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date: 29 September 2023

The Uyghurs in Modern Chinafree

The Uyghurs in Modern Chinafree

  • Rian ThumRian ThumDepartment of History, Loyola University New Orleans


The Uyghurs are a Turkic-speaking ethnic group, most of whom live today within the People’s Republic of China. Virtually all Uyghurs are Muslims, and most are oasis farmers, small-time traders, or craftsmen. They constitute the majority population of the Tarim Basin, a region that eventually fell under Chinese rule after the Qing conquest of 1759. Although Turkic speakers predominated in the Tarim Basin for several centuries, the modern Uyghur identity was only named and formalized in the 20th century. During that period, a succession of Chinese states gradually transformed Uyghur lands from a loosely held dependency under the Qing to a closely monitored, assimilationist, settler colony in the 21st century, ruled by a Han Chinese–dominated bureaucracy. Uyghurs inherit traditions rooted in Turko-Persianate Central Asia, elaborated in the 20th century by strong influences from Soviet Central Asia and continually adapted to a political context of shifting outsider regimes punctuated by briefly successful independence movements.


  • China
  • Political


The Uyghurs constitute the majority ethnic group in the Tarim Basin, a region conquered by the Qing Empire in 1759 and then incorporated into a new administrative region of Xinjiang (New Territory). Today the Tarim Basin, and with it most Uyghurs, falls under the administration of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), as part of the “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.” The Chinese state considers the Uyghur ethnic group to be one of fifty-six official “nationalities” (minzu) of China and usually describes the Uyghurs as a “minority nationality” (shaoshu minzu) by virtue of their relationship to the larger population of the PRC, though this designation obscures the fact that most Uyghurs live in Uyghur-majority areas. The Uyghurs speak a Turkic language, today called Uyghur, that is closely related to Uzbek. Virtually all Uyghurs are Muslims, and the most common occupation is farming. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a majority of Uyghurs today view Chinese rule as illegitimate, and the PRC state, for its part, sees the Uyghurs as posing a threat of both separatism and violent religious radicalism. Uyghurs in Xinjiang live under a security regime that is stricter than any other in China, and Uyghur acts of violence against state targets are common. Nonetheless, Uyghurs have managed to develop an elaborate literary canon and nationalist historiography within the bounds of Chinese state-controlled public discourse and to maintain a distinct identity in the face of increasingly assimilationist policies.

At the dawn of the 20th century, there were no Uyghurs. In Europe, orientalists engaged in heated debate over the nature of the ancient Uighur people, who had played prominent roles in the history of China and Inner Asia from roughly the 8th to the 15th centuries.1 But attempts to definitively connect the Uighurs to contemporary ethnic groups failed. Though scholars such as Sergei Malov documented a small group of people in Gansu known as Yugurs, or Yellow Uyghurs, their language was too far removed from the ancient Uighur language to suggest strong continuity.2 Meanwhile, in the Qing province of Xinjiang, the region that is today known as China’s “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” no one considered themselves to be Uyghur.

And yet, at the same moment, the individuals who would first revive the name of the ancient Uighurs as their own essential ethnonational identity were already searching for new kinds of knowledge to explain their place in the world. These writers and politicians had several things in common: they were all Muslims; they were all settled rather than nomadic; they all spoke dialects of Eastern Turki; and they all had roots in the Qing province of Xinjiang. By the end of the 1930s, various forms of their newly constructed “Uyghur” identities had been embraced as official categories by three different states: the Soviet Union, the short-lived Republic of East Turkistan (sometimes called Uyghuristan), and the Soviet-aligned regime of the Chinese warlord Sheng Shicai. However, it was only under the rule of the PRC that “Uyghur” finally became settled as an identity term of ethnic rather than political significance and was widely adopted by the peoples who call themselves Uyghurs today. The coherence of Uyghur identity is now one of the few historical assumptions shared by both the Chinese state and those Uyghur nationalists who advocate for independence from the People’s Republic of China.

The history of the Uyghurs as Uyghurs is thus, in a strict sense, very much a 20th- and 21st-century history. This period saw not only the construction of the Uyghur identity but also the foundation of short-lived, independent states that were partly associated with Uyghur nationalism. The same era saw the beginning of what is now approaching seventy years of uninterrupted China-based rule over Xinjiang, something which had not been managed since the period between the Qing conquest of 1759 and the rebellion of 1826. It was in the 20th century that the Uyghurs first engaged a host of social and technological transformations associated with modernity, transformations that included the adoption of printing, nationalism, communism, industrialization, compulsory education, Islamic reform, and secularism. By the end of the century, what had once been a loosely controlled dependency of the Qing Empire had become a firmly integrated colony of the PRC. In the transition, the settled Turkic-speakers of Xinjiang had gone from being a loosely defined majority group under indirect rule to a formalized ethnic minority under the administration of a Chinese-dominated police state.

The First Modern Uyghurs and Their Predecessors in the Early 20th Century

At the turn of the 20th century, the settled Turkic Muslims of Altishahr (the Tarim Basin, southern Xinjiang) already viewed themselves as a distinctive if vaguely bounded group, which they described variously as Musulman (Muslim), yerlik (local), Turki, or, rarely, Altishahrlik or Altishahri.3 The Uyghur identity that emerged in the 1930s comprised this group (hereafter referred to as “Altishahris”) and several smaller, historically and culturally connected populations spread between Russian and Chinese Central Asia. These groups can roughly be described as follows: the Taranchis, descendants of the Altishahris who were moved to the Ili valley under Dzungar rule and later spread to Semireche in Russian Turkistan; the Turkic inhabitants of the oases north of the Tarim Basin, including Turfan and Qumul (Hami), who were peripheral members of the Altishahri identity system and more strongly colored by Ming and Qing influences; and the Kashgaris, descendents of Altishahri merchants and exiles in Russian Turkistan. As of the beginning of the 20th century, the boundaries between these groups were fluid and rarely discussed explicitly, and so any schematic enumeration of the groups who would become Uyghur should be seen as tentative and heuristic.

The last decades of Qing rule over the soon-to-be Uyghurs of Xinjiang—that is, the Altishahris and Taranchis—were characterized by efforts to integrate Xinjiang more tightly with the Chinese interior. What had previously been a dependency governed by a Manchu-dominated military through a system of indirect rule became, in 1884, a full-fledged province. This change was accompanied by a sinicization campaign on two fronts. On the one hand, the top positions of power in Xinjiang, previously staffed mainly by Manchu and Mongol bannermen, were now occupied by Chinese bureaucrats and soldiers. On the other hand, the new Chinese rulers attempted to assimilate Altishahris and Taranchis into Chinese culture. Most notably, the state established a network of Confucian schools and attempted to compel the local population to attend them. By most accounts this succeeded only in antagonizing the non-Chinese population, and as the Qing Empire neared its ultimate demise, the school program atrophied. The sinicization of leadership positions, however, proved much more permanent, marking the end of over a millennium of Inner Asian rule over Altishahr and Dzungaria, the lands the Qing called Xinjiang. Thus the history of the modern Uyghurs in Xinjiang would unfold almost entirely under the gaze of Chinese rulers.

Despite the efforts of the new provincial administration to create a more bureaucratic and more Chinese society, daily life for most Altishahris and Taranchis did not depart significantly from the old patterns that had existed under indirect rule. Though disputes and criminal cases sometimes ended up in the Qing courts, many people sought legal interventions from semiofficial Islamic judges and local notables. Large swathes of both rural and urban land were controlled by Islamic charitable trusts, often associated with shrines. Far greater numbers of Altishahri and Taranchi students attended the ubiquitous private elementary schools, called maktap, than the state Chinese schools. Turki, Persian, and Arabic texts of all kinds—political, religious, historical, literary, and legal—were reproduced without state interference through the local manuscript tradition. Communities pressured their members to attend daily prayers at the mosques, and thousands of pilgrims gathered for festivals at the tombs of Islamic saints.4 The Qing state continued to embrace overlapping systems of authority that included curtailed but still prominent roles for many of the same families that had been empowered by the old system of indirect rule, including vassal “wangs” (kings) and “begs,” the latter renamed as officials.

At the same time, many of the forces that would shape the new notion of a Uyghur nation were beginning to appear. One of these forces was an increased circulation of people across the Tianshan Mountains. In the late 19th century, after Russia’s conquest of the western part of Central Asia, Altishahri seasonal laborers began traveling to Russian Turkistan in ever-increasing numbers: from 6,000 or 7,000 in 1894 to 28,000 in 1928.5 In 1882, Russia ceded the Ili Valley, home of the Taranchis, to the Qing, and most of the Taranchis moved to the adjoining Russian province of Semireche. While thousands of Taranchis would return to the Ili Valley in the following decades, there was now a stable Taranchi community in Russian Semireche. This community would play a preeminent role in the construction of a Uyghur nation. Also on the Russian side of Central Asia was a long-standing network of traders with Altishahri origins, known as Kashgaris, who interacted with the Taranchi and seasonal laborer communities. The Kashgari merchants and the Taranchis of Semireche were particularly important in facilitating the flow of new ideas into Xinjiang.6

Many of those ideas grew out of a new intellectual ecosystem nurtured by Ottoman and Tatar intellectuals in print journals and the so-called new-method schools, phenomena which circumvented the established madrassa- and manuscript-dominated systems of knowledge production among the Muslims of the Ottoman and Russian Empires. The varied and sometimes contradictory constellation of Islamic reform proposals that emerged in this environment has come to be known as Jadidism. The Jadids’ journals provided a crucible for ideas of Uyghurness, a role for which the more popular manuscript tradition was apparently ill-suited.7 As David Brophy has shown, it was through the Taranchis of Semireche that the Jadids’ programs first entered Xinjiang, where they found the patronage of well-traveled merchants from the Kashgar area. Not only ideas, but Ottoman and Tatar intellectuals themselves came to Semireche and Xinjiang in the first two decades of the 20th century, accelerating the spread of new notions of history and identity, including both pan-Turkism and narrower nationalisms. The men who would become the first modern thinkers to regard themselves as Uyghurs emerged from these environments.

The “Republican Era” and the Arrival of Uyghur Nationalism

The Manchu-ruled Qing Empire bequeathed to its largest successor state, the Republic of China, claims to sovereignty over more territory than any Chinese dynasty had ever sought. Republican leaders in Nanjing and Beijing sought to maintain the Qing claim to Xinjiang but, in the chaotic decades that followed the fall of the Qing, lacked the power to do so. From the Revolution of 1911 to the Communist takeover in 1949, Republican governments exercised almost no de facto authority over the region. Remarkably, at the end of this long period of semi-autonomy, punctuated by coups, rebellions, and briefly independent states, the Communists were able to firmly reattach Xinjiang to China proper. By the time they had done so, the notion of a Uyghur nationality, uniquely connected to the province of Xinjiang, had a firm foothold among Altishahri and Taranchi elites, as well as in legal and bureaucratic systems.

The fall of the Qing in 1912 had hardly any more transformative effect on daily life than did the provincial integration schemes that had preceded it. This continuity seems to have survived in large part thanks to the efforts of Yang Zengxin, a Qing official who maneuvered himself into control of Xinjiang and ruled the province until 1928. Yang was happy to preserve the fiction of subservience to the Republican governments in Beijing and Nanjing while he pursued his own goals for Xinjiang, which included securing not only his personal power but also the long-term continuity of China-based rule. He frequently cited the distinctive ethnocultural landscape of Xinjiang in order to shield his territory from interference by the center and, following the deeper currents of Qing governance, worked to accommodate difference rather than to dissolve it.8 In many cases, Yang’s administration actually served to shield the Altishahris and Taranchis from change—for example, by attempting to slow the development of Jadidist and pan-Turkic reform movements within Xinjiang.

However, two important political changes would combine with the cultural innovations to quicken the pace of change. First, the 1911 revolution brought an end to financial support from interior China. Even in the final tumultuous years of the atrophied Qing Empire, Beijing was sending annual subsidies of over one million taels of silver to maintain the Xinjiang government, down from highs around eleven million in the 1870s.9 This support disappeared entirely with the collapse of the Qing, leaving Republican-era rulers to fund their operations from local resources. The populace felt this most directly in the form of high taxes and an unstable economy, as governors issued fiat money in huge quantities. The second important change was the growing influence of neighboring powers, particularly the Soviet Union. This resulted both from the central Republican government’s inability to project power in Xinjiang, and from Xinjiang governors’ willingness to play the Soviets against the central government. The Altishahris and Taranchis thus saw dire poverty, political instability, and, in the 1930s especially, increased interaction with intellectuals on the Soviet side of Central Asia, who offered them ideologies that promised prosperity and communal strength.

Throughout the 1920s, Taranchis and Kashgaris in the Soviet Union engaged in complex struggles over their identity, debates that were shaped by the Soviet Union’s growing push to formalize its various “nationalities” and by the contingencies of community power struggles, rivalry between Taranchis and Kashgaris, international politics, and intellectual networks. Eventually, despite many false starts and alternative visions, the notion of a Uyghur nationality emerged victorious, comprising the Taranchis and Kashgaris of the Soviet Union, along with the Altishahris and Taranchis of Republican China. The Uyghur idea made its way back to Xinjiang despite the isolationist impulses of Yang Zengxin and his successor, Jin Shuren (r. 1928–1933).

In the early 1930s, political and economic chaos opened a door for proponents of the Uyghur idea to embed their sense of nationhood in a new state, one which would become a touchstone in future debates about the political future of the Uyghurs. Xinjiang’s economy continued to groan under the provincial government’s increasingly extractive policies as Jin Shuren tried to survive the administration’s growing debt crisis. At the same time, the governor moved to abolish the various indigenous leadership positions that had survived from the Qing Empire and replace them with Chinese-dominated bureaucracy. The removal of the wang (king) of Qumul (Hami) sparked the first in a series of rebellions, which touched off years of chaos in Xinjiang. Chinese Muslim armies from Gansu entered the fray, as did Kirghiz, Kazakh, and Mongol forces from inside Xinjiang, as the Soviets made shorter, though often decisive, interventions at the behest of the weak provincial government. At times, the governor controlled little more than the environs of Urumqi, while various short-lived administrations carved up the rest of Xinjiang’s territory. In the immediate sense, the significance of these events to the people who would come to be known as Uyghurs was the prevalence of violence and the lack of economic security. The longer-term shadow, however, was cast by a fledgling state that gained control of the southern Tarim Basin in the autumn of 1933 and collapsed in February of 1934. That state is known today as the first East Turkestan Republic (ETR), though it was known variously in its own documents as the “Turkistan Government,” “Turkish Islamic Republic of East Turkistan,” “Republic of East Turkestan,” “Republic of Uyghuristan,” and, before it controlled Kashgar, the “Islamic Republican Government of Khotan.”10

The striking of coins in the name of “Uyghuristan” suggests that important members of the new government supported the Uyghur idea in one form or another. Moreover, these coins may mark the first time a form of the word “Uyghur” was published in Xinjiang, circulating the Uyghur notion by means of private economic transactions. However, a slightly different flavor of nationalism won out within the new state, and “Uyghur” does not appear in other ETR documents, including the constitution and larger denomination coins. From the capital of Kashgar, the ETR instead promoted the notion that its citizens were members of both the “Turk people” and a nation called East Turkistan, though not necessarily Uyghurs.11

Soviet Ascendance and Uyghur Reformers

A version of the Uyghur idea finally found full institutional support under the next Xinjiang governor, Sheng Shicai (r. 1933–1944), who, though he nominally served the Nationalist regime (of the Republic of China) in Nanjing, was so strongly dependent on Soviet assistance that he has been called a Soviet puppet. The Chinese Muslim army of Ma Zhongying conquered Kashgar, the capital of the East Turkestan Republic (ETR), in February 1934, and in July of that year, the town was turned over Sheng Shicai. In the fall, an article appeared in the government-controlled, Turki-language, Kashgar newspaper, New Life, urging its readers to start calling themselves Uyghur, which it said was “our noble national name.” It was a sign of things to come. Following the Soviet model, which classified “nationalities” and codified official versions of their supposedly distinct cultures, Sheng officially designated the Altishahris as “Uyghurs,” alongside thirteen other groups, including the Taranchis. Sheng also established cultural promotion organizations for the officially recognized nationalities, and supported script reform to formalize the written language. These policies were intertwined with efforts to extend bureaucratic control deeper into local social systems. For example, the cultural-promotion organizations took control of stipends for religious personnel at shrines and mosques, managing the religious land trusts (waqf) that had previously provided an income source independent of the state.

The Sheng era saw a dramatic transformation in Uyghur literary and intellectual spheres. Early in his rule, Sheng promoted newspaper publishing, which spread rapidly in Xinjiang. Though public discourse was subject to Stalinesque systems of state control, Sheng’s support for the development of Uyghur nationalism and literature allowed the newspapers to act as agents of change. In addition, the 1930s flowering of newspaper culture seems to have been the first effective penetration of the printed word in Altishahri-Uyghur culture.12 At the same time, Sheng promoted the exchange of ideas with Soviet Central Asia, going so far as to pay for Uyghurs to study in Tashkent.13 Since the 1920s, Soviet Uyghurs had been developing a national literary canon, and Sheng opened Xinjiang’s doors to this newly codified literary tradition, where it would blend with Xinjiang Uyghurs’ writings to form the foundation of modern Uyghur literature.14

Sheng’s Soviet-inspired governance also initiated a change in the role of Uyghurs in the state. Previous regimes have been broadly characterized as favoring one of two general approaches to colonial rule. The first approach embraced difference through indirect rule and overlapping sovereignties, giving indigenous elites prominent roles at the local level. The second approach aimed for a more bureaucratic, systematic, and consistent administrative structure, staffed almost entirely by Han Chinese.15 Sheng, in his imitation of Soviet administration, combined the two approaches, empowering non-Han officials in a regularized, bureaucratic system, though not, of course, at the very top of the bureaucratic pyramid. As in Stalin’s Soviet Union, those top positions turned out to be quite dangerous, as Sheng later killed off much of the political and intellectual elite, Uyghur, Han, and otherwise, in a series of purges.

Eventually, Sheng Shicai alienated both the Nationalist government in Nanjing and the Soviets, and his position became untenable. Rather than abandon their influential position in Xinjiang, the Soviets supported a new independent state, the second East Turkestan Republic, in three northwestern districts of Xinjiang. While the second ETR had begun as an ethnically charged rebellion, marked by massacres of Han Chinese civilians, its character shifted under the influence of Soviet-educated leaders. Because of its communist ideological connections, the administration is viewed positively in People’s Republic of China (PRC) historiography, where it is called the Three Regions Revolution. For the same reason, the second East Turkestan Republic does not always play the same inspirational role among Uyghur nationalists as the first.

On the eve of the Chinese Communist Party’s takeover of Xinjiang, important changes in Uyghur society were underway, but in most cases, we lack significant scholarship on the extent of those changes. The notion of a Uyghur identity was institutionalized and widely accepted among elites, but it is quite likely that it still had little purchase in the minds of the farmers who made up the vast majority of the Turkic population of Xinjiang. Even some elites, for example, former officials of the East Turkestan Republic who served in the Nationalist government, continued to reject the Uyghur idea in favor of a broader Turkic nationalism that embraced the Kirghiz and Kazakhs. It is unclear whether the new primary schools, which combined Jadid-influenced faculty with Soviet-inspired modernization efforts, had yet made any real dent in the maktap system’s influence. Manuscripts copied after 1933 are rare, but we don’t know whether this is because printing was displacing manuscript culture or because collections were not assembled during those turbulent years.

Nevertheless, it is clear that some changes were monumental. The later 1940s probably saw the high-water mark for Uyghur participation in government in the modern era. Not only was the officialdom of the East Turkestan Republic dominated by Uyghurs, but the contemporary nationalist government, which controlled most of southern and eastern Xinjiang, had under governor Zhang Zhizhong instituted a policy of incorporating more indigenous officials into the state. More generally, from the 1930s onward, change-oriented elites—whether ethnonationalist, Chinese nationalist, communist, or otherwise—were empowered by the state at the expense of conservative elites. For the first time in two centuries, the Turkic peoples of the Tarim Basin were internalizing new foreign textual traditions. Since the turn of the 18th century, Altishahris had continued to consume texts from a wide variety of foreign sources, but almost exclusively texts that had first entered the region before 1700. Now intellectuals were reading and imitating the works of a wide and interconnected Turkic world, embracing Istanbul and Soviet Central Asia. Chinese intellectual currents, on the other hand, were still largely ignored by Uyghur intellectuals, despite prolonged China-based rule. This imbalance would soon be inverted.

Uyghurs in Mao’s People’s Republic of China

Facing certain defeat at the hands of a vastly superior army, the Chinese Nationalist government in Xinjiang surrendered to the Chinese Communist Party without a fight. The East Turkestan Republic leadership, likely under Soviet pressure, agreed to be absorbed into the CCP. When Mao Zedong declared the birth of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949, the entire territory of Xinjiang as it had existed at the demise of the Qing Empire was included in the new state, including the Uyghur-majority regions of the Tarim Basin, the Ili Valley, and the northern oases. As the Chinese Communist Party sought to implement its vision for a new China within the old Qing borders, it would need to co-opt change-oriented elites and bend the social movements of the previous decades to its own purposes. At the same time, the party confronted historically deeper institutions that had hardly been touched, such as landowning mosques and independent judges. In the PRC era, the state assumed a central role in Uyghur society, becoming the main agent of change and far outstripping Sheng Shicai’s efforts at bureaucratic penetration. The PRC was somewhat cautious about reform in Xinjiang for the first few years, but by the late 1950s, the Uyghurs were subject to the same radical and painful transformations as the rest of China, though with less voice in the process, and with a greater distance between the Central Asian world they knew and the Chinese-inflected utopia that Mao envisioned.

Uyghurs probably saw more change in the PRC era—especially in the first three decades—than at any other time, but very little of the historical record from this period is accessible. While the Reform and Opening period of the 1980s is covered by both outsider accounts and a flood of local publications, the Mao era is, for the moment, a historical black hole. Existing scholarship is based largely on newspapers and a handful of secondary works by Chinese scholars who have had limited archival access. Oral histories have the potential to fill in some blanks, but are difficult to collect and dangerous to publish in the political environment of the early 21st century. Nonetheless, some outlines of the Uyghur experience in the Mao era have emerged.

One of the first steps the party took in Xinjiang was to disassemble the Islamic court system, which in both the Qing and Republican eras had largely run parallel to the state legal system and dealt with civil and minor criminal cases. Whereas Sheng Shicai appears to have made efforts to manage personnel in the Islamic courts, the Communists aimed to replace the system wholesale with state institutions. According to one source, Islamic law was banned in 1950, and judges’ seals were confiscated either then or shortly thereafter. One of the changes that seems to have caused Uyghurs special concern was the elimination of traditional Islamic divorce, which was achieved when a husband declared his intent to divorce three times.16

Land reform also came quickly, with lasting effects. Peasants who had been tilling rented lands gained ownership; landowners were dispossessed of their holdings and given class labels that would shape their families’ futures.17 Mosques, madrassas, and shrines had been funded by rent on lands they controlled through waqf trusts, and despite the erosion of waqf holdings during the Republican era, these still accounted for more than 2 percent of the arable land in Kashgar in 1949. The party extended land reform to waqf lands and integrated religious institutions into a state-managed system, providing funding from government coffers, albeit at drastically lower levels.18 Many religious personnel who were excluded from the new official religious system, for example, the shaykhs who oversaw minor shrines, continued to subsist on the donations of worshippers.

The PRC also jumped into the business of Uyghur cultural management, which had been pioneered by the Soviets and pursued on a smaller scale by both Sheng Shicai and the second ETR. As early as 1951, the party began efforts to codify the Central Asian muqam musical tradition as an essentially Uyghur traditional art. Chinese musicologists transcribed Uyghur performances and produced rigid official manifestations of what was a sprawling and improvisatory tradition. Altishahr’s most magnificent mausoleum, the tomb of the Afaq Khoja, was restored in 1956. Researchers traveled the region to collect Uyghur “folklore.” In the late 1950s, the Uyghur language was formalized and given a new Latin script, a reflection of the Chinese Communist Party’s desire to both accommodate and control cultural difference.

The first eight years of PRC rule brought many improvements over the chaos of the Republican era. Peasants, who were probably the majority of the Uyghur population, gained more economic control through land reform. The warfare of the Republican era was left behind, along with the continuous issuing and reissuing of inflationary currencies. The party launched campaigns against “Han chauvinisim,” arguing that indigenous peoples like the Uyghurs should be included in decision-making roles. It is unclear how effective this rhetoric was in general, but in the 1950s Uyghurs were permitted to occupy positions that have since been restricted to Han officials. For the moment, daily ritual and family life continued much as they had since Qing times.

The subsequent upheavals of the Great Leap Forward (1958–1962) and the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) transformed almost every aspect of Uyghur society. Both movements radiated from Beijing and were carried forward primarily by Han Chinese, but their effects were felt deeply by Uyghurs, who now faced a double burden of adaptation. Like all PRC subjects, they were forced to reshape socioeconomic relations along the lines of Mao’s utopian visions. At the same time, they faced an openly assimilationist agenda from authorities in Xinjiang, who aimed to resolve the “nationalities question” by forcing Uyghurs to conform to Chinese cultural norms.

In Xinjiang, the door was opened wide to the factionalism and capriciousness of China’s Mao-era politics by the Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957–1959, in which more than a thousand Uyghur officials were purged for “local nationalism” or perceived association with the Soviet Union. This campaign unfolded alongside the Religious Reform Campaign, which began the process of fully dismantling Uyghur religious institutions and practices. Religious Reform was followed by the Great Leap Forward, which not only brought economic disaster and, in many cases, starvation, but also tore apart Uyghur social structures. Collectivization upended household organization, and communal meal preparation prevented important daily rituals and customs of hospitality. By the height of the Cultural Revolution, publicly recognizable Islamic practice had become almost impossible. Islamic schooling was gone; mosques were converted to party offices; religious texts were confiscated or destroyed; and shrine veneration could only be carried out in secret. Although the open factional battles of the Cultural Revolution had been fought largely by Han Chinese students, officials, and soldiers in Xinjiang, the radical cultural policies shared by all factions made most Uyghur social forms illicit.

Mao-era policies also created a momentous demographic shift, as Han settlers and refugees from interior China flooded into Xinjiang, increasing the province’s Han population tenfold. From 1953 to 1964, for example, the proportion of Han Chinese in Xinjiang climbed from 6.1 percent (299,000) to 32.9 percent (2,445,400).19 Many of the migrants were integrated into the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), or bingtuan, an idiosyncratic organization originally consisting of demobilized soldiers from both the Communist and Nationalist armies. The XPCC accounted for over a quarter of Xinjiang’s economic output for most of the Mao era, and brought large amounts of new land under cultivation. Xinjiang’s cultivated land area nearly doubled between 1955 and 1960.20 At the same time that some two million Han Chinese settlers flowed into Xinjiang, both independently and with state encouragement, Uyghurs and Kazakhs fled to the Soviet Union by the tens of thousands, and to Afghanistan by the thousands. Yet, as significant as these demographic changes were, it is important to remember that they affected the north of Xinjiang far more than the south. The steady influx of Chinese settlers would eventually deprive the Uyghurs of their outright majority status in the administrative unit of Xinjiang; nonetheless, Uyghurs remain to this day the majority ethnicity in their home region of the Tarim Basin (Altishahr)—that is, the southern half of Xinjiang.

From Revival to Re-education Camps

In the Mao era the state assumed an unprecedented role in Uyghur lives. Many Uyghurs resisted, as have people under outsider rule everywhere. A local notable’s seal carved after the confiscation of seals, a manuscript hidden or copied surreptitiously, a vague government report on an armed uprising, and a pilgrim’s graffito commemorating a secret shrine pilgrimage all testify to continuous resistance. But these acts ran counter to a tide of wrenching state-led social re-engineering that carried nearly everyone along with it. With Mao’s death and the eventual ascendance of Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening policies, Uyghurs had more space to drive Uyghur history, despite remaining shut out of political leadership positions. Many Uyghurs used that respite to revive old ways of living, while others crafted vigorous new nationalisms that infused Qing-era traditions with modernist aspirations forged in the cross-border interactions of the first half of the century.

Among the most visible changes was a massive grass-roots effort to reconstruct a religious public sphere. Between 1980 and 1990, Uyghurs built thousands of new mosques. Pilgrims began to visit shrines again. The state gave up on the Latin alphabet, and a modified form of the old Arabic alphabet flourished. Some Uyghurs who could read the old manuscripts found surviving specimens and copied them in modern orthography using ballpoint pens. Religious schools were established to supplement the state’s education. Even party members and cadres found space to practice their faith, though largely in private.

The 1980s also saw an explosion of publications in the Uyghur language. Literary journals supported a wide range of Uyghur writing: old manuscript texts recovered by scholars, terse modernist poetry, short stories and plays by authors who had studied in the Soviet Union, and memoirs. Historical novels and biographical novels created a selective nostalgia for supposedly glorious moments in what came to be seen as a millennia-deep Uyghur history. These works repackaged the hero worship of manuscript-era hagiographies in nationalist forms that had taken root among Uyghurs before PRC rule.21 By the end of the 1980s, Uyghurs had access to a rich body of texts that implied a glorious Uyghur nationalist heritage.

This cultural florescence took place in an atmosphere of strong economic growth. After two decades of economic lurches both forward and backward, Xinjiang’s economy entered the 1980s at a size not much different from what it had been in 1960. By contrast, in the course of the 1980s, gross domestic product per capita jumped by 139 percent. Existing scholarship gives us little sense of how much this affected Uyghurs. The 1980s must have seen a significant shift in Uyghurs’ economic lives, as small-scale mercantile activities became more permissible. The vast majority of Uyghurs were (and still are) oasis farmers, but before PRC rule many farmers depended on trading at weekly bazaars. The fate of these institutions during collectivization is unknown, though suppression seems likely. Their return to the prominence they hold today must have benefited from the loosening of economic restrictions in the 1980s. In any case, Uyghurs’ economic activities probably accounted for only a small part of the rapid growth of the 1980s. The state continued to dominate the formal economy in Xinjiang, making up a larger share than the national average. Extractive industries accounted for most of the industrial sector, with oil at the forefront, while the bingtuan dominated commercial agriculture. Both extractive enterprises and the bingtuan have tended to employ very few Uyghur workers.

Uyghur political action became more visible during the reform era, eventually convincing PRC officials that Uyghur resistance posed a special threat. Reports of protests, sometimes violent, were common from 1980 onward, and some of the protestors called for an independent Uyghuristan or Islamic state.22 A 1990 uprising in Baren, a village near Kashgar, had particularly strong effects. According to government sources, demonstrators chanted Islamic slogans and later attacked police with firearms and homemade bombs. The state these demonstrators and attackers confronted was a newly wary one, with a party elite that was still nervous after the Tiananmen protests and massacre of 1989. They viewed the Baren uprising as a sign that religious revival threatened Chinese Communist Party control of Xinjiang, and responded by limiting mosque construction and private religious education throughout the region.23 Shortly thereafter, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the establishment of independent states such as Uzbekistan raised questions of potential independence for Uyghurs to new prominence. The Uyghurs were beginning to be seen as threats to the territorial integrity of the PRC, both in China and abroad.

The Uyghur activist Urkesh, who is better known by his Chinese name of Wu’erkaixi, reminds us that Uyghurs continued to play important roles outside Xinjiang. A Beijing-born Uyghur, Urkesh was among the most prominent student leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen protest, and he has continued his pro-democracy advocacy from exile. Uyghurs, such as Urkesh’s family, were drawn to cities in China proper for various reasons. The few elites who attained professional status or party positions interacted with Beijing as the pinnacle of power, often moving through the city’s Zhongyang Minzu Daxue, a university established particularly for minority groups. Others came for economic opportunities, braving racism and strict controls on urban residency to establish small trading businesses or to sell specialized foods.

The sphere of Uyghurs’ interactions spread beyond China’s borders as well. In addition to older diasporas in South Asia and Russian Turkistan, Uyghur exiles started durable communities in the Hejaz and Turkey during the mid-20th century. In the reform era, Uyghurs reconnected with family members in these groups. They also began consuming more cultural products from abroad, including, to mention just a few examples, American popular music, Bollywood films, Turkish foods, and religious texts from the Middle East and South Asia. Diasporic political organizations based in Turkey, Germany, and the United States had little direct influence on Uyghurs in Xinjiang, but they fought to make the status of Uyghurs in China a political issue of global concern.

Despite the Chinese state’s increasing restriction of Uyghur speech, worship, and movement from the 1990s onward, Uyghurs continued reconstructing parts of the society that had existed before the PRC, while incorporating external influences and elaborating new forms of indigeneity and ethnonational belonging. Shrine festivals attracted thousands of pilgrims and featured a wide range of resuscitated traditions, such as wrestling matches, historical recitations, and ecstatic Sufi dance. The pace of Uyghur literary publication increased even further, both of edited “classics” from the pre-PRC era and new works. Readers began to interpret some of these works as supporting an independent Uyghur state, a notion that had clearly re-emerged as an important, if illicit, strain of Uyghur political thought.24

Some Uyghurs began adopting foreign ideals of Islamic piety, which brought them more closely in line with modern cosmopolitan Islams centered on the Middle East. This has often been characterized as a general increase in Islamic piety among Uyghurs; however, it is more accurately seen as a transformation of the ways piety is expressed, one that is concentrated in urban areas. Even so, the penetration of this change was partial. As of 2013, a look at the underground market for uncensored Islamic texts in Kashgar found indigenous Uyghur books of incantations and dream interpretations, a Mujaddidi Sufi book, and Arabian treatises on the unicity of God—expressions of wildly differing traditions—selling side by side.25

Along with the increase in restrictions on Uyghur lives, reported acts of open resistance increased during the 1990s, though it is possible that this reflects more reporting rather than more protest. In addition to demonstrations and riots, bombings and assassinations are reported for nearly every year in the 1990s. The nature and targets of violent resistance varied widely, and the motives of attackers are impossible to ascertain. The state, however, was clear that ideologies were at the root, both religious extremist and separatist. In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, in the United States, China tied its security campaigns in Xinjiang to the United States’ “war on terror,” successfully lobbying for a purported Uyghur terrorist group to be included in the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. The designation of “terrorism” would henceforth feature prominently in PRC discussions of Uyghur resistance. In turn, the terrorist designation drew the interest of the international press.

In the 21st century, violent Uyghur resistance has remained common, though most of it does not fit mainstream definitions of terrorism. The vast majority of incidents are loosely organized attacks on state targets, such as party offices and police stations, often growing out of local grievances. The pace of such small-scale attacks reached a level in the early 2010s that has sometimes been characterized as a low-level insurgency. True terrorist attacks, in which civilians are targeted for political ends, have occurred less frequently but received greater attention. The Chinese public and PRC leaders were particularly shocked by the 2014 Kunming train-station attack, which resulted in the deaths of thirty-one civilians and four Uyghur attackers. Because it occurred outside Xinjiang, the attack suggested that tension between Uyghurs and their Chinese rulers might be a national problem, rather than a regional one.

More significant within Xinjiang was the earlier Urumqi uprising of 2009, which began as a peaceful protest and deteriorated into the indiscriminate killing of Han civilians. Han residents of Urumqi responded with their own protests (and killings of a smaller number of Uyghurs), demanding that the government crack down on the Uyghurs. The government obliged, accelerating the creation of new restrictions aimed particularly at Uyghurs, as well as broad security measures that sometimes affected the Han as well. The Internet was shut down completely throughout the Xinjiang, Uyghurs in the south were required to get travel passes, and the People’s Armed Police flooded into Xinjiang, setting up ubiquitous checkpoints and guard stations.

Under Xi Jinping, who has cracked down on dissent and strengthened the security apparatus throughout China, southern Xinjiang became one of the most tightly monitored regions in the world. Uyghurs in certain areas continued to require passes to travel; Uyghur passports were confiscated regionwide; all cars were order to be fitted with GPS tracking devices; residents were required to turn in all electronic devices for police inspection; all phones were required to carry government spyware; and checkpoints were given elaborate new buildings, often equipped with facial recognition technology. At the same time, the state continued to operate on the assumption that less Islamic devotion would lead to greater state control. Various Xinjiang governments (in some cases local, in others provincial) outlawed personal names deemed too Islamic, confiscated Qurans published before 2012, jailed anyone who taught the recitation of the Quran, banned public prayer, and shut down the few remaining shrine festivals. The state matched these controls with a shift toward assimilationist policies. In various counties, Uyghurs have been offered cash rewards for interethnic marriages, and Uyghur-language education has been banned or restricted.

Chen Quanguo, the regional party secretary appointed in August 2016, led the Xinjiang government in a hard turn toward mass detentions, purges, and the expansion of security personnel, creating an environment that both Uyghurs and outside observers likened to the Anti-Rightist Campaign and the Cultural Revolution. In Chen’s first year of office, the Xinjiang government advertised over 90,000 new security positions and constructed thousands of new “people’s convenience” police stations, spaced no more than five hundred meters apart in urban areas.26 In early 2017, non-Han residents of Xinjiang began disappearing into political re-education camps. A local security official estimated that in the Kashgar prefecture alone 120,000 Uyghurs had been sent to re-education camps by January 2018.27 The disappearances affected all parts of Xinjiang and all levels of Uyghur society, including farmers, musicians, wealthy businessmen, and academics. Even Uyghur members the security forces were targeted in a widespread campaign to find and punish so-called “two-faced” officials: those who outwardly followed the state’s regulations but secretly harbored anti-party feelings. It is hard to say to what degree the new policies have affected Uyghur resistance, but they certainly have not decreased Uyghur discontent with Chinese rule.

Discussion of the Literature

The first English-language, academic monograph to include the word “Uyghur” in its title appeared in 1997;28 it was followed in the next two decades by over a dozen more. However, the study of the history, culture, and language of the peoples who came to be known as Uyghurs is much older. Numerous European scientific and political expeditions to Xinjiang in the late 19th and early 20th centuries resulted in publications that attempted to document virtually all aspects of life in the region, both historical and contemporary. For many topics—for example, the documentation of Shi’a legends attached to local shrines—these remain the most recent publications. Notable authors from this period include M. Aurel Stein, Fernand Grenard, Martin Hartmann, and Owen Lattimore.

The turmoil of the 1930s dramatically reduced outsiders’ access to Xinjiang, and the Communist takeover ended it almost entirely. In the Soviet Union, where Uyghurs had become an official nationality, a field of Uyghur studies (uigurovedenie) emerged, with a home in the Kazakh Academy of Sciences.29 This field aimed to formalize and glorify the language, culture, and history of the Uyghurs, and proceeded from the assumption that the Uyghur national myth of direct descent from the ancient Uighurs was true. On the Chinese side, this kind of scholarship was slower to develop. Although the new People’s Republic of China invested early in the classification of ethnic groups and the formalization of their languages, a thorough examination of Uyghur history and culture would have to wait until the reform era of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Both Soviet and PRC scholarship have had limited influence on Anglophone scholars, the former due partly to language barriers, and the latter due to the entanglement of political imperatives and scholarship.

During the long period of Xinjiang’s inaccessibility, two scholars publishing in English managed to produce seminal work on the Uyghurs, though neither made much use of the term. Over a period of fifty years, Swedish Turkologist Gunnar Jarring published numerous translations and analyses of what he termed “Eastern Turki” literary texts. By including in this category texts with clear roots in Persian and Arabic traditions, Jarring was the first person to create a well-rounded picture of the Altishahri literary culture as it flourished in the manuscript world. Joseph Fletcher, working at Harvard in the 1970s and 1980s, authored several important essays based on Chinese, Turkic, and Persian sources. These essays, especially his chapters in the Cambridge History of China, provided a basic political and social history, which would serve as the foundation for all later history of Qing Xinjiang.30

With China’s opening in the 1980s, outside scholars were again able to learn the Uyghur language and study Uyghur culture directly. Justin Rudelson’s pioneering 1997 ethnography, Oasis Identities: Uyghur Nationalism along China’s Silk Road, was based on an extended stay in Turpan, and it set the direction of the field. The book’s central argument, that local oasis identities are an important obstacle to Uyghur national consciousness, is now looked upon with skepticism by most specialists. However, Rudelson had set the terms of the debate, and questions of identity continue to dominate the field of Uyghur studies. His work was also important for introducing the Anglophone world to modern Uyghur literature and Uyghur-language historiography.

Much of the ensuing research has attended to the relationship between the Uyghurs and the Chinese state. For scholarship focused on the PRC era, this is not surprising, given the heavy presence of the state in Uyghur lives. Gardner Bovingdon, for example, addressed the question directly in his study of Uyghur resistance and Chinese policy, The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land. And the Chinese state brought its weight to bear directly on foreign scholars in response to the publication of Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland, an overview of the history, demographics, politics, and culture of the province. Interpreting this edited volume as a separatist attack on Chinese sovereignty over Xinjiang, Chinese officials began denying travel visas to all the authors involved. Many of them remain unable to visit China; yet their book remains the standard introduction to contemporary issues in the region.31

Though Uyghur identity and the Chinese state are treated at length in almost every study, this generalization hides much topical diversity. Rachel Harris and Nathan Light have each published important studies of Uyghur music, for example, and Jay Dautcher produced a fine, intimate ethnography exploring masculinity in a Uyghur neighborhood in Ghulja. One seminal work stands entirely outside of the identity- and state-focused trend, and that is Ildikó Bellér-Hann’s Community Matters, an almost encyclopedic documentation of “Uyghur” culture in the first half of the 20th century. James Millward’s masterful synthesis, Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang, is framed as a history of the region, but also serves as the standard overview of Uyghur history.32

The last few years have seen an unprecedented explosion of publication on the Uyghurs and Xinjiang, which has opened up several new avenues of research. These books, which Peter Perdue has called the “third wave of Xinjiang studies,” are diverse in their interests,33 though one might connect them by highlighting their attention to transnational connections and their waning interest in the nature of Uyghur resistance to the state. Examples include David Brophy’s Uyghur Nation, the definitive history of the formation of modern Uyghur nationalism; Justin Jacobs’s history of state approaches to ethnic difference in the Republican era, Xinjiang and the Modern Chinese State; Judd Kinzley’s (June 2018) study of Xinjiang’s environmental history, and Rian Thum’s The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History, a study of Uyghur understandings of Uyghur history.34

The recent flurry of publication on the Uyghurs belies continued challenges of access. One basic difficulty is linguistic, a problem rooted in Sinocentric curricula and limited access to Uyghur-language instruction. PRC controls on foreigner residency within Xinjiang have also led to a relative dearth of research from the vantage point of southern Xinjiang, where most Uyghurs live. Most fieldwork-based studies are centered on Urumqi, where it is easiest for foreign researchers to spend long periods of time. The experience of life in Urumqi—an exceptional environment economically, culturally, and demographically—thus has a distorting influence on many more general depictions of Uyghur culture and history. In the Chen Quanguo era, research inside Xinjiang has become all but impossible, as contact with foreigners likely increases Uyghurs’ risk of disappearance into re-education camps.

Primary Sources

Published and online catalogues suggest that Chinese state archives possess extremely rich collections of primary sources concerning the modern Uyghurs. Most of these, unfortunately, are inaccessible. Exceptions are the First Historical Archive in Beijing and the National Palace Museum Library in Taipei, which provide a mostly a top-down view from the Qing state’s perspective. However, important collections at the Xinjiang Provincial Archive, the Urumqi Ancient Text Office, and local archives such as Kashgar’s remain closed to foreign and in most cases also domestic researchers. A few smaller public collections in Xinjiang—for example, at Xinjiang University and the Xinjiang branch of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences—have been utilized by foreign scholars in the past, and may be accessible with the right combination of luck, timing, connections, or ingenuity. Fortunately, a formidable number of government documents from the Qing through the Republican period have been published in Taiwan and the PRC.35 Along similar lines, the memoirs of many Republican-era political figures have been published.

For the period before PRC rule, the largest body of sources in Turki, Perisan, and Arabic is the manuscript corpus, spread between the inaccessible Ancient Text Office in Urumqi and several European collections. Manuscript was the main medium of book production in Turki through at least the 1930s, and the several thousand surviving manuscripts from this period include chronicles, hagiographies, epics, romances, poetry, trade manuals, prayer manuals, handbooks of religious obligations, and legal treatises. The largest group outside China is the Jarring Collection, housed at the Lund University Library in Sweden; other notable collections can be found at the Staatsbibliothek, Berlin; the British Library, London; and the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, St. Petersburg. Manuscripts and handwritten legal documents are also commonly offered for sale in antique shops in Xinjiang.

Printed Uyghur-language materials from before the 1980s are in most cases rare items, spread thinly among libraries and private collections around the world. The printed source base is dominated by periodicals for most of the 20th century. Beginning in the 1980s, Uyghur authors were permitted to publish on increasingly diverse topics. Memoirs, novels, poetry collections, literary journals, and editions of manuscript texts were published in great number and variety, often reigniting older textual traditions that had been suppressed in the previous decades. As in other parts of the PRC, Xinjiang was the subject of wenshi ziliao (historical materials) series, both in Chinese and in Uyghur, which includes valuable (though not always reliable) memoir material.36 Printed Uyghur works of the last few decades are sometimes difficult to find outside Xinjiang, although Harvard University’s Widener Library has a notable collection in the ordinary stacks.

The efforts of the British and Soviet governments to influence Xinjiang created their own bodies of records, most of which are accessible. The India Office Records are kept at the British Library, with additional records preserved in Delhi. Soviet records have been used to great effect by David Brophy, whose Uyghur Nation serves as an excellent archival guide. The various missionaries, imperrialists, and archaeologists who came to Xinjiang in the late 19th and early 20th centuries also left behind useful documentation. Particularly notable are the materials created by Swedish missionaries, housed at the Riksarkivet in Stockholm.

Further Reading

  • Bellér-Hann, Ildiko. Community Matters in Xinjiang 1880–1949: Towards a Historical Anthropology of the Uyghur. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2008.
  • Bellér-Hann, Ildiko. Kashgar Revisited: Uyghur Studies in Memory of Ambassador Gunnar Jarring. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2016.
  • Bellér-Hann, Ildiko. Negotiating Identities: Work, Religion, Gender, and the Mobilisation of Tradition among the Uyghur in the 1990s. Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2015.
  • Bellér-Hann, Ildiko, M. Cristina Cesaro, Rachel Harris, and Joanne Smith Finley, eds. Situating the Uyghurs between China and Central Asia. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007.
  • Bovingdon, Gardner. The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.
  • Brophy, David. Uyghur Nation: Reform and Revolution on the Russia-China Frontier. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016.
  • Dautcher, Jay. Down a Narrow Road: Identity and Masculinity in a Uyghur Community in Xinjiang China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2009.
  • Finley, Joanne N. Smith. The Art of Symbolic Resistance. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2013.
  • Forbes, Andrew D. Warlords and Muslims in Chinese Central Asia: A Political History of Republican Sinkiang, 1911–1949. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
  • Harris, Rachel. The Making of a Musical Canon in Chinese Central Asia. Burlington, VT: Routledge, 2008.
  • Jacobs, Justin M. Xinjiang and the Modern Chinese State. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016.
  • Jarring, Gunnar. Literary Texts from Kashghar. Lund, Sweden: CWK Gleerup, 1980.
  • Jarring, Gunnar. Return to Kashgar: Central Asian Memoirs in the Present. Translated by Eva Claeson. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1986.
  • Light, Nathan. Intimate Heritage: Creating Uyghur Muqam Song in Xinjiang. Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2008.
  • McMillen, Donald H. Chinese Communist Power and Policy in Xinjiang, 1949–1977. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1979.
  • Millward, James. Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.
  • Millward, James, Shinmen Yasushi, and Jun Sugawara, eds. Studies on Xinjiang Historical Sources in 17–20th Centuries. Tokyo: Toyo Bunko, 2010.
  • Starr, S. Frederick, ed. Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2004.
  • Stein, M. Aurel. Sand-Buried Ruins of Khotan: Personal Narrative of a Journey of Archaeological and Geographical Exploration in Chinese Turkestan. London: Hurst and Blackett, 1904.
  • Thum, Rian. The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.


  • 1. This article uses the spelling “Uyghur” to designate the modern ethnic group and “Uighur” to refer to the medieval polity after which the modern Uyghurs are named.

  • 2. David Brophy, Uyghur Nation: Reform and Revolution on the Russia-China Frontier (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016), 51.

  • 3. Laura Newby, “‘Us and Them’ in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Xinjiang,” in Situating the Uyghurs between China and Central Asia, eds. Ildikó Bellér-Hann et al. (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007); and Rian Thum, The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), 134.

  • 4. Ildikó Bellér-Hann, Community Matters in Xinjiang, 1880–1949: Towards a Historical Anthropology of the Uyghur (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2008), 344.

  • 5. Brophy, Uyghur Nation, 84.

  • 6. Brophy.

  • 7. The first appearance of the word “Uyghur” in a manuscript source seems to postdate the first print appearance by at least a half-century. No such manuscript reference has been cited in the secondary literature, though it would not be surprising to find one in a manuscript of the late 20th century, by which point printed texts were being reproduced in manuscript form.

  • 8. Justin M. Jacobs, Xinjiang and the Modern Chinese State (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016).

  • 9. James Millward, Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 164.

  • 10. Shinmen Yasushi, “‘Higashi Torukisutan kyowakoku’ (1933–34 Nen) Ni Kansuru Ichi Kosatsu,” Ajia-Afurika Gengo Bunka Kenkyu 46–47 (1994), cited in Millward, Eurasian Crossroads, 203; and Qingxuan Dong and Qixiang Jiang, Xinjiang Qianbi (Ürümchi: Xinjiang Meishu Sheying Chubanshe, 1991).

  • 11. Thum, Sacred Routes of Uyghur History, 189.

  • 12. Thum, 177.

  • 13. Sӑypidin Ăzizi, “Tashkӑntkӑ Berip Oqush,” in Tashkӑntchilӑr, ed. Abdurakhman Abdulla (Ürümchi: Shinjang khӑlq nӑshriyati, 2002).

  • 14. Joshua Freeman, “Literature, Uyghur,” in Pop Culture in Asia and Oceania, eds. Jeremy A. Murray and Kathleen M. Nadeau (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2016), 89.

  • 15. Jacobs, Xinjiang and the Modern Chinese State.

  • 16. Wang Jianping, “Islam in Kashgar in the 1950s” (unpublished paper, n.d.), 5.

  • 17. Cindy Yung-Leh Huang, “Muslim Women at a Crossroads: Gender and Development in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China” PhD diss University of California Berkeley, 2009), 15–16.

  • 18. Wang, “Islam in Kashgar,” 10.

  • 19. Stanley W. Toops, “The Demography of Xinjiang,” in Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2004), 246.

  • 20. Calla Weimer, “The Economy of Xinjiang,” in Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland, ed. S. Frederick Starr (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2004), 169.

  • 21. Thum, Sacred Routes of Uyghur History.

  • 22. Gardner Bovingdon, The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 178–179.

  • 23. Bovingdon, 66.

  • 24. Justin J. Rudelson, Oasis Identities (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998).

  • 25. Author’s field notes, June 2013.

  • 26. Adrian Zenz and James Leibold, “Chen Quanguo: The Strongman Behind Beijing’s Securitization Strategy in Tibet and Xinjiang,” The Jamestown Foundation. Available online.

  • 27. “Around 120,000 Uyghurs Detained For Political Re-Education in Xinjiang’s Kashgar Prefecture,” Radio Free Asia, 000. Available online.

  • 28. Rudelson, Oasis Identities.

  • 29. Ablet Kamalov, “Uyghur Studies in Central Asia: A Historical Review,” Asian Research Trends, n.s., 1 (2006): 3–32.

  • 30. Gunnar Jarring, Materials to the Knowledge of Eastern Turki: Tales, Poetry, Proverbs, Riddles, Ethnological and Historical Texts from the Southern Parts of Eastern Turkestan, vol. IV (C. W. K. Gleerup, 1951); Gunnar Jarring, Literary Texts from Kashghar (Lund: CWK Gleerup, 1980); Joseph Fletcher, “The Heyday of the Ch’ing Order in Mongolia, Sinkiang and Tibet,” in The Cambridge History of China: Volume 10: Late Ch’ing, 1800-1911, Part 1, ed. John K. Fairbank (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1978); and Joseph Fletcher, “Ch’ing Inner Asia c. 1800,” in The Cambridge History of China: Volume 10: Late Ch’ing, 1800-1911, Part 1, ed. John K. Fairbank (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1978).

  • 31. Gardner Bovingdon, The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010); and S. Frederick Starr, ed., Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland (Armonk, NY: Routledge, 2004).

  • 32. Rachel Harris, The Making of a Musical Canon in Chinese Central Asia, 1 ed. (Aldershot, Hampshire, UK; Burlington, VT: Routledge, 2008); Nathan Light, Intimate Heritage: Creating Uyghur Muqam Song in Xinjiang (Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2008); Jay Dautcher, Down a Narrow Road: Identity and Masculinity in a Uyghur Community in Xinjiang China (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2009); Ildikó Bellér-Hann, Community Matters in Xinjiang 1880-1949: Towards a Historical Anthropology of the Uyghur (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2008); and James Millward, Eurasian Crossroads A History of Xinjiang (Columbia University Press, 2009).

  • 33. Peter C. Perdue, “Xinjiang Studies: The Third Wave,” Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review 21 (2016): 137–156.

  • 34. .David Brophy, Uyghur Nation: Reform and Revolution on the Russia-China Frontier (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2016); Justin M. Jacobs, Xinjiang and the Modern Chinese State (Seattle; London: University of Washington Press, 2016); Judd Kinzley, Natural Resources and the New Frontier (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018). Retrieved from; and Rian Thum, The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).

  • 35. Many of these are listed in the following: James Millward, Beyond the Pass: Economy, Ethnicity, and Empire in Qing Central Asia, 1759–1864 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998); Jacobs, Xinjiang and the Modern Chinese State; and Kwangmin Kim, Borderland Capitalism: Turkestan Produce, Qing Silver, and the Birth of an Eastern Market (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016).

  • 36. The Uyghur series are known under titles that include Tarikhi Materiyalliri.