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Rebiya Kadeer at the VU, or the anthropologist’s dilemma

By Pál Nyiri When I lecture on China and democracy, I show students excerpts from Carma Hinton and Geremie Barme’s 1992 film, The Gate of Heavenly Peace. In the film, one of the leaders of the Tiananmen Square student movement, referring to exaggerated stories of the 1989 massacre, asks: “Must we use lies to stand up to our lying enemy,” i.e. the Chinese Communist Party?

The same question arose in me on 30 March as I listened to Rebiya Kadeer, the “leader of the Uyghur people” according to the president of the Turkish Academic Student Association (TASA), which organised her appearance at the VU. He had asked me, as a “China scholar,” to speak at this event, which he called a “symposium”, on the situation of the Uyghur people in China.

I was in a dilemma. On the one hand, I suspected that the event would not really be a symposium, but rather an occasion to garner political support for the cause of Uyghur independence, as championed by the exiled Rebiya Kadeer. This was not a cause I necessarily wished to lend my “academic credibility” to, nor did I want to be put in the role of the opponent of what was likely to be one-sided views at an event designed to bolster for those very views.

On the other hand, I felt that the Uyghur issue had to be talked about, and that researchers of China should not refuse participation at events organised by Uyghur exiles — especially, as many do, for fear of losing access to China. And more generally: can I permit myself such squeamishness on the rare occasion when a broad audience might be interested in a critical discussion of China’s ethnic policies?

In the end, I decided to take the (admittedly minor) risk of being refused my next Chinese visa and attend the meeting, but not to give a speech. The news that the Chinese embassy demanded a meeting with the VU’s board of directors to protest the holding of the event strengthened my resolve to attend.

The role of the China expert was eventually accepted by Andrew Martin Fisher, a well-respected researcher at the ISS, and I am very curious to know how he dealt with it. (I left in the intermission and did not hear him.) But I was almost sorry to have rejected the role and lost the opportunity to ask Rebiya some questions. Already the trappings of the event made me uneasy: TASA’s president, who chaired the session, asked the — mostly Turkish — audience for silence and then applause as he introduced Rebiya and the other speakers, then declared that everyone must refrain from “cynicism and provocation.” After a short film made by Amnesty International, Rebiya spoke for about 40 minutes. It was this speech that made me think of the student leader in the film.

Photo: shapeshift. Rebiya Kadeer and other activists

Yes, Uyghurs do not receive much attention from the West compared to Tibetans — and, we should add, this is because they are Muslims and because the Chinese government successfully tars Uyghur separatism with the “terrorist” brush. Yes, China’s ownership of Xinjiang is recent. Yes, there are many Uyghur political prisoners, and the crackdown after the rioting last year has been particularly severe. Yes, the rioting was triggered by the lynching of two Uyghur men in Eastern China. Yes, there is massive Han Chinese immigration to Xinjiang, it is encouraged by the government in the name of economic development, and Han Chinese probably get better jobs because they are more educated, more politically trustworthy, and perhaps (being migrants) more docile and hard-working from the Chinese companies’ point of view.

Yes, the oil and gas riches of Xinjiang benefit the rulers of China. Yes, Muslim religious activities are severely curtailed and unauthorized ones often punished by imprisonment. Yes, local authorities promote economic growth by encouraging the outmigration of young workers to the factories of Eastern China. Yes, Chinese government propaganda denies or downplays all of that. Yes, cultural traditions are eroded as lifestyles change and the share of the Han population grows. And I am willing to believe that, as Rebiya claims, “the Chinese government” is bulldozing the old city of Kashgar this very moment.

But the Qing Dynasty gained control of Xinjiang in the mid-17th century, not in 1887 (that’s just when its civil administration was incorporated into China’s). There was an independent Xinjiang in the 1920s and ’30s, but it was led by a Han Chinese under Soviet protection. There are far more Han Chinese who are in prison for criticizing or resisting government action than Uyghurs. All religious activity in China is monitored and, if it proves uncontrollable, suppressed. The lynching of the two Uyghurs was linked to accusations of them raping a Han woman — not that this mitigates the murders, but it does put into perspective Rebiya’s argument that the sending of Uyghur girls to Chinese factories violates cultural norms.

The riots cost scores of Han Chinese lives, a fact Rebiya cursorily acknowledged but dismissed it as a ploy by the Chinese government to create an excuse for the crackdown. Labour export is encouraged in many rural areas, and those resisting are labeled recalcitrant — but Rebiya’s accusations of four hundred thousand young girls being “forcibly transported” to “sweatshops” in East China and then “hunted down like animals in Chinese streets” are fantastic and unbelievable.

As for each Han migrant receiving the equivalent of 5000 euro and free land for moving to Xinjiang, well, if that were true, the whole country would be moving there. A cousin of my wife’s went to Xinjiang to plant cotton and made the equivalent of 60 euros a month — not much but better than being unemployed in her home village. The next year, she went to Canton instead. (Far more Chinese workers and traders migrate within “China proper” than to Xinjiang or Tibet, and many Han Chinese migrate out of Xinjiang if they can.) And cultural traditons are eroding and old cities are being bulldozed everywhere in China to make way for real estate and tourism projects.

These are not, per se, ethnic issues. And standards of living have been rising in Xinjiang as elsewhere. Some Uyghurs, like Rebiya Kadeer who was once touted as one of the five richest people in China, have succeeded in business. Some of them, like Rebiya at the time, have been coopted by the Chinese government; she held various official positions in the 1990s. Uyghurs have not been subjected to family planning policies that Chinese are forced to accept; Rebiya herself has eleven children.

But economic inequality is growing, and ethnic minorities tend to be overrepresented among the losers. Restless, unemployed Uyghur youth is far more likely to translate this into ethnic and religious oppression than their no less restless Chinese-speaking brethren.

Is this “cultural genocide” of an ancient sovereign nation? If enough people believe so, then perhaps it is. But whether or not most Uyghurs feel exploited or want to be independent, speeches like Rebiya’s are no more objective representations of reality than reports of the Chinese government. And yet, once again — can an anthropologist be so squeamish when it comes to lending his voice to a legitimate, even if severely skewed, critique of an overwhelming political and military power? Or should he opt for what has been called “salvage orientalism” and go along with the nationalism of the weak against the nationalism of the strong?

Pál Nyiri is Professor of Global History from an Anthropological Perspective at VU University Amsterdam. His earlier posts include Hungarian nationalists claim Eastern origins and Anthropology and Iraq.

See also other posts (in Dutch) on activism.


  1. A well-written piece that explains precisely my feelings about this situation.

    “Must we use lies to stand up to our lying enemy”

    I think she could be so much more effective if she didn’t.

  2. Tez Tez

    Very interesting article re the dilemma many academics find themselves in. You also monitor well some of the extremities of Uyghur claims, which do their cause no service. Two points I thought stood out: 1. The bulldozing of Kashgar. You are right in saying it is part of the pattern of development across China. However, to see it as anything but a frontal attack on Uyghur traditional culture at its recognized source I feel is to miss out on its historical significance and fuller meaning in terms of the sinicization of the region. 2. Perhaps you meant the mid eighteenth century instead of the mid seventeenth century as the genesis of Chinese rule? In the mid sixteenth century the ‘six cities’ of the Tarim basin were still ruled by the Moghul descendants of Chagatai. A period Chinese historians name the Sa’iddiya Khantate which preceded the rule of the Appak Hoja under Zhungar suzerainty later that century. It was in 1759 the Qing formerly annexed both the Zhungar basin and the six cities of the Tarim basin. I think most Human Rights groups would also find issue with the questionable excuse of avoidance of “salvage orientalism” as reason not to speak out against excesses in the Uyghur case you yourself acknowledge. This aside thanks for your thoughtful article and its meaningful title.

  3. Tez Tez


    “Perhaps you meant the mid eighteenth century instead of the mid seventeenth century as the genesis of Chinese rule? In the mid seventeenth century the ’six cities’ of the Tarim basin were still ruled by the Moghul descendants of Chagatai.”

    its easy to do

  4. Lessoskallow Lessoskallow

    What a pussy footing academic you are. Like all of them you are afraid to lose your visa and your access.
    Just two points:
    1. It is a well known fact that families are forced to “agree” to send their girls to China. If not they are fined. Nobody knows how wide spread this is, but it is a fact.
    2. What happened in Guang Zhou has never been throroughly investigated. But that there have been more than two that were killed is readily appearant from newspaper accounts and also from an interview that survivors gave to RFA
    3. It is absolutely laughable that you compare that situation in Xinjiang to mainland china.
    In China people can and will speak out to an amazing degree. Uighurs are deadly afraid.
    I am from the former Soviet Union and know what is oppression. I can say with absolute certainty I have never seen such oppression and such terrible impotent hatred like in Xinxiang.
    Finally again: it might be 40 000 girls it might be 400 000. You don´t know and I don´t know.
    But to refute Kadeers claim with your certainty shows you don´t know that the first thing one should admit is ones lack of possibility of knowing.
    You take the side of the chinese government. I am sure you will get your visa also in future. OK I am no scientist but I have talked to dozens of people in the province as I speak one of the minority languages. (Not Ughur) I just know that what is happening there is unspeakable, worse than anything I have seen in my life.

  5. Tez, thank you for the correction. Lessoskallow, you are probably right that Uyghurs are more afraid to speak out against any kind of injustice than Han Chinese , because if they do they can be labelled separatists; but this does not contradict the views expressed in the post. It just constitutes another step of making all sorts of conflicts appear as ethnic, even if they are/were not.

    I do not see that the post expressed support for the Chinese government — or for Rebiya Kadeer. If you have first-hand evidence of atrocities in Xinjiang (not Xinxiang), then present it: what we need is to hear the voices of the Uyghurs. But since you speak neither Uyghur nor Chinese, I doubt that you will have much first-hand evidence.

    One more thing about what happened in Guangzhou: two Chinese men have been executed for killing the two Uyghurs. Whether they had done it or not, who knows.

  6. Tez Tez

    Dear Thirdtonedevil, thanks for your comments. Its easy to mess up on dates even as I did when correcting such a mess-up!

    On further reflection I find the term ‘salvage Orientalism’ problematic when applied to the Uyghur case as it suggest that the culture is not ‘living’ or still in a historic continuum, if I understand it correctly; though I think the process happening there now is moving toward the ‘artefacting’ of Uyghur culture in the face of modernity viz a viz sinicization of the region. This is the contact point and one of the roots of present troubles. Uyghur resistance to Han is not new but can be traced back in continuum to the Qing period. Anyway…

    I’ve also checked your interesting blog that I have bookmarked. Could you possibly provide a link about the execution re the Uyghur in Guangzhou? Cheers.

  7. Hi Tez, re date of the Chinese conquest of Xinjiang, I think it is the full conquest that was accomplished in the 17th c. with the fall of the Dzungar khanate, but already the first Qing emperors established garrisons in what today are the borders of Xinjiang with the Central Asian republics. So it depends on how you define sovereignty.

    Salvage Orientalism: this is a term that has been used by anthropologists to denote a kind of instrumental acceptance of the essentialization of a “native” culture for the sake of empowering the group.

    I don’t have a reference to the execution off the top of my head, but I remember it being reported in The New York Times.

  8. Tez Tez

    Thanks three tone. Yes thats my point about “Salvage Orientalism”. What the CCP is discovering in XUAR is just how deep that essential consciousness of “Uyghurness”, and all it may entail, is among the former. Their culture is hardly an artefact of the past. There has been no termination point. The encounter of an expanding frontier has been a long process, the creation of Han dominance was not ipso facto from their annexation (Qing) in 1759- (eighteenth century).

    Before that we have to go back to the Tang dynasty to see any real period of Chinese control in the region, and definitely no sovereignty, unless the Mongol domination (Yuan) is accepted as Chinese rule, which is a little difficult to mould. The idea of sporadic garrisons really means little but from the point of a nationalist historiography of the present.

    Post Mongol, ie. Ming, there was a definite Muslim/Chinese frontier at Hami (Kumul). West of there was ruled by Muslim descendants of Khan Chagatai and Moghul emirs (Dughlat) until around late 1600’s when the Zhungar Mongols controlled the entire region now known as the XUAR, and installed the sufi Appak Hoja as their suzerain. His descendants roughly ruled for 80 years until the Qing finally defeated the Zhungar Khante in 1759 and extended their rule into Tibet, Mongolia, the Zhungar basin and the Tarim basin in so doing.

    These are the borders (less Mongolia) the present Chinese government inherited from the Qing imperium and we can say in Xinjiang are still in the process of consolidating into the national centre. Thats how I would define sovereignty in regards the region.

    1759 is the date. The present Uyghur /Han conflict commenced then. Sorry for waffling on but there is no simple answer to the question.

    Thanks for your reply Ill try find that link.

  9. Tez Tez

    Just some afterthoughts ‘thirdtone’ re Garrisons.

    After the Han, the Tang system of rule known as the ‘4 Garrisons’ is perhaps the greatest example. These garrisons shifted in importance and location between Turpan and as far west as Tokmak in present Khirgizstan, at times. The period of Tang control was itself quite contested by Western Turks and Tibetans, so it was sporadic. The ultimate advancement of a Muslim/Arab frontier ended in the Chinese defeat of 751 at Talas. The withdrawal of the garrisons after this commenced a thousand year period of non-Chinese rule until 1759, albeit that rule was Qing/Manchu. Many contemporary non-PRC historians acknowledge this thousand year period.

    The Sung dynasty was the time of the Muslim Karakhanid control of the western Tarim basin, while Turfan was controlled by the Buddhist Uyghur who had very strong ‘links’ with China.

    After the Mongol period, officials appointed by Tamerlane in Samarkand and his descendants governed the Tarim basin. Though the actual extent of this rule is unclear. This doesn’t discount that embassies were sent and interaction with China occurred at this time, but in fact the Chinese emperor was a long, long way off.

    Recent work on the Ming may bring out more of the significance of Chinese garrisons in the region at that time but during the Ming it was basically the time of the Muslim Chagataids as I mentioned in above post, who ruled the Tarim basin and Islamicized the remaining Buddhists of the Turpan area.

    In the nineteenth century after Zou Zang Tang’s reconquest of the Kashgar Sultanate of Yakob Beg ca. 1865-1877, garrisons in the old Han dynastic fashion were reintroduced (tun tian).

    So I don’t see much support for garrisons as an instrument of sovereignty outside of periods of actual Han control mentioned above.

    Saying this I totally accept the legitimacy of Chinese rule since the 1759 annexation and its present borders, though I dare say many Uyghur from their viewpoint do not.

    Xinjiang, like Mongolia of course could have been excised from the Chinese state at times. This was possible during the great maritme/frontier debates in the late nineteenth century when it was mooted to let go of the region. Russia also returned a large portion of the Yili Valey around this time it had annexed after the collapse of Qing rule in the 1860s; again during the 1930s and 1940s during the periods of several Muslim and East Turkestan Republics. SU under Stalin in fact came close to annexing the region it seems.

  10. Hmm, I have always thought that already the Kangxi emperor reinstalled Chinese garrisons in (the future) Xinjiang, but I was too lazy to check.
    Re “salvage Orientalism,” I am not sure I understand your point. The term doesn’t imply whether the target of such Orientialism is ancient or modern, though most notions of nationhood tend to be modern. The Uyghur one certainly is; see Dru Gladney’s work on the subject. Gladney arges that before the first half of the 20th century, few Turkic-residents of Xinjiang thought of themselves of Uyghurs; rather, they saw themselves as Kashgari, Turpani etc.

    Of course, there is nothing unusual about the rise of a national consciousness under (semi)colonial modernization. But there is an interesting parallel here to the Soviet Central Asian states, where the Soviet state promoted the institutionalisation of previously non-existent Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Uzbek nationhood as a tool of consolidating its power. This was happening at the same time as Uyghur nationalism was being created under Han-led, Soviet-influenced rule in Xinjiang.

  11. Tez Tez

    Thanks Third tone devil,

    Yes, definitley the Uyghur ethnonym is a creation of the modern period, there is much written about that which you no doubt have come across in reading Gladney. The idea of oasis identities is from Justin Rudelson and before that, Joseph Fletcher. Yes I think a comparative study of formative Uyghur and Uzbek nationalism would be interesting.

    I wasnt however speaking about a constructionist/modernist approach to the nation and national identity or the rise of modern national consciousness.

    I was saying that “SO” seems to infer that the culture is in need of salvage, that it has in a sense terminated and wishful academics attempt to salvage that ‘essence’ if you like and apply it to their subject. If my understanding of that is correct?

    I cant see any definitive breakage with the past in the Uyghur case when it comes to their Islamic ID. So Im saying there is nothing to salvage.

    The state and the Uyghur interface with it of course has been a big factor in their present reality . It all gets labyrinthine I know. The Islamic ID is one that hasn’t been really touched by many ID studies. What Uyghurs say about themselves in this respect is probably more valid, and the majority of Uyghurs are agriculturalists in the southern Tarim basin. I didn’t find Rudelson’s survey in Turpan on attitudes to ID extremely comprehensive or convincing on that note.

    I suppose it comes down to the difference between emic and etic approaches.

    Edmund Waite’s case study of a community in Kashgar near the Appak Hoja tomb goes a long way toward getting down to an emic approach.

    This could go on for pages…

    Kangxi (1654 – 1722). He may have had garrisons that way but if so I doubt they were in the Tarim basin. During his reign it was experiencing the last rule of Sa’iddiya khans and the rise to power of Appak Hodja under the Zhungar protectorate. It wasn’t long after in any case (38 years) that the region came under Qing rule during Qianlong’s reign.

    Have a nice day.

  12. MacKerras published an article in 2005 reviewing the relevance of ethnic and religious dimension to the identity of China’s Muslims. He puts Gladney (predominantly ethnic) in opposition to Raphael Israeli (predominently islamic).

    I haven’t read Israeli myself, Tez, but I guess his may provide further insights in the religious dimension of the Uyghur identity.

    Becquelin argues that religion is easily turned to as a vehicle for the expression of ethnic tensions in Xinjiang; from my own experience I’m inclined to agree with him.

    Anyway, these are my two-cents worth based on my own experiences. The opinions referred to above are all summarized by MacKerras’ “Some Issues of Ethnic and Religious Identity among China’s Islamic Peoples”, published Asian Ethnicity in 2005.

    That case study by Waite sounds interesting and I will certainly have a look at that.


    What I’d like to ask though; I’ve been ‘struggling’ in my mind with similar ideas about the ethnic/religious dimension of ‘the Uyghur issue’ as the author expresses in this article.

    Third Tone Devil, I’m assuming you are the author. Do you know if this point of view on ethnicity and ethnic strife in China has been published in an academic journal? I’ve not come across it but I would much like to read more.

    Perhaps such ideas as those described by you are more common in research on diasporic communities, which isn’t exactly my strongest point?

  13. Hi Mahouer (or Masaier?). Leaving aside the issue of my authorship :), I am not really sure which point on ethnicity you mean. That conflict become easily ethnicized even though most of the time it is not inherently ethnic? I don’t think this is an unusual point of view. In fact, the Chinese government’s official point of view is that the minority issue is a development issue. I guess what I am saying is that we can’t dismiss this view off hand, even though it obviously serves ideological purposes. Recently Ma Rong, probably China’s most influential ethnologist, has been advocating the revision of China’s official classification of nationalities as one that hardens artificial categories of difference. The problem with that is that many people perceive his call as an assimilationist one sympathetic to rising Han nationalism.

    Of course, many anthropologists too have addressed this issue of how and when issues become ethnicized (or not), but I guess not so much in Xinjiang. Ashild Kolas’ work in the Tibetan area of Yunnan comes to mind, or Stevan Harrell’s work in Sichuan.

    But I am not really sure if I am answering your question.

  14. Dear Third Tone Devil,

    I think you are answering my question, so thank you for that. My interest lies predominantly with Xinjiang because of my own experience in that region, and you seem right to point out that this point of view has not been voiced about the situation in Xinjiang. I’ve not come across if anyway…

    I will certainly have a look at your suggestions for the same such argumentations in other areas (Tibetans in Yunnan, Sichuan / Ashild Kolas, Ma Rong and Stevan Harrell).

    Thank you

  15. On an off note – and starting to address your remark about the government’s official point of view – I guess what may be different between the two points of view (the government’s and the one in the article) is that the government sees no role for ethnicity in either the deployment of developmental projects or the population’s experience with these projects.

    I think you are right to say that we shouldn’t dismiss the government’s view on the deployment of developmental projects (i.e. as not inherently assimilationist) off hand.

    But I also think it’s pretty clear that people’s experiences and interpretations of these projects are very much ethnicised or shaped by religion.

    Wouldn’t that be a difference between the two points of view?

  16. Well, actually, I am not as sure to what extent people’s interpretation of what is happening around them is shaped by religion. I haven’t read Israeli’s text either, but while ethnic categorisation is something people grow up with and thus naturalise, religious revival, I assume, is more of a choice.

  17. Tez Tez

    @ 马猴尔

    “Becquelin argues that religion is easily turned to as a vehicle for the expression of ethnic tensions in Xinjiang; from my own experience I’m inclined to agree with him”

    hmm, yeah that’s true. I think the bloody Ghulja riots of Feb. 1997 are a case in point. I find Becquelin the better analyst of present situation in XJ. Quote above however suggests Uyghur turn to religion from some other standpoint when tensions occur. That it is an instrument of radicalization. Also true, but there is an inference of normative separation here. That Islam is only something turned to at certain times and the rest of the time the Islamic identity is in flux. Certainly not all Uyghur are religious nor do I see them as monolithic. Secular modernists from their etic viewpoints however largely fail to see Islam as a central identifier, or understand an Islamic mind-set and its pervasiveness. Applied methodological frameworks have a lot to do with this.

    Revival of religion in this respect is a period when that ID is heightened as in the mid 1980s @ Kashgar, in McMillen’s words a “controlled revivalism” sponsored by the state

    Up until the late nineteenth c. it was the central pre- modern group identifier across the oases: “Musulman” tagged to a local oasis designation (see Shahrani 1994 for this as typical of all central Asian Muslim communities). I don’t see any real break in this stream of self understanding until the present although engagement with the modern state (PRC) and its demand for reorientation has certainly produced hybridizations of that older Identity. These hybrids are what have held the attention of most western Identity studies I’m sure you are familiar with.

    One of the better critiques of Gladney’s work re his “Dislocating China” subaltern approach, a book which overall is an untidy rehash of all his earlier work, and which probably hasn’t entered the bibliographies of current US based work, is a short review by Michael Dillon:

    DRU C. GLADNEY: Dislocating China: Muslims Minorities and other Subaltern Subjects. xvii 414 pp. London: Hurst 2004. £25.

    Michael Dillon

    Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies , Volume 68 , Issue 03 , Oct 2005 , pp 489-491.

  18. Hi Tez: “controlled revivalism” is interesting. But I would be surprised if there had been no break in Islamic self-understanding. After all, the Cultural Revolution was pretty effective in that way elsewhere in China.

  19. Tez Tez

    Ah Id disagree to the contrary Three Tone. What Chinese researchers found in the early 1980s was that among the rural areas of southern XJ in 1982 alone, tens of thousands of tawapchi (pilgrims) attended the seasonal sayla (pilgrimage) to saint’s shrines and document a general outburst of religious practices once the odium of the CR had passed. Another finding was that most of Hotan’s rural population was involved in these practices at the time. This could be acknowledged as a reaction to the suppression of the CR, a reaffirming of their former ritual year centred around Islamic pilgrimage. A flurry of mosque building activity and the publishing of books with Islamic themes both official and unofficial publications accompanied this period- which merged into the “controlled revivalism” of the late 80s.

    There is very little documentation available of the CR period in XJ; but much oral lore; the official files of that period now at the U of W await some scholar, and then a better picture gained from those files could help ascertain what was really happening with Islam at that time among other things. So apart from what I have heard and read, and until that clearer picture arise, I see no reason to see any break especially in light of the vitality of Islam after the CR.
    There wasn’t really a break in continuity I believe in comparison to what was experienced under seventy years of Soviet rule cross the borders from XJ. I think in time from a long-term view there will seem not to have been a break.

  20. Interesting. If this is so, then the contrast with “China proper” is quite marked. Or maybe not? The revival of popular religion all over China in the ’80s and ’90s is clear, and yet it is also clear that the situation is not the same as before the CR, because religious activities did not now draw youth — there was a clear generational divide.

    Presumably, people’s ways identifying or not identifying with religion and with China, and the sources of conflict, are quite different in rural oases and in big cities like Urumqi, where I imagine the situation is increasingly similar to European cities: unemployed youth encountering discrimination, cut off from traditional community identities but turning to religion coming from non-traditional sources.

  21. Tez Tez

    Ah yes the old question of “termination”. The report I mentioned above highlighted the fact that youth and families with children were in numbers @ the pilgrimages they attended.

    The Deng Xiao Ping reforms which allowed such a blossoming also provided new secular paths for those youth taken with the possibility of modernity. I think your second p/graph is correct in that respect but still an urban group who do not totally lose their Islamic identifier: the three rites of passage in life at least are celebrated by most Uyghurs as Islamic rites.

    Definitely religious structures (quite many) were destroyed, and cultural practices associated with Islam and the past were suppressed in CR. A friend in Hotan once told me that as he walked to school at that time he remembers piles of books and traditional clothing burning beside the road. Fashion he says for many changed after that. Islamic practice moved to the mazars and graveyards and the homes when Uyghur red guards, their leaders or their spies were not in attendance. The religious activities of youth today in Hotan are a constant point of surveillance for the government and as Becquellin says in the above post Islam will always be a means of expressing ethnic dissatisfaction. Id say especially by youth who feel disenfranchised or marginalized in the current economic system. The mosque attendance of youths under eighteen is something that the XUAR government has targeted across the oases as illegal and as a means of stopping Islamic beliefs being inculcated in youth.

    So if the CR did produce a break in the religious
    association of youth as in other parts of China, Id say its effects have not been long lasting. I think you would find the same among the youth of Tibet. Both are areas were culture, religion and identity are entwined.

  22. […] Perspective at the VU University. Some of his earlier posts on this blog relate to Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer’s lecture at the VU, to two more books of his hand, on Cultural Mobility and Seeing Culture Everywhere, to […]

  23. Tez Tez

    Yes I didnt realize Pál Nyiri was so widely published until I somehow ended up here on this discussion thread. I’d be particularly interested in his “Scenic Spots” and may order it.

  24. Paul Paul

    Hello there,

    as a person that was born in East Turkistan i would like to add some comments about what ive expereinced there and what my family and relatives are currently going through.
    Firstly alot of you have probably never been to East Turkistan or anywhere near it and are comfortably making commentaries in your arm chairs.
    I would just like to quickly point out a few things i noticed while i was there during the 2009 riots and the reactions from the local Uyghur People, which many of you would not hear as these voices are stifled.

    1) I would say now 90% of uyghurs feel that the chinese government are the enemy of the Uyghur people. All the people ive spoken to whether they be Teachers, Doctors, Dentists, Builders, Taxi Drivers, Directors of Bank, Security guards, housewifes, police officers all have private hatred for the chinese government and are saying that things are going to get worse for them as chinese continue to control them.

    2) Out of the majority of this 90% above they have lost all hope in seeing an independent country or living peacfully with the chinese and feel the best thing to do is shut their mouth and just try to survive and if possible send their kids overseas as they feel there is no future for uyghurs in this land that was inhabitated by them as a majority.

    3) The Uyghurs are angered that their culture and traditions are eroding and worry their kids are losing their language but feel helpless to do anything about it.

    4) There is so much fear that even family members will not speak to one another about anything closely related to the persecution of the Uyghurs as they fear the punishment which they all aware of now.

    if you allow me i can continue to add my experiences and if you have any questions i can answer them directly as im a person that regularly goes to East Turkistan but have lived most of my life in a western country.
    At the moment we do not get any first hand news from that area especially from Uyghurs so can do my little part in allowing these voices to be heard.


  25. Although I respect and in some ways accept the author’s posed question on ‘anthropologist’ dilemma’, and I agree on his opinion on Rabiye Kadeer’s speech, I am so much disappointed that as an anthropologist himself, this piece is written with so much false information or unsubstantial claims. Just several examples: (and I am writing this as an anthropologist who has spent years in Xinjiang, both rural and urban doing fieldwork, talking to people, both Han and Uyghur, and witnessing many events unfold)

    “Yes, there is massive Han Chinese immigration to Xinjiang, it is encouraged by the government in the name of economic development, and Han Chinese probably get better jobs because they are more educated……”—This is quite a presumptuous and generalised claim. For example, there are thousands of Uyghur university graduates who are trained to be teachers, and many of whom are top graduates but cannot get a position at schools; while at the same time many only high-school graduated Han Chinese have been recruited to teach at Xinjiang schools. The reason?? Please do not jump into the conclusion that those Uyghur graduates do not speak Mandarin, which is hardly the case.

    “Yes, local authorities promote economic growth by encouraging the outmigration of young workers to the factories of Eastern China”.—–Does the author genuinely believe that this action taken by the government was purely to promote economic growth of Xinjiang…quite naive to me.

    “There are far more Han Chinese who are in prison for criticizing or resisting government action than Uyghurs”.—I had to laugh when I read this…that the author apparently forgot to think about the ratio of Han and Uyghur population.

    “The lynching of the two Uyghurs was linked to accusations of them raping a Han woman — not that this mitigates the murders, but it does put into perspective Rebiya’s argument that the sending of Uyghur girls to Chinese factories violates cultural norms”—How does the author know that only two Uyghurs were killed? Has the author seen some graphic images circulated on the internet of the dead bodies, as well as brutalities and humiliation suffered by those kids? Does the author know that the death penalty imposed on two Han Chinese (I remembered it was one but never mind), only happened after the Urumchi incident? Until then, no one was actually arrested and no investigation was held? Does this mean that the author also believes that the death toll in Urumchi in July 2009 stopped at short of 200? As for sending girls to China proper to work in factories, does the author know that as much as 90 percent of the Uyghur families oppose this (according to fieldwork data)?. Doest the author know that there are cases that fathers who strongly apposed their daughters to be taken away were shackled up and locked in village confinement until they agreed and signed the paper? Again, as an anthropologist, can the author contemplate on the repercussions on the power of spreading of words? Maybe this also happens in other parts of China, but can we take into the specific circumstances of Xinjiang into consideration? The rape case, ha, the author even did not do the basic homework before writing that sentence properly.

    “As for each Han migrant receiving the equivalent of 5000 euro and free land for moving to Xinjiang, well, if that were true, the whole country would be moving there.”—-Maybe the author’s wife’s cousin did not get this bonus and failed to benefit from preferential policies directed at Han Chinese migrants, but does it mean that this does not happen at all? As I mentioned earlier, Rebiye’s claims cannot be all taken at face value, but can the author make such extremely unscientific claims and that the above mentioned situation does not exist at all? I am sensing some similarities between Rabiye’s and the authors’ rhetoric here, which is ironic. I can assure you, again, that this does happen, although not wide-spread, and also directed to permanent Han settlers with some specific reconditions in some specific locations. Maybe the author’s wife’s cousin went there on a temporary base, or went to the wrong place at a wrong time?

    “Uyghurs have not been subjected to family planning policies that Chinese are forced to accept; Rebiya herself has eleven children”.—This is by far the funniest and most baseless claim by the author. Do you know how old is Rabiya and when did the family planning policies start to be implemented in Xinjiang, and how old is Rabiya’s youngest child? Also, how can the author assert that “Uyghurs have not been subjected to family planning policies that the Chinese are forced to accept?”. How about a descent factual wording here to indicate that Uyghurs are also subjected to family planning policies that have been forced upon them, but unlike Chinese, they can have one more Child?

    And last but not the least: I wonder whether the author has actually been to Xinjiang. And if yes, how long did he spend there……

  26. Hi! Thanks for the comments, I certainly take them seriously. I don’t understand your complaint about the rape sentence, but for the rest, it would be great to get some first-hand information on (for example) in which cases Chinese settlers can get financial support and in what way migration to the eastern seaboard happens if it is so unpopular. My point is that anthropological work is sorely needed. Have you published any work yet? I have been to Xinjiang (Kashgar and Urumqi), but only very briefly.

  27. […] heel lovend tot heel kritisch, van erg kort tot zeer uitvoerig en van serieus tot erg flauw. Het blog van Pal Nyiri over zijn dilemma als China scholar heeft bijvoorbeeld 32 reacties vanuit de hele […]

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