The historiography of modern Afghanistan is undergoing a transformation that involves tension between varieties of data, on one hand, and interpretative frameworks for that information, on the other hand. Textual sources in multiple languages are increasingly in dialogue, as are local and global voices addressing the history of Afghanistan. Growing awareness of inter-regional and international forces impacting the geographical space of Afghanistan has generated conversations among scholars working within and across historical eras and geographic frames of reference. Transnational and trans-temporal orientations have contributed to an interdisciplinary historical discourse where textual information shares analytical space with cultural, material, and visual data from modern Afghanistan. Greater volumes and more types of textual data have led to a historiographical shift away from isolationist views of the country to analyses that treat the territory and people of Afghanistan in relation to a wide assortment of external contexts, actors, and resources. For example, the increasing use of Persian, Turkish, Urdu, and colonial sources is revealing an ever-widening and highly influential range of relationships between Afghans and non-Afghans inside and outside the territory of Afghanistan that are being examined through prisms such as technology transfer and intellectual exchange, architectural and infrastructure development, literary and sartorial practices, and patterns of social and spatial mobility. These and other exciting historiographical developments are impeded from realizing their full potential by enduring explanatory recourse to undertheorized, decontextualized invocations of ethnicity; a perpetual emphasis on warfare; and an exclusionary analytical focus on Kabul as a metaphor for the country as a whole that combine to convolute understandings of global forces and their impact on state–society relations in Afghanistan. Together, these issues point toward a conspicuous gap in the historiography of Afghanistan, namely, a fundamental absence of attention to how power works there. Questions about power are political, and ironically, while the historiography of Afghanistan revolves around state politics, however limited to a handful of pinnacle elites, there is little political critique at work in this discourse as a whole. Whether based proportionally more on coercion or consensus, power involves classification and representation, and in the historiography of Afghanistan, there are few questions asked about the categories of analysis, that is, when they arose, how they congeal, what purpose they serve, for whom, and why. Power has a spatiality to it, and it is rare to find a sustained discussion of how power operates differently across distinct geographies in Afghanistan, or in short, how power in Kabul looks elsewhere. Power also involves culture, in particular the manipulation of language, and here again despite constant invocations of Pashtun-ness, there is a scarcity of attention to how Pashto the language and the culture it carries are situated in the state structure and historiography of Afghanistan, that is, the relationship between Pashto and the national elites in Kabul. Power also has a history of its own, often expressed in episodes of extreme violence in service of empire, and once more, the historiography of Afghanistan tends to elide the enduring impacts of imperialism, let alone offer paths of resistance to it as an aspirationally unrestrained coercive agency in principle. The people of Afghanistan have suffered grievously and inhumanely from national and international forms of power wielded against them, and the vast majority of Afghan people have been written out of the history of Afghanistan through uncritically reductive culture-based misrepresentations of state leaders in Kabul. Intellectual pathways are needed for building an awareness of and remediation of the serial imperial epistemological and physical-material violations perpetrated on ordinary Afghan people and reproduced in the historiography of this hyper-conditional national space.
Deciphering the History of Modern Afghanistan
Shah Mahmoud Hanifi
European Imperialism and China’s Response in the 19th Century
During the 19th century, the great powers imposed a series of unequal treaties on China that violated the country’s sovereignty. These agreements guaranteed Europeans, Americans, and later the Japanese rights of extraterritoriality, opened an increasing number of treaty ports to international commerce, and fixed import tariffs at 5 percent to facilitate foreign penetration of Chinese markets. Qing officials launched an important reform movement called “Self-Strengthening” in the 1860s to enhance state power and combat foreign influence, and these efforts continued until China’s defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895. Although the imperial court in Beijing placed its imprimatur on this political program, the principal impetus for these changes came from high-ranking provincial authorities of Han Chinese ethnic extraction such as Li Hongzhang, Zhang Zhidong, and Ding Richang. Despite the partial political decentralization of the period, these reforms had a lasting impact. Over the course of a half century, the Self-Strengthening Movement and the subsequent New Policies (1901–1911) laid the foundation of a powerful military-fiscal state in China, a polity organized around the imperative of war-making. This form of political organization combined money, guns, and bureaucracy in new ways and replicated certain institutional features of European states without, however, transforming China into a poor imitation of “the West.” Officials augmented these core reforms with a series of state-sponsored enterprises in shipping, telegraphy, mining, and banking to develop a small modern sector within the economy. At an intellectual level, authorities such as Li Hongzhang formulated a new conception of statecraft focused on the pursuit of wealth and power to protect the empire’s sovereignty. Meanings of this term remained fluid prior to 1895, but together with ideas such as rights, independence, and commercial warfare it served as part of the basic vocabulary for this new philosophy of governance. In sum, the late Qing state amassed the sinews of power with considerable success, particularly in urban areas, and strengthened itself beyond the minimal threshold necessary to retain its independence during the height of European imperialism.
John F. Robertson
The roots of the history of modern Iraq extend into the late Ottoman period, when the central government in Istanbul embarked upon administrative and educational reform in an attempt both to modernize and to reassert and centralize its authority there. The history of modern Iraq is also closely linked to ethnic (principally Arab and Kurd) and sectarian (principally Sunni and Shi’ite, but also Jewish and Christian) components of Iraqi society, and their interrelations and tensions. This history is also marked by distinct episodes of foreign intervention (specifically, by Great Britain and the United States), by internal political struggle often resolved by political violence, and by sectarian tensions exacerbated by the domination of political governance by a Sunni minority (1921–2003) and subsequently, beginning in 2004, by the Shi’i majority.
Modern Kyrgyzstan emerged as a political entity in 1924 when the Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast (KKAO) was established as an autonomous oblast (province) under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation after the completion of the border delimitation in Central Asia (1924–1926). However, the oblast very soon was renamed Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast (May 1925). The oblast was upgraded to the status of the Kyrgyz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Kyrgyz ASSR) on February 1, 1926 (also within the Russian Federation). Its status was further elevated on December 5, 1936 when the country became the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic (Kyrgyz SSR or in short Kirgizia (in Russian) and a full member of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). During its early days, the new republic lacked the cohesive national economic system, strong national identity, and human resources necessary for functioning as a nation-state. Therefore, the central Soviet government in Moscow initiated huge investment and technology transfers, and recruited the tens of thousands of specialists (from teachers to engineers) it felt were necessary to move to the country in the 1920s and 1930s. The consequences of the Soviet policies were two. One was rapid economic growth between 1930s and 1960s (in fact one of the highest in the USSR), including rapid industrialization and urbanization. The other was the rapid demographic change due to the massive immigration from other parts of the Soviet Union, especially from Belorussia, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. The Kyrgyz people benefited from the cultural revolution of the 1920s and 1930s, as the literacy rate grew from 4.7 percent in 1926 to 70–80 percent in 1936 (Soviet official estimates). The Kyrgyz SSR experienced a second wave of industrialization and mass migration in the 1940s as hundreds of factories were moved to the republic from the war zone, and tens of thousands of Volga Germans and people from the Caucasus and Crimea were deported to the Kyrgyz land. However, despite massive investments and impressive economic growth between the 1950s and 1970s, the Kyrgyz SSR remained one of the poorest republics in the term of per capita in the USSR. Economic conditions in the country deteriorated in the late 1980s due to the blunders in the Gorbachev policy of perestroika. Yet, the Kyrgyz government continued to support the preservation of the Soviet Union, although small emerging opposition groups called for secession from Moscow. The Kyrgyz government declared its full independence in 1991 as the Soviet Union finally disintegrated. The country was renamed the Kyrgyz Republic (KR). Under the leadership of President Askar Akayev (1990–2005), the first democratically elected president in the history of Kyrgyzstan, the country became one of the most democratic states in the Central Asian region. It has struggled to revive its crumbling economy and infrastructure and to address its chronic problems of mass poverty and unemployment. Intransigent economic problems and systemic corruption have led to two consecutive revolutions in Kyrgyzstan (in 2005 and 2010). Yet, the country has established economic, legal, and institutional foundations for the development of a modern, competitive and productive national economy as the nation still dreams of developing Kyrgyzstan to become the “Switzerland of Central Asia.”
Mu Dan’s Poetry as a History of Modern China
Huiwen Helen Zhang
An expeditionary force soldier. A jungle war survivor. A patriot who traded opportunities in the United States for a tedious journey home to the newly founded People’s Republic of China. A “counterrevolutionary.” A forced laborer who spent the last third of his life translating English and Russian literature.—A poet. Careful study of Mu Dan’s (1918–1977) poetry enables us to explore a string of moments in modern China’s transformation. Twenty-two poems by Mu Dan have been selected as a history of China from the climax of the New Culture Movement (1919) through the end of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1976). Fusing linguistic audacity, philosophical acumen, and historical vision, they weave a thread of themes illuminating the tortured path of a nation and an individual. Further, they span a spectrum of sentiments ranging from those of ordinary people to those of extraordinary intellectuals. To reveal the turning points in modern China’s history, the twenty-two poems have been contextualized along two axes. A vertical axis, the thread of themes, consists of eleven motifs developed and revisited by Mu Dan from 1940 through 1976; they are: Youth, War, Disillusion, Maturity, Sacrifice, Exposure, Enlightenment, Conversion, Awakening, Anguish, and Reflection. A horizontal axis, the spectrum of sentiments, exhibits Mu Dan’s contradictory attitudes toward modern China’s transformation by identifying him with his countrymen or distancing him from them as a free spirit and cultural critic. This conceptual framework assists in examining the interaction between history and literature. It demonstrates how modern China’s history informs, provokes, and shapes a poet whose life span coincides with it and, at the same time, how poetry can be and is being read as history itself. This reading allows more than new access to the historical events that mold a poet and his poetry. Reading poetry as history uncovers lost sentiments, struggles, observations, and critiques that advance our understanding of modern China.
The Persian Cosmopolis
The Persian cosmopolis refers to the vast territory between the Balkans and Bengal in which, for 1000 years, an integrated sense of moral, social, political, and aesthetic order was informed by the circulation of normative Persian texts. Several centuries after the Arab conquest of the Iranian plateau, a spoken form of a hybridized Middle Persian and Arabic emerged in written form, using a modified Arabic script. What had begun as a regional vernacular swiftly became a transregional, literary medium as regional courts in Khurasan and Central Asia patronized Persian literature and used that language in their bureaucracies, building on a tradition of professional writers that had served Persian empires for centuries. The technology of paper-making, recently introduced from China, facilitated the rapid movement of Persian texts across space, while Firdausi’s epic poem the Shah-nama (1010) celebrated Iranian mythology and pre-Islamic history in ways that connected widely scattered peoples of different ethnicities. Territorial conquests by Persianized Turks, followed by Mongol invasions that drove peoples of Central Asia and Khurasan into new lands, also served to expand the geographical extent of the Persian cosmopolis. By the 14th and 15th centuries, the political, aesthetic, and moral order elaborated in a growing Persian canon—for example, the principle of justice—had become associated with a prestigious, cosmopolitan style that was emulated and absorbed by widely scattered peoples of diverse ethnicities and religions. Persianate architecture, attire, urban design, music, cuisine, and numismatic traditions were also assimilated by such peoples. With the translation of a rich store of romance literature into vernacular tongues, the Persian cosmopolis became as much a subjective phenomenon, inhabiting people’s collective imagination, as it was an objective, mappable zone in which popular, discursive, and normative texts circulated along networks that connected royal courts, provincial notables, Sufi lodges, merchant communities, and schools.
The history of Uyghurs, the Turkic Muslim people indigenous to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China, also known as East Turkestan, is represented differently in historiographies of many countries. Chinese historiography depicts Uyghurs as migrants in their homeland, referring to the migration of nomadic Uyghurs from the present territory of Mongolia in 840 ce, in contrast to the Han Chinese who started settling down in this region much earlier. The history of Uyghurs is interpreted in Chinese works based on the concept of a “Chinese nation,” according to which all peoples populating the country have comprised one nation since ancient times. Uyghurs are therefore depicted as people who never set up their own independent states. The Uyghur ethnocentric vision of the past, on the contrary, substantiates the indigenousness of Uyghurs to their homeland. It highlights the Central Asian origin of Uyghurs, who belong to the family of Turkic nationalities and have a history much longer than that of the Han Chinese. As an oppressed ethnic minority in China, Uyghurs were excluded from writing their own history; therefore, a Uyghur national narrative was developed mainly outside China. Soviet historians made significant contributions to the formulation of the main principles of Uyghur national history. The process of writing Uyghur history is influenced by dominating narratives in PRC and other countries that have sizable Uyghur communities (Turkey and post-Soviet Central Asian nations). Despite the domination of narratives on the history of Uyghurs in many countries, academic research on Uyghur history has gained significant achievements, although as a field of research Uyghur and Xinjiang studies occupy peripheral positions in Central Eurasian studies.