I have found a number of papers focusing on the issue of “separatism” with regards to Uyghurs and China so I will make a list of them here instead of having them as individual posts. It seems a lot of the papers focus on identity formation and nationalism, history and political identity, ethnic or cultural differences between Han and Uyghurs, religion and Islam or the ummah, the collapse of the USSR and resulting formation of “ethnicity-based” states, and political or socio-economic factors. In alphabetical order, with the abstract or a short description provided under each:


Becquelin, N. (2004, April). Criminalizing ethnicity: political repression in Xinjiang. In China Rights Forum (Vol. 1, No. 7, pp. 39-36). PDF

This summary of a new report by HRIC and Human Rights Watch examines how the Chinese government has used international campaigns against terrorism as a pretext to crack down on any expression by members of the Muslim minority of Xinjiang to assert their ethnic character or promote an independent state.

Bhattacharya, A. (2003). Conceptualising Uyghur separatism in Chinese nationalism. Strategic Analysis, 27(3), 357-381. Link

The origins of Chinese nationalism are traceable to the post‐Cold War era which saw the gradual erosion of Communist ideology and the Chinese government’s me of nationalism to shore up party legitimacy. Yet, the Chinese nationalism which has emerged is representative of Han nationalism and ignores ethnic minority nationalism in the larger cause of China’s unity and integrity. Therefore, the strains in Chinese nationalism are visible today, in the separatist movements in Tibet and Xinjiang. This paper is about Uyghur separatism as it developed in the context of the Chinese idea of nationalism. The paper discusses how the Uyghur identity emerged and became crystallised around the concept of ethnicity. It concludes that in the context of Han nationalism, minority identities are hard to sustain and are increasingly submerged.

Bovingdon, G. (2002). The not-so-silent majority: Uyghur resistance to Han rule in Xinjiang. Modern China, 28(1), 39-78. Link PDF

This article demonstrates that ordinary Uyghurs have long engaged in everyday resistance against Han rule. We should, I argue, see this activity as political in its own right, diagnostic of enduring political aspirations and potential. The political climate—the subject of this article—posed special challenges for research—hence the anecdotal quality of some of the evidence presented. Drawing on interviews and careful analysis of local media, I focus largely on the voices of those dissatisfied with the present situation in Xinjiang. Those who are satisfied or afraid to speak out generally do not appear here. In titling the piece “The Not-So-Silent Majority,” I suggest that the dissatisfied outnumber the contented. Survey research with a random sample of the population—though no substitute for ethnographic work—might increase our confidence in the findings. Yet given current conditions in Xinjiang, it would be impossible to conduct independent surveys on the questions at issue here.

Bovingdon, G. (2004). Autonomy in Xinjiang: Han nationalist imperatives and Uyghur discontent. Policy studies, (11), I. PDF

The modern political history of the region today known as Xinjiang has been tumultuous and often violent. But the renewed spate of public protests and deadly clashes in the region over the last quarter century are not simply contemporary manifestations of an enduring culture of violence. Nor, as some Chinese scholars and officials have argued, have they been the product of foreign intrigues. Instead, while several factors have contributed to the conflict, Xinjiang’s very political structure must be seen as one root cause of the unrest. The full name of the region’s territorial unit, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, suggests that Uyghurs- the largest non-Han population in Xinjiang-largely govern themselves. In fact, the system officially touted as providing autonomy in Xinjiang enacts heteronomy, or rule by others. This paper makes the case that Xinjiang’s political system has exacerbated the region’s conflict and deepened Uyghur discontent.

Chung, C. P. (2002). China’s war on terror-September 11 and uighur separatism. Foreign Aff., 81, 8. Link

More of a personal comment/essay form one person’s perspective… just leaving it here for balance although I do not agree with some key points…

Clarke, M. (2007). China’s Internal Security Dilemma and the “Great Western Development”: The Dynamics of Integration, Ethnic Nationalism and Terrorism in Xinjiang. Asian Studies Review31(3), 323-342. Link

This paper, in exploring the applicability of notions of human security to China’s evolving approach toward its multi-ethnic population, proposed three major questions in the specific context of Xinjiang. First, which collectivity is the state acting to protect? Second, how do the actions taken to protect the security of the state impact upon the societal security of the constituent populations of the state? Third, do the Chinese state’s actions and discourse exhibit a “securitisation” dynamic whereby key issues are deemed to be defined by “urgency” and “exceptionality”? The discussion has also highlighted that such processes of increased state control in these spheres have developed at the same time as further marginalisation of Xinjiang’s ethnic minorities, but particularly the Uighur, from avenues of political representation and economic advancement. Finally, the discussion of the discourse surrounding the issue of Uighur “terrorism” in the post-9/11 context also noted the interaction between elements of China’s strategy of integration and control and its foreign policy agenda with respect to the Central Asian republics. 

Clarke, M. (2008). China’s “War on Terror” in Xinjiang: Human Security and the Causes of Violent Uighur Separatism. Terrorism and Political Violence, 20(2), 271-301. Link PDF

The paper argues that violent Uighur separatism and terrorism conforms in a number of important respects to the human security theory of terrorism, particularly in the realm of political and civil rights. However, it argues that impetus has been given to the various separatist organisations in the region by the development of interconnections between the largely internal aspects of China’s policy of integration in the region and the wider Central and South Asian dynamic of Islamic radicalism since 1990.

Clarke, M. (2010). Widening the net: China’s anti-terror laws and human rights in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The International Journal of Human Rights14(4), 542-558. Link

Although a significant amount of attention has been paid to the implementation of anti-terror laws and their impact on human rights in the West, relatively little has been paid to this issue in the Chinese context. China has not been entirely immune from the anti-terror legislative wildfire generated by 9/11. I argue that the international dynamic of privileging security concerns over protecting human rights is prevalent in China and is acutely felt in the specific regional context of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. China’s anti-terror laws contribute not only to further human rights violations in Xinjiang but also hold the potential to criminalize dissent throughout the PRC via the application of an ambiguous and expansive definition of terrorism.

Davis, E. V. W. (2008). Uyghur Muslim Ethnic Separatism in Xinjiang, China. Asian Affairs: An American Review, 35(1), 15-30. Link PDF

Uyghur Muslim violence in Xinjiang, China, has two justifications—ethnic separatism and religious rhetoric. The Uyghurs, who reside throughout the immediate region, are the largest Turkic ethnic group living in Xinjiang and are overwhelmingly Muslim. This combination of ethnicity and religion also involves the movement of religious and political ideologies, weapons, and people. There is no single Uyghur agenda. Groups that use violence desire a separate Uyghur state. While some Uyghurs want a separate state, others want to maintain cultural distinction within an autonomous relationship with China, and others are integrating into the Chinese system.

Ghini, A. L. (2011). Barbarians from without: the role of external forces in Xinjiang Uyghur separatism (Doctoral dissertation, University of Hull). PDF

This research assesses the roles played by various state and non-state external agents in giving material assistance to Uyghur mobilizing groups and whether they may induce mobilization. The agents under scrutiny here are the Uyghur diaspora, Central Asian, Pakistani and US agents. The Uyghur diaspora and the Central Asian players have been the subject of frequent assessments in the academic literature. However, these analyses appear fragmented and outdated. Surprisingly academic research has marginally assessed or even neglected to assess the role of agents located elsewhere, for example in other neighboring countries such as Pakistan, or in a distant competing power, such as the United States. This research, on the contrary, carries out a needed systematic analysis of the reality of external material assistance to mobilizing Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Giglio, D. (2004). Separatism And The War On Terror In China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. PDF

A Thesis by Davide Giglio for Award of the Certificate of Training in United Nations Peace Support Operations 

Gladney, D. (2002). Xinjiang: China’s Future West Bank?. Current History, 101(656), 267. Link

Local support for separatist activities, particularly in Xinjiang and other border regions, is ambiguous, given the economic disparity between regions. China needs a new approach to resolve tensions in Xinjiang.

Hastings, J. V. (2005). Perceiving a single Chinese state: escalation and violence in Uighur protests. Problems of Post-Communism, 52(1), 28-38. PDF

Over the past ten years, Uighurs in Xinjiang province have expressed their dissatisfaction with Chinese rule through bombings, riots, and attacks on government facilities. The Uighurs are a Turkic ethnic minority concentrated in northwestern China, along the border with Kazakhstan. The Uighur resistance falls into two categories: episodic unrest and insurgent activity. It is Uighur insurgent activities that many Western observers have in mind when discussing China’s tribulations in Xinjiang. However, the Chinese government is also concerned about episodic resistance, which includes riots and protest demonstrations, with or without visible leaders, and is often, but not always, localized. This article focuses on the periodic waves of unrest that have wracked Xinjiang and considers the question of why some protest demonstrations have escalated into violent riots.

Hastings, J. V. (2011). Charting the Course of Uyghur Unrest. The China Quarterly, 208, 893-912. Link 

What explains the course of Uyghur-related violence in Xinjiang and Central Asia since 1990? Using data derived from a variety of sources, I argue that the locations and types of violent incidents were influenced by a combination of Chinese government policies and the political geography of Xinjiang. Specifically, 1990 to 1996 were dominated by logistically complex incidents in a low-level violent campaign in Xinjiang. The Strike Hard campaign in 1996 brought about an increase in logistically simple incidents in Xinjiang and some violence in Central Asia as Uyghur separatists had trouble moving people, information and weapons across the well-guarded, difficult terrain of Xinjiang’s borders. China’s rapprochement with Central Asian countries in the late 1990s led after 2001 to a dramatic decrease in Uyghur-related violence in general, but also signalled the appearance of logistically creative attacks that required little planning or materials. My findings suggest that Uyghur rebels will have a difficult time mounting a large-scale violent campaign as long as China retains even minimal control of Xinjiang.

Hess, S. E. (2009). Islam, Local Elites, and China’s Missteps in Integrating The Uyghur Nation. Orta Asya ve Kafkasya Araştırmaları, (07), 75-96. Link

The following paper examines China’s religious and nationality policies aimed at establishing and maintaining political and social control over the Uyghur population of Xinjiang and finds China’s policies to be contradictory and self-defeating. The author suggests that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has historically embraced a nationality policy towards Xinjiang aimed at promoting the development of a Uyghur sense of national identity, in which Islam and the Uyghur language have become central unifying characteristics, and fostered class of Uyghur elites loyal to the Chinese state to develop and control a unified Uyghur nation. These attempts, however, have been undermined by the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) historical aversion to religion and its refusal to allow Uyghur cadres to openly practice Islam, which has isolated them from the wider Uyghur community and contributed to the erosion of their perceived Uyghur identity. This situation has limited the ability of Uyghur cadres to act as intermediaries between the Chinese state and the Uyghur population, undermining the Chinese government’s attempts to integrate Uyghurs into the PRC and challenge the popular appeal of Uyghur separatism.

Hierman, B. (2007). The Pacification of Xinjiang: Uighur Protest and the Chinese State, 1988-2002. Problems of Post-Communism, 54(3), 48-62. PDF

“Efforts to repress dissent in Xinjiang are leading Uighurs to discover common grievances and interests.”

Hyer, E. (2006). China’s policy towards Uighur nationalism. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 26(1), 75-86. Link

This paper seeks to place China’s policy toward its Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang in a broader context. In the post-Soviet period, the dynamics of Eurasia has fundamentally changed. The independence of the Central Asian states that were part of the Soviet Union had a demonstrable effect on the Uighurs of China. As a result, Uighur nationalism became a force with which the Chinese authorities had to contend. Chinese authorities consider China a multi-ethnic state of Han Chinese and various minorities, and any nationalist or independence movements are considered illegitimate because China does not recognize the right of national self-determination and adheres strictly to a policy of assimilation. Concerns over growing Uighur nationalism impinge on China’s policy of economic expansion and its growing energy needs that make Central Asia a strategic region. In the past decade, China has developed better relations with its Central Asian neighbours based on such strategic interests. By developing these ties, it is seeking to form alliances in order to dampen the development of Uighur nationalism, block Russia from reasserting its influence in the region, and prevent the United States and its allies from excluding China from its security and economic ambitions in the region.

Koch, J. (2006). Economic Development and Ethnic Separatism in Western China: A New Model of Peripheral Nationalism. Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University Working Paper No, 134PDF

Based on the theoretical framework of Hechter’s peripheral nationalism, this paper develops a new model of peripheral nationalism which may account for modern separatism in the Xinjiang and Tibet regions, despite their economic advancement. This model uses local elite affiliation, national identity and economic engagement variables to produce the main argument of this work: China’s western autonomous regions will continue to manifest a strong tendency toward separatist nationalism due to weak local elite affiliation with the Chinese central state, strong national identities, and non-engagement by locals in the economic policies and development of their respective regions. In addition, it is asserted that this separatism has had and will continue to have considerable international implications for the Chinese state.

Mackerras, C. (2001). Xinjiang at the turn of the century: the causes of separatism. Central Asian Survey, 20(3), 289-303. Link PDF

Discusses reasons for separatism and the general features of the Uyghur movement in the 90’s. 

Millward, J. (2004). Violent separatism in Xinjiang: a critical assessment. Policy studies, (6), I. Link

Official Chinese sources report further attacks on economic targets in 1998-99, as well as occasional attacks on ethnic Uyghur officials in government and party positions since then, but no large-scale or terrorist incidents in China subsequent to the 1996-97 cluster. Since 1998, accusations of Uyghur involvement in terrorist activities have become commonplace in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. While individual Uyghurs may be involved in Islamist organizations in Central Asia, by all indications the groups that are accused of militancy against the PRC espouse primarily nationalistic, as opposed to religious, motives and goals. […]in the absence of independent information it remains an open question to what extent these expatriate groups have engaged in anti-Chinese militancy, or terrorism, at all in recent years.

Moneyhon, M. (2002). Controlling Xinjiang: Autonomy on China’s New Frontier. Link

Basically says that the Uyghur Autonomous Region does not meet the requirements of autonomy at all, and the “autonomy” that China wants to give is not true autonomy anyway, but “modernization, sinification, and ultimately, integration into the Han framework” which I believe is problematic in and of itself. 

Petersen, K. (2006). Usurping the nation: Cyber-leadership in the Uighur nationalist movement 1. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 26(1), 63-73. Link

This paper surveys the increasing support from the Uighur community for the creation of an independent nation, “East Turkistan”, from what is today the Xinjiang province in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and the exposure this has received in global news outlets. The PRC’s often brutal suppression of Uighur nationalism within China has forced the Uighur diaspora community leaders to more forcefully speak of ethnic Uighur rights and act as the voice of all Uighurs. The result of the global exposure to the East Turkistan plea, mainly through the use of the World Wide Web, has been the reification of the Uighur identity. In this study, by examining published materials and websites, I have concluded that while claiming to represent all Uighurs, these outlets only embody a privileged community. I have also established in this study the affects of the Internet on the Uighur nationalist movement. Overall, as with nearly all nations and nation-states worldwide, the physical borders of Xinjiang do not correlate to a unified cultural Uighur identity. Furthermore, the policies implemented by the PRC have de facto encouraged the creation of a borderless national identity that is being used by the Uighur leaders for deliberate political goals. As such, the leaders of Uighur organizations, and intellectuals and activists have led the way in determining this modern Uighur character through the use of the World Wide Web.

Roberts, S. R. (2009). Imagining Uyghurstan: re-evaluating the birth of the modern Uyghur nation1. Central Asian Survey, 28(4), 361-381. Link

The generally accepted narrative for the birth of the modern Uyghur nation suggests that a national ideal for the Uyghur people and the use of the ‘Uyghur’ ethnonym in the modern context were creations of Soviet bureaucrats in the 1920s that were later promoted among Uyghurs in Xinjiang by Chinese authorities with Soviet sympathies. This article challenges this view by drawing on Uyghur language sources, which demonstrate the agency of Uyghur intellectuals in the creation of the concept of a modern Uyghur nation during the early twentieth century. In examining the activities of Uyghur intellectuals in fostering a modern Uyghur national identity, the article emphasizes the role of anti-colonial sentiments in this movement, thus linking the Uyghur example to post-colonial scholarly arguments about the development of modern national consciousness among formerly colonized peoples around the world.

Shichor, Y. (2005). Blow up: internal and external challenges of Uyghur separatism and Islamic radicalism to Chinese rule in Xinjiang. Asian Affairs: An American Review, 32(2), 119-136. Link PDF

Discusses the perceptions and realities of the Uyghur conflict at the time.

Shichor, Y. (2006). Fact and fiction: A Chinese documentary on Eastern Turkestan terrorism. In China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly (Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 89-108). Link

This article provides, for the first time in public, an English summary and analysis of a 60-minute video documentary called “On the Spot Report: The Crimes of Eastern Turkestan Terrorist Power” (Dongtu kongbu shili zuixing jishi). The documentary was shown to the author in August 2002 on a visit to Xinjiang at the official invitation of the Xinjiang International Economic and Cultural Development Center and a transcript was also provided. This rare documentary reflects Beijing’s representation of “Eastern Turkestan terrorism,” and its efforts to spread this message through the author and the media.

Shichor, Y. (2007). Limping on two legs: Uyghur diaspora organizations and the prospects for Eastern Turkestan independence. Central Asia and the Caucasus, (6 (48)). Link

“Walking on two legs” ( liangtiaotui zoulu ), that is trying to promote two policies, often contradictory, at the same time, is a Chinese political term and as such may not be very popular among Uyghurs. Nonetheless, it is the best expression I can use to define the current state of the Eastern Turkestan independence movement—in a positive, rather than a negative sense. Apparently, this expression denotes a split or a break. Indeed, the Uyghur Diaspora has been divided into a number of organizations and associations that have been established throughout the years, especially since the early 1990s. They held a number of congresses and other meetings and managed to place the issue of Eastern Turkestan independence on the international agenda using advanced communications media, petitions and demonstrations and personal activism. Yet, their actual success has been quite limited primarily—but by no means only—due to repeated splits and internal rivalries. Attempts to create a universal, acceptable, representative and powerful organization that would provide an umbrella for all the other particular associations and that would have an international impact and a recognized world leader (similar to the Dalai Lama), had by and large failed. This situation was supposed to have changed in April 2004 when a new umbrella organization called the World Uyghur Congress was formed. It was meant to unite the different Uyghur communities and associations all over the world under one unified, recognized and acceptable leadership, something the movement lacked after the death of its lifelong Isa Yusuf Alptekin in 1995, if not before. Just a few months later, however, in September 2004, another umbrella organization emerged in Washington: the Republic of East Turkistan Government in Exile. Since then, the Eastern Turkestan nationalist movement has been “walking on two legs,” and perhaps more—since not all Uyghur associations throughout the world joined either of these new organizations. Moreover, during my meetings with expatriate Uyghurs in 2004-2005 I could sense the tension between the followers of these two “headquarters” that seemingly opted for two different solutions in addressing the Eastern Turkestan independence problem. While the former is ready to compromise and settle for democracy and self-determination (explicitly) and increased autonomy (implicitly), the latter would not accept anything less than complete independence. This bifurcation has again reminded me of another typical Chinese term, “struggle between two lines” ( liangtiao luxian douzheng ) such as “right” and “wrong,” “correct” and “incorrect,” “advanced” and “backward.” Is this ideological, political and organizational split harmful for the Eastern Turkestan nationalist cause, as many believe? Are these two organizations mutually exclusive? Is one solution better than the other in promoting the Uyghur nationalist cause? In this article, after providing some background, I try to answer these questions and to introduce an outsider’s perspective on the prospects of the two-headed Uyghur nationalist movement based on a provisional analysis and compared, in a preliminary way, to other national liberation movements.

Shichor, Y. (2009). Ethno-diplomacy: the Uyghur hitch in Sino-Turkish relations. Policy Studies, (53), I. Link

Turkish leaders-legislators as well as opposition party chiefs-were personally committed to Isa Yusuf Alptekin, the nonelected leader of the Eastern Turkestan national and independence movement since the 1940s, especially after the death of his colleague Mehmet Emin Bugra in 1965. According to an article published in the Eurasia Daily Monitor, “Despite having only marginal support, he has become an important figure dominating public debates in recent years” (Uslu 2008: 6-7).152 Despite figures like Perinçek, only a small minority-if any-in Turkey truly consider Beijing an ally or a substitute for either the United States or the EU.

Teufel, J. D. (2005). China’s vulnerability to minority separatism. Asian Affairs: An American Review, 32(2), 69-86. PDF

Two watershed events frame China’s current vulnerability to minority separatism: first, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and its client states from 1989–91, and second, the U.S. war against terrorism that was prompted by the events of September 11, 2001. The first of these encouraged minority separatism; the second facilitated the efforts of the Chinese government to deal with it. Prior to 1989, ethnic discontents regularly simmered just below the surface with occasional outbursts. While grievances are many and often interact synergistically, most fall into four broad categories: religious/cultural, resource distribution, discrimination, and self-governance. Three geographic areas in particular were chronically restive: Xinjiang, Tibet, and, to a lesser extent, Inner Mongolia. All three are designated autonomous regions rather than provinces, but dissidents among the ethnic minorities who live there have expressed ongoing annoyance that they are unable to exercise any meaningful degree of autonomy. Although party and central government portray the autonomous area system as allowing non-Han Chinese to be “masters of their own homes,” skeptics believe that the system was created to keep them confined in their homes.

Tschantret, J. (2016). Repression, opportunity, and innovation: The evolution of terrorism in Xinjiang, China. Terrorism and Political Violence, 1-20. Link

How does state repression affect the incidence and impact of terrorism? This study conducts a process tracing analysis of the ongoing contention between the Uyghur separatist movement and the Chinese state to provide a plausible explanation for the present lack of consensus on this question. Relying on insights from collective action theory, it argues that although repression was initially successful in curtailing the opportunistic use of terrorism, novel political opportunity allowed some separatists to adopt innovations, such as suicide bombing, to circumvent repression. Repression has since proved ineffective in quelling terrorism, and will likely remain incapable of forestalling future terrorist innovations.


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