Native rhythms in the city: embodied refusal among Uyghur male migrants in Ürümchi

Byler, D. (2017). Native rhythms in the city: embodied refusal among Uyghur male migrants in Ürümchi. Central Asian Survey, 1-17. Link



Over the past two decades, state-directed Han settlement and capitalist development in the Uyghur homeland in Chinese Central Asia have uprooted thousands of Uyghurs, causing them to move to the city. In this article, I explore how low-income male Uyghur migrants and Uyghur culture producers build a durable existence despite these challenges. Based on analysis of migrant responses to the Uyghur-language urban fiction and indigenous music as well as ethnographic observations of Uyghur migrants from Southern Xinjiang, I argue that indigenous knowledge provides underemployed male Uyghurs a means to refuse the alienating effects of settler colonialism and economic development. By broadening the scope of what counts as ‘resistance’ to Chinese attempts to eliminate aspects of Uyghur society, I show that ‘refusal’ can be a generative way of embodying sovereignty, particularly when confronted by structural violence.


It’s not quite the same but the conclusion sort of reminded me of this bit in Ana Yurt (1):

True enough, Ziyawdun had walked into the courtyard, singing. Mukhtar Bay quickly made himself scarce.

“Why are you so happy?” Rayhan asked her husband, her face miserable in the moonlight, “Where are you coming from?”

“I managed to beat the Qashqaliq so Mukhtar Bay threw a meshrep for me. He even gave me a pregnant ewe for winning, dear!”

“And you? What did you give Sulayman’s wife?”

“Have you gone mad dear? The meshrep hasn’t ended yet. The singing and dancing are only just heating up. I made my escape because of you. You’re not feeling well and I was worried.”

“Then why are you singing?”

“Us Taranchi people are crazy people who would sing their way to the noose! It’s part of our nature, dear!”


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