The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land

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9780231147583: The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land

For more than half a century many Uyghurs, members of a Muslim minority in northwestern China, have sought to achieve greater autonomy or outright independence. Yet the Chinese government has consistently resisted these efforts, countering with repression and a sophisticated strategy of state-sanctioned propaganda emphasizing interethnic harmony and Chinese nationalism. After decades of struggle, Uyghurs remain passionate about establishing and expanding their power within government, and China's leaders continue to push back, refusing to concede any physical or political ground.

Beginning with the history of Xinjiang and its unique population of Chinese Muslims, Gardner Bovingdon follows fifty years of Uyghur discontent, particularly the development of individual and collective acts of resistance since 1949, as well as the role of various transnational organizations in cultivating dissent. Bovingdon's work provides fresh insight into the practices of nation building and nation challenging, not only in relation to Xinjiang but also in reference to other regions of conflict. His work highlights the influence of international institutions on growing regional autonomy and underscores the role of representation in nationalist politics, as well as the local, regional, and global implications of the "war on terror" on antistate movements. While both the Chinese state and foreign analysts have portrayed Uyghur activists as Muslim terrorists, situating them within global terrorist networks, Bovingdon argues that these assumptions are flawed, drawing a clear line between Islamist ideology and Uyghur nationhood.

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About the Author:

Gardner Bovingdon is an assistant professor in the Department of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

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Chapter 1: Using the Past to Serve the Present

Politicized History

Groups embroiled in political conflicts often appeal to history to strengthen their cases. They invoke historical records to prove the location of a boundary, specify the historical population of a region, refer to battles fought, or underscore the validity of agreements signed. But as historians well know, history has never been the impartial arbiter that partisans depict. A Uyghur professor told me one blustery November day in 1996 that in his view, "history is like the Taklamakan Desert. Everything is past; it's all covered with sand. The historian simply pulls out of the sand the things he needs." He might have added that the clever scholar or activist also takes care to leave buried what he does not wish to have appear. Even more problematic, the enterprising person might take advantage of the remoteness of the desert from most people's homes by constructing new artifacts and pretending to have found them beneath the sand.

The writing of history is a central domain of representational politics. Yet if there cannot be, strictly speaking, truly unbiased historiography, neither is it helpful to object that all history is fiction, representation without any real referent. There is nothing to be gained from denying that there is a Taklamakan desert, that there is a meaningful distinction between "planted" or factitious artifacts and those actually dug out of the sand, or that there are better and worse ways of uncovering the things that are buried. Careful scholarly history requires the review of as many sources as possible without prejudice as to their origin. No serious historian would refuse to consider Chinese documents merely because they are Chinese or dismiss Russian records because they are "foreign" to Xinjiang, as partisans on one side or the other have done. By the same token, serious historical research requires the scholar to evaluate the reliability of sources -- to question not only the authenticity of documents and artifacts but also the motives of their writers or fashioners. Finally, responsible historical study requires that the researcher not begin with a preference for having the story come out one way rather than another.

The very name of the region is a bone of contention. Uyghurs point out acerbically that Xinjiang means "new boundaries" or "new dominions" in Chinese, unambiguously acknowledging the territory's late incorporation into a Chinese-speaking polity. Many Uyghurs revile the name as a Chinese imposition and prefer Eastern Turkestan or Uyghurstan, toponyms whose use the government forbids today. For nearly two thousand years, Chinese-language historical records used the term Xiyu (Western Regions) to denote a region of shifting size and shape in the general vicinity of today's Xinjiang. Strictly speaking, the history of "Xinjiang" extends no further back than the eighteenth century when the name came into currency among literati and bureaucrats, or even more narrowly to the period beginning in 1884 when the region was formally established as a province. In a deliberate anachronism for the sake of simplicity, I generally use Xinjiang in this chapter when referring to historical territories more or less contiguous with today's territory of that name. I do so without intending either to ratify the Chinese use of that toponym or to challenge the use of Eastern Turkestan or Uyghurstan by Uyghurs. When I refer to a historical territory significantly different in size or shape from the current Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, I will say so.

All the parties involved in the contestation over Xinjiang have used history as a tool to serve political ends. This is true of nationalist historians, officials, and intellectuals who write or disseminate historical narratives and equally true of the many others who consume them. Chinese state actors have manipulated the historiography of Xinjiang to strengthen the state's hold on the region. They have written the story of the place and its peoples to make them parts of China from a very early date. Virtually every text concerning Xinjiang published in China since 1959 begins with the obligatory statement that "Xinjiang has since ancient times been an inseparable part of China," and some texts claim the relationship dates back five thousand years. As two judicious historians wrote, such claims "have only rhetoric on their side" (Millward and Perdue 2004:48), but that rhetoric has been employed by a powerful, autocratic state with very little tolerance for answering challenges, whether by dissident historians or skeptical high school students. In concocting this formula, the officials were trying to extinguish the Uyghurs' claims to independent states in the past and thereby to undercut calls for independence in the future (Bovingdon 2001; Bovingdon and Nebijan Tursun 2004).

Uyghur nationalists have written histories claiming that Uyghurs have lived in what is now Xinjiang for six thousand years and that they founded many powerful independent states in or near that territory. They constructed these histories, as creative and often as unreliable as their Chinese counterparts, with two audiences in mind: the Uyghurs and the international community. In the face of challenges from official Chinese history, they have tried to restore the Uyghurs' collective belief in a proud and independent past and so impart new vigor to their resistance to Chinese rule. They succeeded in this aim in the 1980s, and as a consequence, the Chinese government ended the publication of Uyghur nationalist historiography inside China by 1991. The histories that had been published were burned in the public square, their claims officially contradicted, and their authors vilified (Benson 1996; Bovingdon and Nebijan Tursun 2004; Rudelson 1991, 1997).

Members of the wider Uyghur community have not merely been passive consumers of the ideas promulgated by intellectual elites. Instead they have played an active role in interpreting and disseminating those ideas. Hence even after the publishing crackdown and despite public criticism, the central claims of Uyghur nationalist history have continued to circulate in Uyghur society. These historians' aim with respect to the international community has been to strengthen the case for Uyghurs' self-determination, and their history is intended to persuade skeptics that Uyghurs are a historical nation by providing evidence of Uyghurs' independent states in the past. Viewed dispassionately, the historical record of the region and its peoples constructed along these lines has features discomfiting to both Chinese and Uyghur nationalists. The relations between states on the Central Plains of Asia (I explain later why it is inappropriate to call those states China) and those in or around what is today Xinjiang changed often and complexly. So did the states themselves, sometimes growing, sometimes shrinking, sometimes fusing, and occasionally being incorporated into much larger states located elsewhere. Complexity is the bane of nationalist simplification. The relations between the Central Plains states and parts of Xinjiang began much earlier than Uyghur nationalists would like to acknowledge. Through military colonies ( tuntian ) first established in 120 bce and commanderies ( duhufu ) first set up in 60 bce, the Han dynasty (206 bce to 220 ce) exercised military and political control over a significant portion of Xinjiang for more than one hundred years, more than two millennia ago. The Tang dynasty (618--907), too, controlled much of Xinjiang for roughly one hundred years until the An Lushan rebellion in the mid-eighth century. After that date, no Central Plains dynasty ruled Xinjiang until generals of the Qing dynasty (1644--1911) conquered its northern and southern parts in 1759 (Millward and Perdue 2004: 35--39). It is beyond question that the first two periods of rule far antedated not only the Russian Empire's first forays into the Qazaq steppe but also the very emergence of the Russian Empire itself. Even the Qing conquest of Xinjiang preceded by a full century Russia's subjugating Central Asia proper in the 1860s or the British Empire's taking formal control of India in 1858.

In contrast, contemporary Chinese nationalists prefer not to admit that the various Central Plains dynasties were not, properly speaking, "China." There is a record of the continuous habitation of the Central Plains by Chinese-speaking and -writing people from before the common era, and a series of states governed by Chinese-speakers ruled many of those people for much of the intervening two thousand years. Yet as the historian Victor Mair pointed out, there were no state names or names for human groups that outlasted a single dynasty in the Central Plains (Mair 2005:52). William Kirby argues that "there was no 'China' in a formal sense under dynastic rule," nor was there an idea of the nation (Kirby 2005:107; see also Millward and Perdue 2004:29). Ironically, an early Chinese nationalist acknowledged this inconvenient fact. The well-known intellectual Liang Qichao lamented in 1900 that his people had no name for their country. The term that later generations adopted, Zhongguo (central state or states), he dismissed as a foreign imposition, something "people of other races call us" (Fitzgerald 1996b:67). The "Chinese nation" was a modern invention dating to no earlier than the late nineteenth century, although just as their counterparts around the world had done, Chinese nationalists concocted an ancient origin and a linear history of their "self-same, national subject" moving through time (Chow 1997; Duara 1995:4 and chap. 1 passim; Leibold 2007).

In sum, we must view skeptically the parallel claims of Chinese nationalist historians that "Xinjiang has been part of China since ancient times" and that Uyghurs have been part of China's "great family of minzu " for an even longer time. We similarly must scrutinize Uyghurs' nationalist claims that Uyghurs have alwa...

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Descrizione libro Columbia University Press, United States, 2010. Hardback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. For more than half a century many Uyghurs, members of a Muslim minority in northwestern China, have sought to achieve greater autonomy or outright independence. Yet the Chinese government has consistently resisted these efforts, countering with repression and a sophisticated strategy of state-sanctioned propaganda emphasizing interethnic harmony and Chinese nationalism. After decades of struggle, Uyghurs remain passionate about establishing and expanding their power within government, and China s leaders continue to push back, refusing to concede any physical or political ground. Beginning with the history of Xinjiang and its unique population of Chinese Muslims, Gardner Bovingdon follows fifty years of Uyghur discontent, particularly the development of individual and collective acts of resistance since 1949, as well as the role of various transnational organizations in cultivating dissent. Bovingdon s work provides fresh insight into the practices of nation building and nation challenging, not only in relation to Xinjiang but also in reference to other regions of conflict.His work highlights the influence of international institutions on growing regional autonomy and underscores the role of representation in nationalist politics, as well as the local, regional, and global implications of the war on terror on antistate movements. While both the Chinese state and foreign analysts have portrayed Uyghur activists as Muslim terrorists, situating them within global terrorist networks, Bovingdon argues that these assumptions are flawed, drawing a clear line between Islamist ideology and Uyghur nationhood. Codice libro della libreria AAU9780231147583

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Descrizione libro Columbia University Press, United States, 2010. Hardback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. For more than half a century many Uyghurs, members of a Muslim minority in northwestern China, have sought to achieve greater autonomy or outright independence. Yet the Chinese government has consistently resisted these efforts, countering with repression and a sophisticated strategy of state-sanctioned propaganda emphasizing interethnic harmony and Chinese nationalism. After decades of struggle, Uyghurs remain passionate about establishing and expanding their power within government, and China s leaders continue to push back, refusing to concede any physical or political ground.Beginning with the history of Xinjiang and its unique population of Chinese Muslims, Gardner Bovingdon follows fifty years of Uyghur discontent, particularly the development of individual and collective acts of resistance since 1949, as well as the role of various transnational organizations in cultivating dissent. Bovingdon s work provides fresh insight into the practices of nation building and nation challenging, not only in relation to Xinjiang but also in reference to other regions of conflict. His work highlights the influence of international institutions on growing regional autonomy and underscores the role of representation in nationalist politics, as well as the local, regional, and global implications of the war on terror on antistate movements. While both the Chinese state and foreign analysts have portrayed Uyghur activists as Muslim terrorists, situating them within global terrorist networks, Bovingdon argues that these assumptions are flawed, drawing a clear line between Islamist ideology and Uyghur nationhood. Codice libro della libreria AAU9780231147583

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