Dimensions of Uyghur Displacement and Challenges to Scholarship

James Millward (Georgetown University)
Kelly Hammond (University of Arkansas)
James A. Millward
Kelly Hammond
Posvar 5702
Start time:
26 October, 2018 at 11:00
Session slots:


Whether one subscribes to the official Chinese explanation that it arises from virulent, imported ideology, or accepts the critics' view that the Chinese state itself has created or exacerbated it—Xinjiang and the Uyghurs clearly are clearly in a state of on-going, acute crisis. One prominent aspect of long-term crisis are the many displacements, demographic, political and cultural, that it entails. The crisis is, moreover, reflected in intensifying difficulties in researching the situation, challenges that go beyond methodological to become political and ethical. The four papers in this panel explore four different dimensions of displacement, mobility, and conflict. Mukeddes Omer asks whether and what kinds of Han migration to Xinjiang, to the bingtuan and elsewhere, are linked to inter-ethnic strife with the regions' Uyghurs. Is Han settlement among¸ or apart from, Uyghurs more likely to engender conflict? To do this she must work creatively with the superficially ample but awkwardly aggregated state statistics on Han migration and settlement in segregated or integrated Xinjiang communities. Sean Roberts fights upstream against torrents of Chinese propaganda, media framings and Islamophobia to argue that recent involvement of Uyghur militants with Al Qaeda in Syria resulted not from supposed attractiveness of jihadist messaging, but rather from push factors driving Uyghurs out from China by the thousands, thus planting seeds of the very problem PRC authorities claim to want to avoid. Elise Anderson alerts us to the recent displacement of Uyghur soundscapes—music and other audio culture—from metropolitan Urumchi, which has left behind bland political paeans and the shrill susurrus of securitization. State policies are thus reshaping the acoustic along with the physical environment of Xinjiang. Anderson's work reminds us of the challenges of fieldwork in Xinjiang under ever-tightening controls: where free expression is impossible, without access to interviewees or out of fear for their safety, she listens to sounds rather than words. Chiara Olivieri brings these concerns to the study of Uyghur diaspora narratives, not only telling us their stories, but self-reflexively questioning the social scientist's role in recording and relating them. The effort reveals the global ubiquity of colonizing discourse, but points to some suggestions towards epistemological escape from the dilemma.