Research Uyghur Papers

Research Update: Security Matters in Marriage, Song and Dance in China’s Muslim Borderlands, and Uyghur Gathering

Author: Mei Ding, Fudan University

Source: Central Asian Survey


Based on anthropological fieldwork conducted in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China in 2016 and 2017, this article addresses the meanings of security from subjective perspectives by investigating Uyghur perceptions of marriage, which offer crucial insight into the meanings of security. The Uyghurs, as the major indigenous population in Xinjiang, have encountered securitization, particularly since the 2009 Ürümchi riots, deemed the worst ethnic conflict in the region since 1949. While official security practices based on stability have won the support of most Han Chinese citizens in and outside Xinjiang, these same security practices have penetrated to and influenced intimate Uyghur life, such as marriage. Uyghur participants in this research indicate that marriage is a social field in which the official counter-extremism campaign, individuals’ happiness (bext), and the security (bixeterlik) of the Uyghur collective identity encounter and negotiate with each other.

The New Battleground: Song and Dance in China’s Muslim Borderlands

Author: Rachel Harris

Source: SOAS Research


In a speech at China’s National People’s Congress in March 2014, the deputy chair of the China Dancer’s Association, Dilnar Abdulla, complained that ‘religious extremists’ in the Muslim region of Xinjiang were ‘campaigning for the commoners not to sing and dance’. Since then, organised song and dance events have become a cornerstone of the anti-extremism campaign. Rural cultural bureaux have organised villagers to participate in mass dancing displays, weekly singing of revolutionary songs, and – notoriously – public dancing by Imams. In many ways the campaign is reminiscent of the mobilisation techniques developed during the Cultural Revolution. This article examines the tensions between recent formulations of ethnic and religious – Uyghur and Muslim – identities as they are played out in discourse surrounding ‘song and dance’ in the transnational space of online web forums and social media posts which link Uyghurs in the ‘homeland’ (weten) – the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of northwest China – with Uyghurs in the diaspora in Central Asia, Turkey, Europe and America. It considers how embodied behaviours express these shifting identities and shifting ethnical norms in contexts where their verbal expression is sanctioned by state policies concerning religious.


A Meshrep in Our Home… Where there is No Meshrep: Contrasting Narratives in the Reinvention of a Uyghur Gathering

Author: Amanda Jane Snider, University of Kansas

Source: KU Scholar Works


The addition of Uyghur meshrep gatherings to the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2010 has influenced the way the gathering is promoted and understood by different segments of Uyghur society. Interviews and conversations with Uyghurs in western China together with Uyghur academic articles show how the attention brought by UNESCO status affected Uyghur perception of meshrep, creating new narratives of the gathering as foundational to Uyghur culture. I focus on how the proliferation of the term meshrep and staged portrayals of its practice after attaining UNESCO status reveals how different actors within Xinjiang use meshrep as a tool for commerce, as a representation of cultural heritage, as a way to promote state ideologies of how minorities “should” be, or as a memory of a what Uyghur life was imagined to be. I examine how meshrep is promoted and understand by Uyghurs, and also by the Chinese state and entrepreneurs in China. I situate these gatherings in the context of other Central Asian performance traditions. Different segments of Uyghur society hold a range of attitudes toward meshrep, depending on the person’s affinities. Promoting meshrep through UNESCO status has not had the cultural-renewal effect intended by some academics, but many Uyghurs still perceive meshrep gatherings as central to modern Uyghur life. The discursive practices surrounding the word meshrep itself also reflect social and linguistic issues affecting Uyghurs today.

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