is one of the smallest and most remote townships in Xinjiang.

Locals used to live primitive lifestyles and rarely attached much importance to education, but in 2013, Kurbannisa began studying at Xinjiang University of Finance and Economics, becoming her town’s first university student.

She tells a story from her childhood, which motivated her to pursue further education.

When Kurbannisa was young, her mother opened a small grocery business, traveling 240 kilometers to the downtown area of Yutian once a year during summer to replenish her stocks. The one-way trip took her mother two days, as there were no decent roads in the desert.

“When I was young, Yutian county was my whole world. I thought the downtown area must be the most prosperous place on Earth,” Kurbannisa said.

After she turned 7, one day she met a group of people dressed in a noticeably different way than her fellow villagers. They set up a tent, which surprised Kurbannisa.

“I just didn’t understand how they could build a ‘house’ so quickly, as my family members had to mix bricks and mud when constructing their home,” she said.

Kurbannisa was eager to discuss the “magic house” with these people, but she could not speak their language, Mandarin.

“They gave me a piece of dark, tasty candy, which I later learned was chocolate. I was also very curious about them brushing their teeth, because at that time, people living in Daliyabuyi didn’t use toothpaste,” she said.

In 2007, her curiosity about these visitors resulted in her studying hard to enter middle school in downtown Yutian, which she thought was “the most advanced place” to look for information about them.

That year, 35 students from Daliyabuyi attended the middle school. Three years later, Kurbannisa was the only one continuing her studies at a senior high school, while the others chose to attend vocational schools or return home to help graze animals.

Although she had great difficulty catching up with her lessons in the first semester at senior high school, her ambition inspired her to study hard in the following years.

Her efforts paid off, and in 2013, Kurbannisa received an acceptance letter from Xinjiang University of Finance and Economics in Urumqi.

The day before she departed for Urumqi, her father slaughtered two sheep and hosted more than 100 villagers at a celebration.

“They all saw me as the hope of the entire township. I know that I’m its first university student, but I won’t be the last,” Kurbannisa said. 

Standing 1.76 meters tall, she said this used to be a disadvantage, as teachers always made her sit in the back row in class. 

However, after she went to Urumqi, she met an agent looking for models, and found part-time work in this field. “This job helped me become more confident about my height and appearance,” she said.

Every time she introduced herself to new friends, Kurbannisa always mentioned her hometown, Daliyabuyi. 

“Most people were impressed by my experience, with some calling me ‘a star from the desert’,” she said.

In 2017, Kurbannisa started to post video clips of the scenery in Daliyabuyi on Douyin in an attempt to promote the town to more potential visitors. Within a year, she had attracted 150,000 users to the platform.

In 2019, she organized 10 households in setting up a tourism cooperative in Daliyabuyi to offer better services to visitors. “Apart from offering tourists accommodations and food, the cooperative also organized campfire parties and other activities for them,” Kurbannisa said. 

In its first month, the cooperative earned more than 100,000 yuan ($15,510), according to Kurbannisa.

Earlier this year, she passed an exam to become a civil servant in the Yutian county culture and tourism bureau.

In April, Kurbannisa joined the fanghuiju campaign, in which civil servants are sent to grassroots communities to offer help to people from ethnic groups. She became a cadre-resident assisting rural vitalization in Daliyabuyi.

“I’m working to further improve infrastructure and tourism facilities in the town. I grew up here and it’s time to pay back,” she said.

There are 360 households in Daliyabuyi, where the main industries are animal husbandry and cultivation of the Cistanche deserticola, a rare parasitic medical plant.

Contact the writers at xingwen@chinadaily.com.cn


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