Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land

The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land by Gardner Bovingdon is an in-depth study into one of China's most unique and interesting ethnic minorities.

The Uyghurs are an ethnic group living throughout central Asia largely concentrated in Xinjiang Province, China's far west. They are predominantly Muslim and culturally distinct from the Han majority of China. The Uyghurs, like another ethnic group in western China - the Tibetans - have a very tenuous and, in many cases, tragic relationship with their own country.

Bovingdon's book began as his dissertation in graduate school. It turned into a larger project. He lived in Xinjiang for years in the 1990s and put in over twenty months of field research into the writing of the book. The interviews conducted and the research put into the book are impressive.

Bovingdon begins The Uyghurs by framing the Uyghurs' story with the deserts that they inhabit.

From page 23:
There are a lot of ideas and topics explored in the book that I enjoyed. I particularly liked the discussions of 20th-century Sinification of Xinjiang, the effects of decolonization after World War II and how that affected Beijing's views of how to handle Xinjiang and the Uyghurs, "everyday resistance" that present-day Uyghurs direct towards the Chinese system, and the divisions amongst Uyghurs living abroad and the effects that such disagreements have on the world's attitude towards the Uyghurs (the Uyghurs' plight has never gained traction abroad like Tibetans' has).

That being said, I wish Bovingdon's personality would've shown through more in his book. There were scores of interviews and several stories told from the first-person perspective. But instead of expounding upon those experiences, Bovingdon used them and then quickly moved on adding very little flavor to the text. Bovingdon's (surely) amazing experiences seemed under-utilized to me. Maybe I'm too used to reading journalists pour their hearts onto the page instead of a more strictly academic approach, but I found this book to be drier than it had to be.

The Uyghurs deepened my understanding of the Uyghur ethnic group and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region a great deal. I'd recommend it those wanting a serious examination of one of China's least-understood groups of people.


Ramesh said...

Another book recommendation which I am sure will make a top class read for anyone.

This is a real sensitive issue. How far is cultural homogenisation a valid policy. America has become a great melting pot because so many immirants from diverse cultures voluntarily chose to merge. If communities refuse to merge and want to remain distinct, is it acceptable to force homogenisation ? Europe faces this problem in abudance with regard to its immigrant minorities. Their experience shows that remaining separate actually increases alienation and causes equal amount of problems.

I am not too familiar with the Uyghur cause, but I suspect there are multiple dimensions and everything is not so black and white.

Anonymous said...

america is different... the united states is a nation founded on new territories... and is isolated and shielded from the rest of the world by vast oceans... they had favourable conditions to build a vibrant multiracial democracy...

china on the other hand has a history much longer than that of america... and hence it has far more baggage... it is more difficult for china to build a vibrant multiracial democracy...

having said that though... the original inhabitants of xinjiang are turkic peoples... they are not chinese... and should be entitled to their own independent nation...

however... chinese government will not allow that... by allowing states to separate from china... they would be weakening the country. china also fears the domino effect... by allowing one state to have independence... might spur demands for independence from other parts of its territory