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Article

Ablet Kamalov

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.

Article

Sebastian R. Prange

Piracy has been an important and persistent feature of Asia’s maritime history. In fact, the largest pirate organizations in all of history were found in Asia. Although often regarded as the antithesis of trade, piracy is actually closely related to the world of commerce. Pirates were themselves often traders (or smugglers) and relied on merchants to outfit their ships and sell their plunder. Despite the obvious and primary economic dimension of piracy, pirates were also political actors. This observation is significant because piracy has traditionally been distinguished from other forms of maritime predation (especially privateering, but also naval warfare) by stressing its supposedly inherently private nature. In Asia, however, the history of piracy is very much defined by its political contexts. Pirates themselves formed polities, whether as part of established coastal communities or in their endeavors to build their own states. What is more, as was the case in Europe, pirates often colluded with territorial states that used them as an instrument of state power, in order to harass and weaken their rivals. The political dimension of Asian piracy has long been overlooked due to the preponderance of European concepts and sources, which tend to depict all Asians involved in maritime predation as mere criminals. More nuanced studies of Asian pirates, especially when based on non-European sources, promise fresh insights into the commercial, social, and political worlds of maritime Asia.

Article

Although frontier studies enjoy a long and robust history in China, a disproportionate amount of attention has focused on North China and its relations with Central and Northeast Asia, while only a handful of historians have paid much attention to the history of South and Southwest China. Those that do invariably offer a narrative that presents Southwest China (the current provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, and the southwestern portion of Sichuan) as unequivocal parts of greater China since at least the end of the 3rd century bce. They accomplish this by selectively including only the events that reinforce inflated notions of Han superiority, while at the same time expunging from the historical records events and episodes that challenge the internal cohesion of this metanarrative and disparage the Han. Throughout China’s long history, they argue, Han from the Central Plain (zhongyuan) region of North China have continuously migrated south in search of land and opportunity, and over time Han cultural practices, centralized and hierarchical political institutions, a sophisticated written language, and a socially differentiated society that generates surplus revenue, have transformed nearly all of the “barbarian” non-Han into civilized Han. What the Chinese metanarrative fails to offer, however, is perspective, for it not only deprives the southwest of its own history, such as a thoughtful examination of the vibrant kingdoms that existed in the southwest, like the Cuan (338–747), Muege (c. 300–1283), Nanzhao (738–937), and Dali (937–1253) kingdoms, to name just a few, but also it refuses to offer a critical examination of how the Chinese empire colonized this territory.

Article

A resurgence of writings on labor in India in the 1990s occurred in a context when many scholars in the Anglo-American world were predicting the end of labor history. Over the last three decades, historical writing on labor in India has pushed old boundaries, opened up new lines of inquiry, unsettling earlier assumptions and frameworks. Teleological frames that saw industrialization leading to modernization were critiqued starting in the 1980s. Since then, historians writing on labor have moved beyond simple binaries between notions of the pre-modern/modern workforce to critically examine the conflictual processes through which histories of labor were shaped. With the opening up of the field, a whole range of new questions are being posed and old ones reframed. How do cultural formations shape the specificity of the labor force? How important are kinship, community, and caste ties in the making of working class lives and work culture? What defines the peculiarities of different forms of work at different sites: plantations and mines, factories and domestic industries, the “formal” and the “informal” sectors? What were the diverse ways in which work was regulated and workers disciplined? What were the ritual and cultural forms in which workers negotiated the conditions of their work? How does the history of law deepen an understanding of the history of labor? Studies on mobility and migration, on law and informality, on culture and community, on everyday actions and protest have unraveled the complex interconnections—global and local—through which the lives of labor are made and transformed.