Accepted paper:

Sinophobic Sentiments: Uyghur Emigres in the Late Years of the Sino-Soviet Rift


Gulnisa Nazarova (Indiana University)
Gardner Bovingdon (Central Eurasian Studies, Indiana University)

Paper abstract:

This paper addresses the experiences of the Uyghur emigres from Xinjiang in Soviet Republics of Central Asia, focusing on the ways in which connections to a Uyghur homeland manifested during the later years of the Sino-Soviet rift between the 1960s and 1980s. Based on oral interviews conducted in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan in 2016-2018, the current study is part of a larger oral history project devoted to understanding the individual experiences and larger significance of Uyghur migration from Xinjiang (PRC) to Soviet Central Asia in the middle of 20th century. The period of late 1960s through the 1980s witnesses the nadir of Sino-Soviet relations. Many Uyghurs who migrated to the Soviet Union in politically-charged period of the 1950s and 1960s recall extreme Sinophobia as the defining characteristic of the 1970s-80s. Oral testimony attests to the emotional and physical resonance of these memories. As one interviewee observes, "The Soviets were really concerned about the Chinese invasion and the possibility of the World War 3." However, the fear of impending violence was not necessarily experienced as a negative or traumatic phenomenon. The Soviet vilification of China and resulting preparations for open conflict intersected with Uyghur feelings of attachment and longing for their homeland. As an interviewee noted, "We wanted this war, we hoped this will bring us independence." Initial findings suggest that individual experiences varied widely, but a close sense of connection to the Uyghur homeland across the Sino-Soviet border was a prominent recurring theme. As participants grow old and the shadow of the Soviet Union fades, emigres are more willing to discuss experiences and perspectives that are not well-documented in other formats. Oral history represents a critical method for studying the Uyghur diaspora.

panel HIS-08
Oral Histories: Uyghur, Tajik, and Uzbek disrupted lives