The New Battleground: Song-and-dance in China’s Muslim borderlands

Harris, Rachel (2017) ‘The New Battleground: Song-and-dance in China’s Muslim borderlands.’ World of Music, 6 (2). pp. 35-56. Link


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.


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