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The politicization of religion is the result of the competition over loyalties between the nation-state and religious groups. The state regulates the immanent and the transcendent. Allegiance to the state transcends the allegiance to God on the Chinese territory. The genealogy of this habitus is traced back to the Jesuit mission to China in the 16th century through the rise of the Communist Party and the current mode of regulation/repression of religion by the state, especially the Muslims in the Xinjiang province.
In its one hundred years of existence, the Communist Party of China has experimented with how to connect its narratives of legitimacy to people's affects. In this essay, I trace the conceptualization of gratitude, from its repudiation in the Mao era as a vestige of feudalism and imperialism to its return in the reform era as a re-verticalization of Party sovereignty. The paper addresses four examples of gratitude work: Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Yang's short-lived critique of gratitude in the name of a different conception of popular sovereignty; the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake as a day of gratitude; the detention of Uyghurs in Xinjiang who are taught to be grateful to the Communist Party in a campaign of religious de-radicalization; and the refusal of gratitude in quarantined Wuhan during the COVID-19 pandemic. In these cases, the Communist Party's sovereignty stands at the threshold between bio- and necro-politics, promising life and salvation in the midst of death and destruction.
In recent years, domestic tourism into the Xinjiang region of China has grown rapidly. Government officials view tourism as a source of both economic capital and social stability, presenting a normalcy that makes it attractive for investment. There are two paradoxes to Xinjiang tourism. According to most literature, a massive military presence should deter tourists, but numbers have continued to grow in the militarized Xinjiang region. Second, the cultural “otherness” of Xinjiang is a big draw to the region, yet this culture is being suppressed by state policies to contain Islam. Using a dataset of Han Chinese travel diaries, I look at how narrated tourist experiences of Xinjiang justify policing, how ethnic boundaries are reinforced by practices in both transportation and personal interaction, and how state policies influence Chinese travellers’ views on the authenticity of their experience. While bodily assurances of security substantiate political legitimacy, tourists resist the bureaucratic management of sites, allowing for critiques focused almost exclusively on aesthetic taste.
Eurasian steppes experienced frequent cultural transfers, human migration, and diffusion of techniques during the Bronze Age. The Hami Oasis is one of the most dynamic areas and has attracted multiple cultural flows. It is an important area that connects various routes of the Tianshan Corridor with the Hexi Corridor in western China. The Tianshanbeilu cemetery is the largest Bronze Age cemetery in Hami. Thirty-seven new radiocarbon dates allowed us to establish a new and more accurate chronology for Tianshanbeilu. Our results showed that the Tianshanbeilu cemetery was used from approximately 2022–1802 cal BC and remained in use from 1093–707 cal BC. This indicates that Tianshanbeilu is the earliest and longest-used known cemetery in eastern Xinjiang. By incorporating the typology of artifacts and stratigraphic relationships, the development of the Tianshanbeilu cemetery was divided into four phases. The first phase was from 2011–1672 cal BC, the second phase was from 1660–1408 cal BC, the third phase was from 1385–1256 cal BC, and the fourth phase was from 1214–1029 cal BC.
Chapter 2 critically examines Uyghur inclusion through official Zhonghua Minzu narratives in mass education as an identity-security practice after the July 2009 violence. The chapter analyses how party-state historical narratives demarcate hierarchical boundaries between majority Han and ethnic minorities (shaoshu minzu少数民族), particularly in universal ‘ethnic unity’ (minzu tuanjie 民族团结) education. The first section shows the party-state narrates Zhonghua Minzu by unifying all peoples’ histories within China’s contemporary borders as timelessly constituted by the minzu category and hierarchical majority-minority relations. Section 2 shows how nation-building texts relationally constitute and normatively evaluate identities of the Han as a timeless, modernising “frontier-building culture” against ethnic minorities as passive, backward recipients. The final section analyses how 'bilingual education' (Mandarin-medium education) policy is presented as the means to 'fusion' and national unity within these hierarchical relations. Official texts deploy concepts of fusion (jiaorong 交融) and minzu extinction (minzu xiaowang 民族消亡) to narrate the disappearance of shaoshu minzu identities as teleological progression of Zhonghua Minzu. The chapter shows that official nation-building narratives produce a hierarchical and ethnocentric China by framing Uyghur identity as backward obstacles to China’s unity and security.
Chapter 3 analyses exclusion of Uyghur identities in Zhonghua Minzu, specifically the 'East Turkestan' (dongtu 东突) narrative in minzu tuanjie education texts that explain contemporary violence and articulate Uyghur-ness as an external threat through the Turk category. The first section analyses how official East Turkestan narratives project external territorial borders and internal ethnic boundaries through each other, marking Uyghur language and religion as internal security problems from outside China’s cultural boundaries. The second section analyses official explanations of violence and protest in Xinjiang through East Turkestan and 'inside/outside Three Evils' ('terrorism, separatism, and extremism') narratives. This analyses how the party-state turns external cultural boundaries inward, demarcating ethno-spatial boundaries between sub-regions that are more and less secure and more and less Chinese. The final section uses semi-structured interviews and discourse analysis of Nurmehemmet Yasin’s short story 'Wild Pigeon' to examine the productive effects of these narratives. It analyses how Uyghurs redeploy official East Turkestan narratives to articulate alternative configurations of identity and security. The chapter argues that tensions between inclusion and exclusion in official security discourses, which ambivalently inter-weave civilisational and nationalist discourses by identifying intertwined threats inside and outside Zhonghua Minzu produce possibilities for resistance within its logics.
Chapter 1 analyses how historical contexts of empire, nationalism, and ethnic relations shape identity and security narratives in contemporary nation-building practices in Xinjiang. The chapter shows that China historically understood Xinjiang through imperial geopolitical prisms, which ambivalently shifted towards cultural nationalism and included Uyghur identity as a security concern. The first section builds on nationalism literature and analyses Chinese nation-building as historically contingent processes of cultural governance of relations between Han and non-Han on the frontier. It shows how mid-twentieth century articulation of territorially bounded nationhood matter co-exists with imperial, pre-modern framings of difference between civilisation and barbarians. The second section uses official Chinese sources and secondary literature on Xinjiang history to analyse how Xinjiang’s position shifted from imperial vassal to a central component in struggles to build a modern, multi-ethnic Chinese national identity. The final section uses official Chinese sources and secondary literature on ethnic relations to explore how nation-building conceptualises and organises ethnicity. Chinese nation-building produces ethnic boundaries in Xinjiang by articulating and securitising hierarchical relations between Han majority and ethnic minorities. The chapter shows how Xinjiang’s ambivalent inclusion as an exotic frontier and indivisible component of a territorial state reflects and produces tensions in China’s national narratives.
Chapter 5 analyses the inclusion of Uyghurs in public performances of ethnic unity (minzu tuanjie 民族团结) and celebrations of traditional ethnic festivals of Han (Zhongqiu jie 中秋节) and Uyghurs (Roza Heyti روزاھېيىت). The first section analyses inclusion of Uyghurs through performances of minzu tuanjie in songs and political slogans that saturated Xinjiang’s public discourse following the 2009 violence. Ethnic inclusion in these texts is mutually constituted against existential threats of Uyghur identities to China. The second section analyses the hierarchical relationship between nation and ethnicity and between Han and Uyghurs in representations of different traditional festivals. Minority festivals are officially framed as private and ethnic while majority Han festivals are celebrated as nationally significant events for all minzu. Minzu tuanjie is ethnocentric and hierarchical because it offers inclusion contingent upon identification with Hanzu as superior and Uyghur identity as marginal. This chapter shows how the inclusion offered by nation-building in Xinjiang produces and reproduces Uyghur marginality and exclusion in contemporary China. Inclusion of Uyghurs in Zhonghua Minzu demands identification with hierarchical boundaries between Hanzu and shaoshu minzu, with the Han nucleus guiding the direction of history towards 'fusion' and disappearance of Uyghur identity.
Chapter 4 analyses how official identity and security discourses were performed in public politics following the July 2009 violence. This chapter uses participant-observations and discourse analysis of everyday security practices and political slogans to examine how hierarchical ethnic boundaries were performed in everyday politics and explanations of the violence. The first section shows how violence in Shaoguan against Uyghurs, which sparked the July 2009 violence, was officially designated an 'ordinary public order incident', unrelated to security. However, failure to punish perpetrators produced widespread Uyghur insecurity. The second section shows how subsequent violence by Uyghurs in July 2009 was framed as an existential identity-security threat. Violent ‘revenge’ by Han was conversely framed as 'operations' by 'comrades' for national security. The binarised, ethnocentric meanings attributed to violence ethnicise daily security practices of surveillance and patrols that target Uyghurs and produce insecurity. The final section shows how small-scale syringe attacks in July’s aftermath were officially represented as continuing existential threats. This narrative heightened Han insecurity, sparking protests for increased security and violence against Uyghurs. The chapter shows that the party-state exacerbates insecurity by securitising ethnocentric narratives of a Han-led nation under threat, excluding Uyghurs as sources of insecurity and activating ethnic stereotypes amongst Han.
Chapter 6 uses detailed, semi-structured interviews with Han and Uyghurs in Ürümchi on tuanjie narratives to analyse the effects of nation-building. The first section analyses how Uyghurs and getihu Han dismiss tuanjie as propaganda but deploy it to re-perform minzu as fixed identity boundaries. Han intellectuals conceptualised Zhonghua Minzu through ethnocentric culturalism that includes Xinjiang as a frontier. The second section explores how Han deploy official narratives of Xinjiang’s 'liberation', defining Hanzu through lineage and language. Han nationalists re-perform officially articulated boundaries between ‘Inner-China’ and ‘frontier’ as timeless while culturalists framed Han ethno-nationalists as impediments to nation-building. Nation-building narratives are challenged by different Han identities arguing for more or less inclusion of non-Han. The final section shows how Uyghurs re-perform ethnic boundaries demarcated by Chinese nation-building, articulating their identity as a Turkic group living in a Hanzu nation. Uyghurs refer to their inferiority in official discourse and daily experiences of ethnic discrimination to locate their Turkic and Islamic identities outside Zhonghua Minzu. The chapter shows that nation-building in Xinjiang is failing because its model of inclusion runs counter to daily experiences of ethnic boundaries and perpetuates tensions between Xinjiang’s inclusion as Chinese territory and cultural exclusion as a frontier.
The final chapter uses semi-structured interviews with Han and Uyghurs in Ürümchi to analyse their responses to official security narratives. The first section analyses how Han use official discourses of danger to securitise their own identities, defined through ethnicity, lineage, and language. Working-class and getihu Han deployed party-state discourses to articulate China as an ethnic Han nation under threat from Turkic-Islamic Uyghurs. Han intellectuals emphasise Uyghur inclusion in Chinese civilisation represents the real Zhonghua Minzu but without addressing the Han-centrism of this inclusion. The second section analyses how Uyghurs securitise identities and articulate China as an existential threat by re-performing official and unofficial Chinese narratives on Uyghur-ness. Uyghurs invert party-state discourses, articulating Han as part of a state-led cultural assimilation project through demographic and linguistic transformation. The Han-Uyghur ethnic boundary is redirected inwards between Uyghurs educated in Uyghur (minkaomin 民考民) and those ‘Sinicised’ by Mandarin-medium education (minkaohan 民考汉). Han and Uyghurs use tensions between inclusion and exclusion in official Zhonghua Minzu narratives to understand daily experiences of ethnic boundaries and articulate competing identity-security narratives. The chapter shows the party-state’s attempt to increase security by identifying China’s friends and eliminating enemies produces perpetual insecurity.
In the first study to incorporate majority Han and minority Uyghur perspectives on ethnic relations in Xinjiang following mass violence during July 2009, David Tobin analyses how official policy shapes identity and security dynamics on China's northwest frontier. He explores how the 2009 violence unfolded and how the party-state responded to ask how official identity narratives and security policies shape practices on the ground. Combining ethnographic methodology with discourse analysis and participant-observation with in-depth interviews, Tobin examines how Han and Uyghurs interpret and reinterpret Chinese nation-building. He concludes that by treating Chinese identity as a security matter, the party-state exacerbates cycles of violence between Han and Uyghurs who increasingly understand each other as threats.
This chapter continues with the argument that the built-in tensions of the autonomous system, or centralization and ethnicization, have intensified in the reform era, fueling key sources of ethnic strife in the TAR and Xinjiang. The driving force has been the state’s developmentalism as strategies of development and integration. Here centralization is manifested in top-down developmental models, either state economy or market expansion, while ethnicization is manifested in more state aid and preferential economic policies as well as their ethnicizing consequences. In the TAR’s case, state subsidies have sustained an “affirmative action” economy, resulting in dependency and questionable viability. In Xinjiang’s case, the undoing of the socialist economy has left behind ethnic members whose ascriptive endowments disadvantage them in the marketplace, resulting in ethnically based grievances. In both cases, developmentalism has pitted local minorities against inland migrants, fueling ethnic conflict. As remedies, the state resorts to aid programs, thus intensifying central drives as well as ethnic prerogatives.
This chapter focuses on education and language policies as sources of ethnic conflict in the reform era, focusing on Xinjiang where the problem has been most salient. Those sources of ethnic woes stem again from intensified tensions of the autonomous system, or the paradox of centralization and ethnicization. The driving force here is the state’s developmentalism in minority education: centralization inheres in the state’s expansion of higher education on the one hand and of bilingual education on the other, while ethnicization is manifest in the state’s intensified preferential policies to promote those goals. Expansion of higher and bilingual education for minorities aims at economic development and political integration. However, aided by preferential policies, this expansion has come up against the realities of the new market economy, which favors competitive skills and disadvantages minority students. Both processes – preferential policies for minority access to higher education but disadvantages for minority graduates in the market place – enhance ethnicization at the expense of integration.
This chapter argues that the institutional dynamics of the autonomous system – centralization and ethnicization – have intensified in the reform era, fueling key sources of ethnic tensions in contemporary China. The driving force has been the decline of class universalism and the rise of identity politics. The chapter shows how these two developments were spurred by early post-Mao policies to redress the leftist excesses of the Mao era, including the “declassing” of minority policy, rehabilitation of former ethnic elites, exit of Han personnel, revival of religion, and accommodation of ethnic customs in law enforcement. These policies have affected the TAR and Xinjiang in particular because of the central government’s greater urgency and efforts to implement them in the two politically sensitive and centrifugal regions. Yet the very end of class universalism and the advent of identity politics have also made it harder for the central state to achieve its goal of better integration. Whereas class universalism was divisive intraethnically, pitting ethnic masses against small groups of ethnic aristocrats, identity politics is divisive interethnically, creating cleavages along ethnic lines.
This chapter continues with the argument that the built-in tensions of the autonomous system, namely centralization and ethnicization, have intensified in the reform era. The focus of this chapter is religious revival in Tibet and Xinjiang. Religion has been a volatile problem in the state’s relationship with the two outer peripheral regions, thanks to its crucial linkage to ethnic and cultural identity. This identity, in turn, can be linked to ethno-nationalism and even separatism. Heightened institutional tensions for ethnic strife have stemmed, on the one hand, from state sponsorship of religious revival, and on the other hand, from state curtailment of its unsanctioned growth. The alternatively facilitating and constraining roles of the state have intensified centralization as well as ethnicization in the religious development of Tibet and Xinjiang, or cycles of state facilitation/control of religion and ethnic backlash. Foremost among this backlash has been increased radicalization, from private madrassas, Wahhabism, “Arabianization,” and “terrorism” in the Uighur case, to self-immolation in the Tibetan case. These have in turn induced state crackdowns, including deradicalization camps.
Jihad, a heavily loaded word in the post-9/11 discourse, has in fact many layers, in theological and historical terms. This chapter investigates how the anti-Soviet resistance to the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s turned this Central Asian country into a receptacle of religiously oriented ideologues and militants from all over the world. The social and political transformations of the 1960s and 70s, the conflation of local self-determination, radicalization of refugees, absorption of foreign militants, the charisma of a Palestinian Muslim Brother, and the wealth of a well-connected Saudi man all come together in shaping the Afghan jihad as a symbolic and imagined site of resistance to outside forces for the global umma. If in the 1980s jihad had carried a positive connotation of liberation, in the aftermath to the 9/11 attacks labeling a movement as “jihadist” has become a convenient way for governments to tackle unrest in Muslim areas, even where struggles had been taking place for decades without much connection to Islamist aspirations, as seen in the cases of Southern Philippines, Indonesia, Southern Thailand, Kashmir, and Western China.
Terrorist attacks can occur anywhere. As the threat of terrorism develops, the China-Eurasia Expo held in Ürümqi, China is attracting fewer potential visitors. A nationwide survey of 2034 residents from 31 provinces and municipalities in China was conducted to examine the relation between the distance to respondents’ city of residence from Ürümqi and their levels of concern for safety and security concerning the Expo. The two were found to be positively related: the closer the respondents lived to Ürümqi, the less concerned they were with the safety and security of the Expo. This is consistent with the “psychological typhoon eye” effect, which states that people living closer to the center of an unfortunate event (whether natural or man-made hazards) are less concerned with the event’s negative consequences. This effect appears to hold for terrorism. There are implications of this finding for international counter-terrorism practice, tourism, and research.
This article explores information management in the Qing government, and the challenges confronted by the Qing authorities, through the prism of imperial maps of Xinjiang. To ensure that newly gathered geographical knowledge of Xinjiang was usable for the emperor and senior officials, technocrats and artisans in the Imperial Household Department collaborated with the Jesuits and border officials to produce maps that materialized it. Because of their utility in military campaigns and everyday governance, these maps were carefully maintained by the Imperial Household Department, which discreetly distributed them to a small coterie of Manchu and Mongol statesmen. Nevertheless, information leakage from the lower echelons of the bureaucracy challenged the department's monopoly and popularized knowledge of Xinjiang among the Han literati.
Bronze Age agro-pastoralist populations with economies and materials that are generally consistent with the Andronovo Culture—but with localised variations—are known throughout the mountains bordering the Eastern Eurasian Steppe. Recently, evidence for this tradition has also been found in north-west Xinjiang, China, although many questions remain about the production, use and significance of ceramics here. The authors’ analyses of a sample of pottery from sites across the Bortala Valley permit the reconstruction of the ceramic chaîne opératoire and offer two distinct stories: one of cultural connectivity with regional networks of Eurasian pastoralists, and another about self-expression through small-scale local ceramic production.