HONG KONG—An ethnic Uyghur from northwest China has won an international tightrope competition in South Korea, highlighting the importance of the ancient practice in his homeland.
Abdusattar Hoja Abdulla, 18, took the crown at the First International High Wire Championship after breaking the world record for the one-km (0.6- mile) high-wire walk across the Han River in Seoul, speeding across in 11 minutes 22 seconds.
“I won first place this time. I hope my teacher Adil Hoshur will support me again in the future,” Abdusattar—a student of the Uyghur high-wire artist known as the “King of the Sky”—told RFA’s Uyghur service in a recent interview.
“During this tournament, I walked the 1,000-meter long and 30-meter high wire in 11 minutes, 22 seconds. I was faster than other competitors,” he said.
Video pictures show Abusattar tripping like a dancer across the wire, in an apparently effortless crossing. South Korea has announced it plans to hold the event annually from now on.
The 18 contestants trod the 30-mm-thick wire across the river in difficult conditions, braving strong winds and low-flying birds, carrying nothing but a seven-meter (21-foot) balancing rod.
I won first place this time. I hope my teacher Adil Hoshur will support me again in the future.
Abdusattar’s teacher, Adil Hoshur, who plans to wire-walk across the Messina Strait between Sicily and the Italian mainland in October, said it was the first overseas competition attended by the Uyghurs, who have studied the art of darwaz for hundreds of years.
“The event was organized by the South Korean government, and it was truly ceremonious. However, the event had some shortcomings since it was the first event of its kind,” Hoshur said.
“We are happy that we succeeded in this event...There were some problems—wires mingling with balancing poles, some people falling into the water, and things like that. That is because some standard practices were not observed,” he said.
The high-wire event was staged by the capital’s annual Hi-Seoul festival, in a bid to give a boost to the ancient Korean folk art of tightrope walking, or jultagi , which dates back 13 centuries.
Tightrope performing in Korea, which featured in a recent Korean movie, The King and the Clown , is classified by the government as Major Cultural Treasure No. 58.
“Competitors came from nine countries, including four of us from China, one from Russia, and one from Hungary,” Hoshur said. “As tightrope walkers, we had a chance to meet each other and to exchange our experiences.”
Hoshur said there were “enough” safety measures, but that the wire wasn’t taut and straight. “This year, not all competitors had the same walking conditions. The wire was loose from time to time, and was not in the standard condition all of the time,” he said.
Photos of the event show a marked sagging in the wire in the middle of the river, in spite of tension lines aimed at holding it taut.
“I’m glad that I’ve been able to have my students participate in this international championship. I’m going to bring my other students, as well, for next year’s high wire championship. To demonstrate our skills, I have to train my students even harder.”
A female Uyghur student of Hoshur’s, 23-year-old Ayshamgul Memetamin, also took part in the event.
“This is the first time for us. We have observed the skills of other competitors from other countries,” said the wire-walker, who completed the course in a colorful ethnic costume with the balancing pole across her shoulders.
“We have always seen our own skills demonstrated and thought that we had the best skills. After observing other competitors, we have realized that we have to work hard to improve ourselves.”
“I thought, if I don’t try hard, I might lag behind other skillful sportsmen.”
Darwaz , the Uyghur word for tightrope-walking, is a traditional art among the more than 16 million Turkic-speaking Uyghurs, whose homeland is currently ruled by China.
More than just an art form, the activity epitomizes the struggle for Uyghur culture to hold its own, especially under the shadow of China, which gets a large proportion of its national resources from Xinjiang, and whose rule is unpopular in the region.
Hoshur’s family has practiced wire-walking for 430 years.
Original reporting by Akide for RFA’s Uyghur service. Director: Dolkun Kamberi. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.