‘Making Culture Matter’: Symbolic, Spatial and Social Boundaries between Uyghurs and Han Chinese

Smith, J. N. (2002). ‘Making culture matter’: Symbolic, spatial and social boundaries between Uyghurs and Han Chinese. Asian Ethnicity, 3(2), 153-174. [Link] [PDF]

Another paper by Joanne Smith about Uyghur culture/identity in the 90’s.


This article illustrates how Uyghurs in the 1990s defined and reinforced contemporary Uyghur national identity in relation to Xinjiang’s growing Han Chinese population. Adopting Barth’s theory of fluid and negotiable ethnic boundaries, it focuses on the notion of change. While Uyghurs are currently activating and exaggerating certain religio-cultural differences–in particular the avoidance of pork–as a means of ensuring symbolic, spatial and social segregation from the Han, those criteria did not prevent interaction to the same extent in the past; nor do they prevent Uyghurs from making concessions when it benefits them to do so. It is argued that it is not religio-cultural differences per se that lie at the root of increased tensions between Uyghurs and Han Chinese, but changing social, political and economic contexts: on the one hand, growing Uyghur perceptions of socio-economic inequalities between themselves and the Han (the ‘internal factor’) and, on the other, the vast changes within the international political arena since the late 1980s (the ‘external factor’).


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