Dynamist Blog

The Control of Time

China is roughly the width of the U.S. but has only one time zone. In today's LAT piece Barbara Demick reports on how ethnic minority Uighurs in China's far west use their own time zone, two hours earlier than the official one, to subtly protest Beijing's dominance.

Local people have strangely adjusted.

"Confusing? Not confusing at all! You can ask anybody how easy it is to convert between Beijing time and the local time," insisted a Chinese woman working at the Kashgar inter-city bus station, which is running on local time until April 1 and then switching over. "We use Beijing time in every aspect of our lives. It is only our comrades, the ethnic minorities, who use their local time."

Ali Tash, a 28-year-old tour guide, said it's really quite simple. Pointing at empty sofas in a hotel lobby, he explained how he would set up a hypothetical meeting with a Chinese friend and a Uighur friend. "So I say to the Chinese guy, come at 4 o'clock, and to the Uighur guy, come at 2 o'clock, and then everybody will be there the same time. No problem."

Such adjustments shouldn't seem "strange" to a reporter for a West Coast paper, since Pacific Coasters are forever making similar adjustments to accommodate the dominant East. Whoever gets up first, generally sets the day's agenda. I've been known to suggest the the U.S. would be better off if everyone were on Central time. And I'm currently enjoying being six hours ahead of the East, seven hours before Italy switched from "solar time" ("ora solare") to the aptly named "legal time" ("ora legale") this past weekend.

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