On the Fringes of the Harmonious Society: Tibetans and Uyghurs in Socialist China

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Edited by Trine Brox and Ildiko Beller-Hann, Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2014, 320 pp.,
ISBN-13: 978-8776941413

A book that discusses the Tibetan and Uyghur political situation in one place, something that is surprisingly rare considering how similar we are in this regard. Apparently it is “the product of successive interdisciplinary conferences held at the University of Copenhagen in 2010 and 2011, features the work of both new and seasoned scholars who study Tibet and Xinjiang from the perspectives of sociology, anthropology, language, geography, economics and history” (source). Alas, I do not own the book, but I read a few interesting reviews by Ruslan Yusupov, Henryk AlffJustin M. Jacobs, and Colin Mackerras.

From these, it seems like the book discusses China’s failure to implement their supposed “harmonious society”, but falls a little short in directly comparing the Tibetan and Uyghur situations, instead having most authors discuss one or the other. I suppose it is difficult to study both, considering how different we are culturally and linguistically. In general however, most reviewers said it was well written and an important contribution so I suppose it would be interesting to read.


Since 1949, Tibetans and Uyghurs generally have been perceived as the two most problematic members of the PRC’s great family of peoples and been the targets of ‘carrot and stick’ measures designed to facilitate their integration into the PRC. In recent years, a solution to the problem of Xinjiang and the Tibet has been sought in accelerated economic development, yet this is perceived by both groups with great suspicion. Addressing this situation, the volume explores the arenas of socio-economic development and market liberalization, popular culture, urban planning and relocation, environment and ecological migration, civil society, education and language, ethno-nationalism, as well as religious policies and practices. It is especially topical at a time when fieldwork in the regions where these two minorities live remains extremely difficult and politically sensitive.


  1. Introduction Trine Brox
  2. Labour transitions and social inequalities in Tibet and Xinjiang: A comparative analysis of the structural foundations of discrimination and protest Andrew Martin Fischer
  3. The Open Up the West campaign among Uyghurs in Xinjiang: Exploring a rights-based approach Henryk Szadziewski
  4. Carpet worlds: The construction of a commodity hierarchy and the politics of difference in Lhasa Tracy Y. Zhang
  5. In the name of conservation and harmonious development: The separation of pastoralists from pastures in Tibet Tashi Nyima
  6. New settlements on the Tibetan Plateau of Amdo-Qinghai: Spatialized power devices Elisa Cencetti
  7. Harmonious or homogeneous? Language, education and social mobility in rural Uyghur society Chris Hann
  8. Streets, slogans and screens: New paradigms for the defence of the Tibetan language Francoise Robin
  9. Tibet in China’s environmental movement Emily T. Yeh
  10. Contesting harmony through TV drama: Ethnic intermarriage in Xinjiang Girls Joanne Smith Finley
  11. Harmonizing Islam in Xinjiang: Sound and meaning in rural Uyghur religious practice Rachel Harris
  12. Thinking beyond harmony: The ‘nation’ and language in Uyghur social thought Eric T. Schluessel.

Introduction to Uyghur Poetry

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Two Lines 17: Some Kind of Beautiful Signal

The Center for the Art of Translation produces translated collections of poetry and prose from all over the world through “Two Lines Press”, with notes and comments from the translators. In its 17th issue, the central theme was Uyghur poetry. The book includes a long foreword from its editors on Uyghur people and their history, then Dolkun Kamberi and Jeffrey Yang take the reigns in introducing, explaining, and translating Uyghur poems from various authors. I included their translation of “Oyghan” in my post about the poem, which seems like a simple poem but the more you read it the more difficult it becomes. The other translations are really fascinating to read, as they introduce old works from the Diwan Lughat al-Turk, medieval Uyghur Buddhist work from the Turpan Basin, as well as contemporary works from writers such as Dilber Keyim Kizi, Abdurehim Ötkür and Abduhalik Uyghur. A look online finds an “Introduction to Uyghur Poetry” by Kamberi and Yang:

The Uyghurs are an ancient people whose forebears are thought to be Turk-Tocharian, and have lived in Central Asia since the first millennium BCE. This area has played an important role since early times because of its favorable geographic location on the ancient trade routes between the East and the West, connecting Greco-Roman civilization with Indian Buddhist culture and Central and East Asian traditions. Burgeoning commerce and cultural exchange brought a cosmopolitan character to the region, marked by linguistic, racial, and religious tolerance.

Over hundreds of years, the Uyghurs have developed a unique culture and have made significant contributions in the history, literature, sciences, architecture, music, song, dance, crafts, and fine arts of Central Eurasian civilization. Most of the ten million Uyghurs today live in the Uyghur Autonomous Region that comprises roughly one-sixth of China’s territory, though diasporic Uyghur communities have settled all around the world. Uyghur religious beliefs are a mix of Shamanism, Buddhism, Manichaeism, Nestorianism, and Islam, which was adopted as the official religion in 960 CE, during the rule of King Sultan Satuq Bughra Khan.

The word Uyghur (also transliterated as Uighur or Uygur) means “unity” with undercurrents of “union,” “coalition,” and “federation.” The name’s earliest known appearance can be traced to the Orkhon Göktürk inscriptions carved on stone monuments in Central Mongolia, and can be found in medieval Uyghur, Manichaean, and Sogdian scripts, as well as Arabic-Persian scripts. Apart from these Inner/Central Asian designations, the name appears in diverse Chinese manuscripts throughout history, where it has been transliterated into more than one hundred forms: Die, Chidie, Hu, Saka/Scythian, Hun, Uysun, Dingling, Qangqil, Sogdian, Tokharian, Hugu, Huihe, Yuanhe, and on.

Click here to keep reading – I really recommend it!


The Uyghur Lobby

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Global Networks, Coalitions and Strategies of the World Uyghur Congress by Yu-Wen Chen

The Uyghur Lobby

Yet another book that is out of reach for me, monetarily. The description reads:

An upsurge in violence between Uyghur and Han in China’s far western region of Xinjiang has gained increased media and academic attention in recent years as was evidenced in the July 2009 riots. Numbering over eight million, the Uyghur are China’s fifth-largest minority nationality, and their mounting aspiration for obtaining more autonomy has contributed to the recent ethnic conflicts in the region. This book looks at those who are seeking to preserve the Uyghur identity, and support the secession of Xinjiang from China in order to create their own independent state by exploring the global operations and sister groups of the Uyghur diaspora umbrella organization, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC). It examines the networks of the WUC, the coalitions it has formed, the strategies the organization pursues to raise public awareness about Uyghur issues around the globe, and looks at the actors that have emerged as key players in the contemporary WUC network. Further, this book shows that the Uyghur lobby is not a unified movement, but that the local groups that it consists of are highly constrained by the broader domestic politics of their host countries, a fact which has a significant impact on the lobby’s ability to realize its strategic and political ambitions. In turn, Yu-Wen Chen gauges the impact of the WUC on public opinion and policymakers in the world’s democracies, and shows how since Uyghur organizations have been given legitimacy by liberal democracies and international governmental organizations, they can no longer be considered merely splintered members of a far-flung diaspora locked in a one-sided struggle with Beijing. Indeed, Uyghur activists can and do use their hard-won legitimacy as legal migrants and asylum seekers to influence politics in their host countries.

This unique and timely study reveals how an issue concerning a Chinese minority has been catapulted onto the wider global political stage, and as such, it will be of great interest to students and scholars working on Chinese politics, the Uyghur issue, and minority and ethnic politics, social movements, human rights, and international politics more broadly.


1. Introduction
2. Rise of the World Uyghur Congress
3. International Networks
4. Online Networks
5. A Minor but Rising Influence in America
6. Struggling for Attention in Germany
7. Uyghur Networks in Japan
8. China’s Competing Discourses and Strategies
9. Conclusions

I have read some reviews of this book by Brett Elmer and Jasaret Umit and they both say it is quite extensive in its research. Elmer mentions that he is surprised the author left out an in depth analysis of Australian Uyghur organisations, which I am also slightly disappointed by, but in any case, I think the book will be interesting to read.

Devastating Blows: Religious Repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang

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By Human Rights Watch


This is a 114 page report from 2005 by the Human Rights Watch on religious freedom for Uyghurs. Link to PDF. It is “…based on previously undisclosed Communist Party and government documents, as well as local regulations, official newspaper accounts, and interviews conducted in Xinjiang. It unveils for the first time the complex architecture of law, regulation, and policy in Xinjiang that denies Uighurs religious freedom, and by extension freedom of association, assembly, and expression.” – HRW

I found this report through an excerpt on China’s policing of thought, which I found quite enlightening:

Literature becomes sabotage

Chinese authorities have not produced extensive evidence of specific activities carried out by what it has termed “terrorist forces” in Xinjiang over the past few years. Instead, Chinese authorities now argue that “separatist thought” is the new approach followed by dissident organizations that previously used violent tactics. This argument allows the authorities to accuse a dissenting writer or a non-violent group advocating minority rights of terrorist intentions and crimes.

The alleged link between terrorist organizations and the ideological content of publications surfaced immediately after September 11:

“Xinjiang independence elements have changed their combat tactics since the September 11 incident,” stated a high-ranking Xinjiang official. “They have focused on attacking China on the ideological front instead of using their former frequent practice of engaging in violent terrorist operations.”

The official charged that those using “literary means” and “arts and literature” to “distort
historical facts” were the same people responsible for “violent terrorist operations” in the past. He accused them of “taking advantage of art and literature to tout the products of opposition to the people and to the masses and of advocating ethnic splittist thinking.”

In February 2002, the Xinjiang Party Secretary instructed the local authorities to crack down on these “separatist techniques” and detailed the “forms of infiltration and sabotage carried out in the ideological sphere by ethnic separatist forces”:

  1. using all sorts of news media to propagate separatist thought;
  2. using periodicals, works of literature and art performances; presenting the subject in satires or allegories that give free reign to and disseminate dissatisfaction and propagate separatist thought;
  3. illegally printing reactionary books and periodicals; distributing or posting reactionary leaflets, letters and posters; spreading rumors to confuse the people; instilling the public with separatist sentiment;
  4. using audio and video recordings, such as audio tapes, CDs or VCDs, to incite religious fanaticism and promote “holy war”;
  5. forging alliances with outside separatist and enemy forces, making use of broadcasts, the Internet, and other means to intensify campaigns of reactionary propaganda and infiltration of ideas into public opinion;
  6. using popular cultural activities to make the masses receptive to reactionary propaganda encouraging opposition.”

From the wording of the document, published in the Party’s official newspaper, the Xinjiang Daily, it appears that Xinjiang authorities equate any expression of dissatisfaction (buman qingxu 不满情绪), even metaphorical or ironical, with separatist thought (fenlie sixiang 分裂思想). The term “spreading rumors” (zaoyao 造谣) used in the article is the same as that used in criminal law:

“incitement to subvert the political power of the state and overthrow the socialist system by means of spreading rumors, slander or other means” (Article 105), an offense for which the punishment can be life imprisonment. The document asserts that the “expression of dissatisfaction” in works of art is a form of criminal activity and is liable to criminal punishment.

Furthermore, the document uses the terms “sabotage” and “infiltration” to characterize such activities, thus reinforcing the idea that they are equivalent to violent action.
The fact that “popular cultural activities” (minjian wenhua huodong 民间文化活动) are denounced as forms of “separatist” activity appears to be aimed at deterring people from engaging in activities that promote their history, culture, or tradition. Ethnic minority individuals and Uighur organizations abroad had complained in the past about similar official attitudes toward legitimate cultural pursuits, but prior to this official pronouncement their allegations had only been supported by circumstantial evidence, not stated explicitly as high-level Party policy. Such comments indicate that the Chinese authorities are trying to erase the distinctions among cultural and minority rights activists, pro-independence activists, and those who use violence.

This suggests an historical shift: while before September 11, 2001, not all minority rights or cultural rights activists or those on the “ideological front” (which presumably covers all critics of CCP policy) were considered to be terrorists, after September 11 they are, or should be, assumed to be terrorists. In effect, China is claiming that terrorists have now become secret peaceful activists, presumably waiting for the right moment to revert to their former methods. This is a very dangerous set of assumptions that can be acted upon by the Chinese or Xinjiang security services at any time to justify arrests, heavy sentences, and the death penalty.

The case of Tursunjan Emet, a Uighur poet from Urumqi, illustrates this point. On January 1, 2002, Emet recited a poem in Uighur at the end of a concert at the Xinjiang People’s Hall in the capital Urumqi. The Party committee ruled that the poem had an “anti-government” message and labeled the case as an “ethnic separatist crime in the area of the ideological front.” The Chairman of the Xinjiang provincial government immediately called for an investigation, vowing to purge all who “openly advocate separatism using the name of art,” and urged cadres to use “politics” as the only standard in judging artistic and literary work. Emet went into hiding immediately after the incident. He was then detained, probably in late January 2002. Official Chinese sources have since denied that he was ever detained. Unofficial sources indicate that he was released, some weeks, or possibly months, later.

In a similar case, on February 2, 2005, the Kashgar Intermediate Court sentenced Uighur author Nurmemet Yasin to ten years imprisonment for publishing a story allegedly “inciting separatism.” In late 2004, Yasin published “The Blue Pigeon” in the Kashgar Literature Journal. A month later, he was arrested in Bachu County. His story told of a blue pigeon that traveled far from home. When it returned, different colored pigeons captured him and locked him in a birdcage. Although the other pigeons fed him, the blue pigeon opted to commit suicide rather than remain imprisoned in his hometown.

In part because pro-independence Uighurs use a blue flag, Chinese authorities read the story as referring to Uighur resentment of the government’s policies in Xinjiang. The court tried Yasin in closed hearings; RFA sources claimed he was denied access to a lawyer. It is therefore now official policy that criticism or minority expression in art and literature can be deemed a disguised form of secessionism, its author a criminal or even “terrorist.” 



I. Summary

  • A note on methodology

II. Background

  • The political identity of Xinjiang
  • Uighur Islam
  • A history of restiveness
  • The turning point––unrest in 1990, stricter controls from Beijing
  • Post 9/11: labeling Uighurs terrorists
  • Literature becomes sabotage
  • The international response––acquiescence and quid pro quos

III. National Law and Policy on Religion

IV. A Repressive Framework: Regulation of Religion in Xinjiang
Policies Hidden from the Public

  • Regulation in 1994-2001: “Keeping a handle on” the imams and party cadres
    The 2001 draft amendments to the 1994 Regulations: narrowing the scope of
    “normal” religious activities
  • A Manual for Urumqi Municipality Ethnic Religious Work

V. Implementation: Restrictions on Freedom of Religion in Practice

  • Registration of religious organizations: a no-win situation
  • The “reeducation” of imams in 2001 and 2002
  • Control and conformity: supervision of mosques in 2001
  • The persecution of clerics and the demolition of mosques
  • A Case of “Extremism”

VI. Controlling Religion in the Education System

  • Minors barred from “participating in religious activities” in Xinjiang
  • Purging the schools of religion
  • Enforcement through surveillance
  • Special campaigns

VII. Anti-Crime Campaigns and Religious Repression

  • Unrelenting crackdowns
  • Sweeps by law enforcement agencies

VIII. Religious “Offenders” in Detention

IX. Freedom of Religion and China’s Responsibility under International Law

X. Recommendations

  • To the government of the People’s Republic of China
  • To the international community
  • To international organizations and mechanisms
  • To international donors and aid groups working in Xinjiang, including the World
    Bank and the Asian Development Bank

Language, Education and Uyghur Identity in Urban Xinjiang

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I want to read this book but it is not available at my library and it is way out of my price range. One day I will be rich enough to buy expensive books, but alas, today is not the day. But, if anyone was thinking of buying me presents…



As the regional lingua franca, the Uyghur language long underpinned Uyghur national identity in Xinjiang. However, since the ‘bilingual education’ policy was introduced in 2002, Chinese has been rapidly institutionalised as the sole medium of instruction in the region’s institutes of education. As a result, studies of the bilingual and indeed multi-lingual Uyghur urban youth have emerged as a major new research trend.

This book explores the relationship between language, education and identity among the urban Uyghurs of contemporary Xinjiang. It considers ways in which Uyghur urban youth identities began to evolve in response to the state imposition of ‘bilingual education’. Starting by defining the notion of ethnic identity, the book explores the processes involved in the formation and development of personal and group identities, considers why ethnic boundaries are constructed between groups, and questions how ethnic identity is expressed in social, cultural and religious practice. Against this background, contributors adopt a special focus on the relationship between language use, education and ethnic identity development.

As a study of ethnicity in China this book will be of huge interest to students and scholars of Chinese culture and society, Asian ethnicity, cultural anthropology, sociolinguistics and Asian education.


1. Language, Education, and Uyghur Identity: An Introductory Essay Joanne Smith Finley & Xiaowei Zang
2. Major Determinants of Uyghur Ethnic Consciousness in Ürümchi Xiaowei Zang
3. Between Minkaohan and Minkaomin: Discourses on “Assimilation” amongst Bilingual Urban Uyghurs David Tobin
4. The Construction of Uyghur Urban Youth Identity through Language Use Ablimit Baki Elterish
5. Second/Third Language Learning and Uyghur Identity: Language in Education for Uyghurs in Urban Xinjiang Mamtimyn Sunuodula
6. Representations of Uyghurs in Chinese History Textbooks Janina Feyel
7. Young Uyghurs’ Perceptions of Han Chinese: from Xinjiang to Inland, from State to Individual Yangbin Chen
8. Escaping “Inseparability”: How Uyghur Graduates of the “Xinjiang Class” Contest Membership in the Zhonghua Minzu & Timothy A. Grose
9. Education, Religion and Identity among Uyghur Hostesses in Ürümchi. Joanne Smith Finley