Tending to Unite?: The Origins of Uyghur Nationalism

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Harvard University, 2011 - Asia, Central - 840 pages
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This dissertation seeks to answer the question of how and why a community straddled along the Russia-China border imagined itself as the modern Uyghur nation in the wake of the Russian Revolution. Reflecting the transnational character of its subject, it incorporates a broad range of archival sources from Russia, Central Asia, China and Great Britain. It is also the first study of this subject to give proper space to local Uyghur language sources. The dissertation begins by examining ways in which movement through this frontier zone, characterized by ambiguous categories of sovereignty and citizenship, led to hardening or weakening of existing ethnic and corporate forms of group identity. Trading networks, labor migration, and refugee flows, are all considered as parts of the formation of this diaspora of émigrés from Xinjiang living in Russian Turkistan in the late nineteenth century. An analysis of the internally differentiated structure of this diaspora is seen as key to understanding the varied responses of this community to the ruptures of the early twentieth century. It also considers the extent to which transnational political ideologies overcame these boundaries, and questions the role of pre-revolutionary reform movements in the genealogy of the first Soviet Uyghur cadres. My study argues that the invention of Uyghur nationalism can best be understood as a marriage between an ideological project formulated by long-standing migrants from Xinjiang with Russian citizenship, and the organizational forms adopted by sojourning Kashgari traders to defend their economic interests during the Civil War. The unstable nature of this alliance led to a protracted and multi-sided debate on the nature of the Uyghur nation throughout the 1920s. The dissertation concludes by looking at the reflection of these events in the Uyghurs putative homeland of Xinjiang, and the role of Uyghur Communists in the transition from late-Qing forms of govemmentality to the new authoritarianism of the Sheng Shicai regime of the 1930s -- the first to recognize the Uyghur as an official ethnic group in the province.

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