On the Eastern Periphery of the Muslim World: fieldwork in Xinjiang, Northwest China
(University of Copenhagen)
Paper short abstract:
The paper explores the achievements, possibilities and limitations of empirical research among the Uyghur, Turkic speaking Muslims in Xinjiang, one of the largest and most conflict-ridden regions of China.
Paper long abstract:
Situated in the far north-western corner of China, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has been attracting increasing scholarly attention internationally ever since the region became accessible for researchers in the early 1980s. Like the rest of China, this vast area has been targeted by a variety of "reform" policies and is presently undergoing rapid transformation. The Uyghur, a 10 million strong Turkic-speaking Muslim minority who constitute the dominant indigenous group in Xinjiang, have been included in the Chinese polity for centuries but continue to retain very close cultural affinities with the Turkic-speaking Muslims of Central Asia. Their persistent resistance to Beijing's aggressive integrating and homogenizing policies (comparable to that of the Tibetans) renders social science research very sensitive. In spite of the difficulties (which will be documented in the paper) research on and in Xinjiang is pursued today with more vigour than ever; some speak about an emerging "Xinjiang Studies", comparable to "Modern Tibetan Studies". Only by focusing on less sensitive topics such as kinship and social support can anthropologists gain access to the field and attempt to evade political constraints on research, which are unlikely to diminish in the foreseeable future.
The Future of the Anthropology and Anthropologists of the Contemporary Middle East and Central Eurasia (The Anthropology of the Middle East and Central Eurasia Network)