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Situating The Uyghurs between China and Central Asia
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Dr Joanne Smith Finley
Bellér-Hann I, Cesàro MC, Harris RA, Smith Finley J
Anthropology and Cultural History in Asia and the Indo-Pacific
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This edited volume explores the social and cultural hybridity or ‘in-between-ness’ of the Uyghurs (a group mainly inhabiting the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China), through a comparative, interdisciplinary approach. It draws together contributions from twelve international scholars working in a range of disciplines including history, sociology, anthropology, political science, linguistics, literary studies and musicology. Its primary aim is to bridge a perceived gap in understanding of the Uyghurs, a group which too often has fallen between two regional traditions of scholarship on Central Asia and China: Central Asian studies, with its focus on the post-Soviet Central Asian states, and Sinology. Where existing volumes on Xinjiang adopt the perennial focus on Uyghur-Han political and cultural conflict, and thus barely touch upon the role of Central Asian culture in the shaping of Uyghur identity, Situating the Uyghurs fills this gap by offering an insight into the dynamics of historical and contemporary social and cultural assumptions and practices. Even as it stresses continuities with Central Asian peoples, practices, and experiences over time, it pays equal attention to differences (real or perceived) between the Uyghur of Xinjiang and other Central Asian groups and to examples of accommodation between Uyghurs and Han Chinese. The volume’s emphasis on micro-level, fieldwork-based approaches provides a wealth of original and detailed material which, due to the constraints typically placed on scholars working in this region, previous publications have often failed to provide. This micro-level approach permits an understanding of current issues as they are experienced by Uyghurs today. Historical chapters set the scene by exploring the deeper problems of Uyghur identity which underpin the contemporary political situation: Qing period perceptions of Self and Other, and Soviet manipulation of Uyghur historiography. Sociological and anthropological comparisons of a range of practices from music culture to life-cycle rituals illustrate the dual, fused nature of contemporary Uyghur social and cultural identities. Meanwhile, contributions by ‘local’ Uyghur authors working within Xinjiang demonstrate the possibilities for Uyghur advocacy in social and cultural policy-making, even within the current political climate. A critical introduction by the editors highlights the main theme of the book and discusses its implications, both for the formation of hybrid Uyghur identities and for the re-positioning of Uyghur studies within international scholarship.
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