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The Art of Symbolic Resistance: Uyghur Identities and Uyghur-Han Relations in Contemporary Xinjiang

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Jo Smith Finley


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For almost two decades, ‘local’ Uyghur representations of ethnic interactions in Xinjiang, as well as scholarly studies on the Uyghur, have focused on Uyghur-Han difference and conflict, ignoring the actuality of Uyghur accommodations and cultural hybridisation. In both cases, the tendency has stemmed from a taboo: firstly, a reluctance on the part of Uyghur actors to acknowledge ties with the perceived ‘coloniser’, and, secondly, a reluctance among scholars (many of whom fall into deep sympathy with their subjects) to acknowledge that there is a need for a more honest dialogue on the full range of Uyghur identities as Uyghurs are fully incorporated within a multi-ethnic Chinese state. This book divides the process of contemporary Uyghur identity formation and transformation into two distinct phases: the years from 1991-1997; and the period following the Yining riots of February 1997 to the present, with this event marking a significant turning point. The 1991-1997 period is conceptualised as a run-up to an ‘imagined independence’ in the minds of the youth; a period of hope and fanciful aspirations during which the idea of sinicisation was demonised. Where media sources and some scholarly works have focused on the increase in violence during this period, the focus here is on the more common non-violent, symbolic forms of resistance. It is argued that intra-ethnic peer pressure exaggerated and proliferated Uyghur-Han difference during this period, while vilifying and obstructing Uyghur-Han interaction. The post-1997 state crackdown ushered in a new era of resignation, cynicism and despair. I show how Uyghurs increasingly see a bi-polar world before them, one in which they can resist and face marginalisation, exclusion or arrest, or accommodate to ensure survival. Resistance in this period has largely been embodied in the renewal of an orthodox form of Islam, while degrees of accommodation vary from the growing number of Uyghurs educated in Chinese schools to Uyghur police personnel and prostitutes. I demonstrate how a new intra-ethnic dichotomisation has emerged, separating ‘resisters’ from ‘accommodators.’ Yet while accommodators are mistrusted and often condemned by resisters, interview data suggest that their positions and motivations are extremely complex. The aim of this book is thus twofold: to illustrate the fluid, transient and multi-faceted character of modern Uyghur identities against a backdrop of constant social, political and economic change; and to signal the transition from a relational conceptualisation of Uyghur identity to an all-embracing approach that allows for both ‘pure’ and hybridised Uyghur identities in the modern context.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Smith Finley J

Publication type: Authored Book

Publication status: Published

Series Title: Brill's Inner Asian Library

Year: 2013

Volume: 30

Number of Pages: xxx, 454

Print publication date: 01/09/2013

Publisher: Brill

Place Published: Leiden


DOI: 10.1163/9789004256781

Notes: ISSN: 1566-7162

Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9789004254916


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