//A Dialogue of Civilizations? Relational Ethnicity and Islam in China
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A Dialogue of Civilizations? Relational Ethnicity and Islam in China

Dru C. Gladney

This paper is part of Al-Mesbar’s 105th monthly book, which addresses the status of Islam and Muslims in China, from historical, social, religious, and economic. Arab scholars and research institutes often neglect this vital topic due to the complexity of a vast country of 56 ethnic groups, on a land mass the size of Europe. The book addresses the dichotomy between polytheism and Islam in China, and the inherent tension between the two. It also looks to the introduction of Arabic culture to China, by way of popular literature and translation activity which has served as a conduit for it.   

Dr. Dru C. Gladney specializes in the peoples, cultures and politics along the ancient and modern Silk Road—in particular, issues of globalization and transnationalism in China and its close neighbors. Over the last few years, he has engaged in a large comparative survey of nomadic families in Western China, bolstered by in-depth fieldwork with nomadic Kazakhs in the Altai Mountains bordering China and Mongolia.

I suggest in this chapter that identity among Muslims in China, and I think perhaps among many other Muslim minority communities, is not merely the result of state definition, nor can it be reduced to political maneuvering based on the utilitarian goals of certain groups or “civilizations.”  Rather, I propose that it is best understood as a dialogic interaction of shared traditions of Islam with sociopolitical contexts, constantly re-negotiated in each political-economic setting.  This approach will also be seen to shed light on majority-minority relations in general, the ways in which ethnic and religious minorities are not at all marginal to the construction of a country’s national identity.

This approach contrasts strikingly with that of the late Samuel Huntington in his influential thesis regarding the so-called “clash of civilizations.” Rather than a clash, I suggest in this chapter that the history of Islam in China is best described as a dialogue of civilizations.  In this regard I will pay close attention to the meaning of dialogue as developed by the Russian literary critic, Mikhail Bakhtin.

Consider the vast differences separating the position of Mikhail Bakhtin from that of Samuel Huntington.  Huntington wrote:

“The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural.  Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations.  The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics.  The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future” [Huntington 1993b: 22].

By contrast, consider the approach of Mikhail Bakhtin.  Bakhtin wrote:

“Dialogue here is not the threshold to action, it is the action itself. It is not a means for revealing, for bringing to the surface the already ready-made character of a person; no, in dialogue a person not only shows himself outwardly, but he becomes for the fist time that which he is — and, we repeat, not only for others but for himself as well.  To be means to communicate dialogically.  When dialogue ends, everything ends.  Thus dialogue, by its very essence, cannot and must not come to an end” [Bakhtin  1984 (1963): 252].

Two fundamentally different views of dialogue: one absolute and oppositional, the other interactive and inter-dependent.  For Huntington, culture defined the fault lines along which civilizations are bound to conflict in the post-cold war world; for Bakhtin, culture and all aspects of identity are relational, defined and re-defined in interaction with an “Other” in a contingent social sphere.  While both theorists take culture seriously, they approach the subject from positions diametrically opposite: one essentialist, the other contextual.  This chapter, through examining the fault lines distinguishing two “cultures” in China, that of Muslim minorities and the Chinese, will argue that Huntington’s view of culture and civilization is fundamentally misguided, entirely unhelpful for understanding cultural nationalism and ethnic conflict in the modern world, thus joining a large number of critics of Huntington’s thesis.[1]  I will then suggest that Bakhtin’s approach when adapted to understanding cultural and religious identity formation can yield a much more powerful theory ethnoreligious conflict and accommodation in the context of contemporary nation-states, thus contributing to a large literature of support for the wider relevance of Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism to the study of social relations (see Rahim 1994).

Interestingly, the case of Muslims in China, is particularly critical to the “clashed civilizations” thesis.  In developing his original thesis, Huntington specifically singled out Confucian and Islamic civilizations as being fundamentally different than each other, and posing the greatest threat to the West.  In all, Huntington (1993b: 25) identifies “seven or eight major civilizations” in the contemporary world: Western (including both Europe and North America), Sinic (which he originally described as “Confucian”), Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin Americn “and possibly African.”  The greatest threat to the West, Huntington predicted, will come from the Islamic and Confucian civilizations, and the possibility of their forming an anti-Western alliance is Huntington’s greatest fear.  This was spelled out most fully in an earlier article, “The Islamic-Confucian Connection” (Huntington 1993a: 19-23), in which he argued that the basic differences distinguishing European, Confucian, and Islamic (often glossed as “Arab”) civilizations will lead to inevitable conflict and misunderstanding.  Consider, for example, the following statement:

“European communities, in turn, will share cultural features that distinguish them from Arab or Chinese communities.  Arabs, Chinese and Westerners, however, are not part of any broader cultural entity.  They constitute civilizations.  A civilization is thus of the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species.  It is defined both by common objective elements, such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and by the subjective self-identification of people” [Huntington 1993: 24].

What of the Muslim Chinese, however, who claim descent from intermarriages between Arabs (and other Muslims) and Chinese in China over the course of the last 1200 years?  This, of course, raises the subsequent question of biculturalism and multi-culturalism.  If civilizations are defined by cultures that are fundamentally different from each other, what of those caught inbetween, at the interstices of culture, language, history, religion, customs, and institutions?  Or those in the transnational diaspora moving between these so-called civilizations?  If Rey Chow (1993) is correct that the shifting cultures of the diaspora most characterize the post-modern condition, and that writing that diaspora is now one of our most daunting challenges, then the situation described by Huntington must apply to either the modern or pre-modern condition, where one might still imagine cultures and civilizations in relative isolation from each other — though even this requires some imagination.  It also becomes problematic when we consider that many of the most recent clashes in the post-cold war have been within cultures and civilizations, rather than between them, particularly when we consider such civilizations as “Islam”, “Sinic” (which includes North and South Korean conflicts), “Slavic-Orthodox” (which includes, presumably all the former USSR states, except Central Asia, and within the Ukrainian-Russian unresolved conflict over the March 2014 annexation of Crimea).[2]  Remarkably, despite the widespread internal and sectarian conflicts plaguing the modern Middle East since the advent of the various “Arab Springs” in Tunisia in December 2010, the multi-sided conflicts in the region are nevertheless still portrayed by some analysts as “clashes of civilizations” and an on-going war between the “West and Islam.”[3]

Through examining three separate Muslim minority nationalities in China, the Hui, Uyghur, and Kazakh, this chapter will argue the need for a more developed theory that takes into account not only the heterogeneity of culture, but also the contingency of ethnic and religious identity in the modern nation-state.  This is particularly critical for the next step of negotiation, which is not between cultures or civilizations, but between nation-states in a multi-polar, de-centered post-cold war world.  This is precisely the step that Huntington’s remarkably facile theory of cultures and civilizations does not allow us to do, a theory that is surprisingly essentialist and dichotomous in a world where cultures are increasingly fuzzy, inter-dependent, and mutually enmeshed.

It is interesting that earlier studies of the Muslims in China also took the Huntington absolutist position: that these people had to choose between two fundamentally opposite civilizations, Islamic or Chinese.  Raphael Israeli (1978, 1984) has repeatedly argued that Muslims in China, due to their diasporic predicament had two choices: rebel against the Chinese order and establish their own Islamic state, or assimilate.  In fact, they did neither.  This chapter will seek to suggest why.

Upon the founding of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, an interesting dialogue began between representatives of the State apparatus and those who saw themselves as belonging to the “nationalities.”  Innumerable groups who, according to Max Weber’s (1978 [1956]:389) definition of ethnicity, “entertained a subjective belief in their common descent,” applied to the representatives of the Socialist governments for recognition as official minority nationalities.

After protracted negotiations that involved an enormous program of state-sponsored investigations by anthropologists, linguists and local officials, 103 groups in the former USSR and 54 groups succeeded in convincing the state that they were legitimate ethnic groups.  The legal ratification of their ethnic status effectively excluding countless other applicant groups from recognition (Fei 1981:60).  In the USSR, Russians were regarded as the majority “nationnost”, while in China, the Han were officially designated as the majority group, occupying over 50 percent and 91 percent of the total populations respectively.  In the 70 years since that process was begun, only one other group in China, known as the Jinnuo (or as the Kachin in Thailand), manage to convince the state of its viable existence, recognized in 1979; despite the fact that 15 groups in China until recently were under official application and over 749,341 people were listed as “unidentified” in the 1990 census (Renmin Ribao 14 November 1990:3).

In a discussion of the process of “ethnic identification” in China, Fei Xiaotong, the prominent Chinese social anthropologist, outlined the Marxist-Stalinist criteria for recognition by the state as an ethnic group.  In order to be identified, each group must convince the state that it possesses: a common language, locality, economy or psychological make-up, what Stalin later glossed as “culture.”  I write “convince” here, because as I will demonstrate below, these so-called objective criteria for ethnic identification are inherently negotiable: they are used by both sides in the debate for legitimacy.

Fei Xiaotong’s description of the process of identifying several questionable nationality groups assumes these four criteria and generally begins with the study of their linguistic history (Fei 1981:67).  The main agency empowered to decide upon the granting of minority nationality status to applicant groups, the State Commission for Nationality Affairs, summarized its reliance upon Stalin’s criteria:

“Stalin’s nationality criteria are a universal truth (pubian zhenli), they have been proved through a long period of actual investiga­tion….After Liberation, our country in the work of nationality research and nationality identifi­cation, accurately utilized Stalin’s theory, causing the nationality identification work to meet with success” (State Commission 1983:39).

These four criteria are still viewed as normative for defining nation­alities in a socialist society such as China (Jin 1984:67).[4]  For ethnic identification in China, the state defines what traditions qualify as language, locality, and culture — no matter what the group’s subjective belief in its existence as a people, or in the legitimacy of these cultural traditions.  The Chinese state imagines what qualifies as cultural tradition for the communities in question, and they must respond to that depiction in terms of their own traditional notions and imaginations of identity.  These often conflicting imagined identities are then negotiated in each socioeconomic setting, revolving upon symbolic representations of state, self and other.

Dialogic Ethnic and Religious Identities

This chapter places national identity in a field of contemporary and historical social relations, particularly with regard to certain interacting social groups and newly invented nations in Central Asia, Turkey, and China.  Given the long history of interactions with powerful others and colonizing empires on the Eurasian steppe, a purely relativist or, at the other extreme, a de-historicized essentialized position with regard to identity formation is particularly questionable.  Both extremes ignore issues of power, hegemony, “internal” colonialism, and cultural economy which have long dominated the region.

It is the articulation of the multiplicities of these identities in exile within the context of where these identities have been expressed, engaging in the “borderline work of culture” (Bhaba 1994: 7) most often in the modern nation-state, that these identities become salient.  Through examining three peoples portrayed as, and who now speak of themselves as “nations” (but only one of whom recently acquired a nation-state, and only one other as yet lays claim to such a state), I want to suggest three styles of discourse about ethnic nationalism that, to follow Stallybrass and White’s formulation (in their richly written, The Poetics and Politics of Transgression), pose fundamental transgressions of the contemporary nation-state, and intriguing challenges to it.  These are discourses of diaspora, indigeneity, and transhumanity elaborated by the social groups now known as Hui (Dungan), Uyghur, and Kazakh.

I argue that nationalism itself is not just an imagined idea, but represents certain styles of imagined representation, a mode of representation that contributes to a grammar of action now most often defined by interactions within or resistance to the nation-state.  As Hobsbawm (1992:4) argues, “Nationalism is a political program…Without this programme, realized or not, `nationalism’ is a meaningless term.”  Nationalism is not arbitrary, but neither is there any core content to it, no essential essence that is not shifted and redefined in internal and external, often dialogical, opposition, using powerful symbols that John Comaroff (1987) has accurately described as defined by  “totemic” relationality.  And, as Duara (1995) has noted, all nationalisms and ethnicities are not necessarily by-products of or contained within the nation-state construction.

It was through interviews with many of the people I spent time with in China whom I met again as exiles, or the better term, émigrés in Turkey, that I began to think much more about the implications of relational alterity for what Rey Chow (1993) calls the diasporic condition, and its destablizing challenge to the contemporary nation-state.  I spent the 1992-93 academic year as a Fulbright Research Scholar in Istanbul following up on interviews I had in 1988 with refugees who had come there from China in the 1940s.  In 2001-2004 I made regular trips to Central Asia and visited frequently with Muslims who had families ties to Western China. This was after spending 3 years in China conducting fieldwork between 1982-1986 primarily among the people known as Hui, but with brief trips to Uyghur and Kazakh areas in China during that time, followed by fairly extensive fieldwork in Xinjiang in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with later regular trips back to Muslim areas in other parts of China, most recently to Xi’an in August 2014.  Spending most of my time moving between the boundaries of nation-states among the peoples that cross them, rather than “squatting” (Geertz 1989: 23) in one “timeless, self-contained” village, neighborhood, town, or state (the preferred hierarchy of structural anthropologists) follows Richard Fox’s (1991: 1) maxim to “work in the present,” or Bhabha’s call, among the “interstices”, across the boundaries by which the groups I am interested in most define themselves.

The spate of what might be termed “Soviet nostalgia” in Foreign Affairs and other policy fora which complain of the re-emergence of “tribalisms” in Central Asia and Eastern Europe now that the “peace-keeping” hand of the Soviets has been withdrawn, is misplaced, if not dangerously wrong.[5]  These peoples were profoundly different than they had been before their domination by the centralizing states of Eurasia, and their multi-faceted identities are anything but tribal.  Those suggesting pan-Turkism and pan-Islamism as an explanatory panacea for recent events in these regions have equally failed to note expressions of Turkic or Islamic solidarity are often only one aspect of these complex identities in certain circumstances.  In fact, the outcome of the desiccation of post-Soviet Central Asia has been most profoundly disappointing to the pan-Turkists and pan-Islamicists.  The welcome translation of Olivier Roy’s (1994) The Failure of Political Islam demonstrates that for Afghanistan (where Islam certainly has not failed), as well as much of Central Asia, the “perception of Islam and Muslim societies as one, timeless cultural system” does violence to both contemporary social movements sweeping these regions, as well as the nature of Islam itself.  This chapter attempts to suggest why these pan-ideologies may be even less compelling in the post-Soviet era than in the pre-Soviet period when they arose.

The Muslim Chinese: Making Hybridity

Owen Lattimore, who lived and traveled for many years in Northwest China, found that the ambiguity of the Muslim Chinese, known as Hui in China and Dungan in Central Asia, often made them suspect:

In times of political crisis, Moslem Chinese in Sinkiang are invariably caught on one or the other horn of a dilemma.  If they stand with their fellow Moslems, sooner or later an attempt is made to reduce them to a secondary position and to treat them as “untrustworthy” because, in spite of their Moslem religion, they are after all, Chinese.  If they stand with their fellow Chinese, there is a similar tendency to suspect them of subversion and disloyalty, because, it is feared, their religion may prove politically more compelling than their patriotism [Lattimore 1950:119, ftnt 20].

Embedded within the ethnoscape of China and Inner Asia, the Muslim Chinese, known as Dungan in Xinjiang and much of Central Asia, and as Hui in China, are distributed widely.  According to the official nationality census and literature in China, the Hui people are the second most populous of China’s fifty-five recognized minor–ity nationalities, who altogether comprise almost eight percent of the total population.  The Hui are the most widespread minority, inhabiting every region, province, city, and over ninety-seven percent of the nation’s counties.  It is noteworthy that while the Hui may represent a small fragment of the population in most areas (with the exception of Ningxia), they often make up the vast majority of the minority popula–tion in Han dominated areas.  This is also true for most of China’s cities where the Hui are the main urban ethnic group.   It is conventionally thought that China’s Muslim minorities are concentrated in the northwest corner, near Soviet Central Asia.    Surprisingly, after Ningxia and Gansu, the third largest population of Hui is found in Henan Province, in central China.  Their sixth largest concentration is in Yunnan, and there are over 200,000 of them in Beijing, the nation’s capital.

There is also extensive economic and occupational di–versity found among the Hui, from cadres to clergy, rice farmers to factory workers, school teachers to camel drivers, and poets to politicians.   In the north, the majority of Hui are wheat and dry rice agriculturists, while in the south, they are primarily engaged in wet-rice cultivation and aquaculture.  Since the collectivization campaigns of the 1950s, most Hui were prevented from engaging in the small private businesses that were their traditional specializations.   Hui mediation allows them to run successful restaurants throughout China, and across its borders, which I have visited in Thailand, Bishkek, Almaty, Istanbul (Çin Lokantisi), and even L.A., where there are four.

The people now known as the Hui from the beginning have been the diaspora, the immigrant in China.  While Robert Young (1995: 27) has rightly argued that the current multi-culturalist celebration of hybridity “repeats and reproduces” a racist paradigm of sociobiological evolutionism, we must remember that in China, discourses of identity, ethnicity, and nationalism have been strongly influenced by deeply held Chinese notions of race.  In China, “Race… would create nationhood,” according to Dikötter’s (1992: 71) cogently argued thesis, and it had much to do with Han Chinese representations of Hui otherness.  Even their name, “Hui” in Chinese can mean “to return,” as if they were never at home in China and destined to leave.  Descended from Persian, Arab, Mongolian, and Turkish Muslim merchants, soldiers and officials who settled in China from the 7th to 14th centuries and intermarried with Han women, largely living in isolated communities, the only thing that some but not all had in common was a belief in Islam.  Until the 1950s in China, Islam was simply known as the “Hui religion” (Hui jiao  )–believers in Islam were Huijiao believers.  Until then, any person who was a believer in Islam was a “Hui religion disciple” (Huijiao tu ).

Nevertheless, they are recognized by the state as one nationality, the Hui, and they themselves now use that self-designation in conversations with other Hui and non-Hui.  Like their unique Islamic architecture and art, Hui combine often, as they say, “Chinese characteristics on the outside, and Islamic ones on the inside,” with mosques appearing like Buddhist temples on the outside yet embellished internally with Quranic passages.  In a painting of the Chinese term for “longevity” (shou) popular with many Hui and mass-produced by the China Islamic Society for public profit, Quranic suras are written so as to form the very Chinese ideograph for “longevity” itself, beautifully illustrating the dual nature of the Muslim Chinese.  This hybridity, both Chinese and Muslim, resident stranger, is critical to their self- and other-representation.  As Hobsbawm (1991: 70-71) surprisingly predicted: “No doubt Bosnian and Chinese Muslims will eventually consider themselves a nationality, since their governments treat them as one.”

As I have argued elsewhere, these alterior relations are best perceived as “dialogical” rather than “dialectical” (Gladney 1991: 76-8), insofar as strict dialectics (Hegelian vs. Maoist) are generally thought to move in a certain direction, always negating a past relation, rather than dialogic interaction that can move back and forth, up and down, depending on the nature of the interaction.[6]   Here we are merely tracing a “chain of stereotypical representation” (Bhabha 1994: 251), and seeking to outline in rather static terms constantly shifting relations and multiplicities of perceived identities that mask many levels of social simultaneity.[7]   As Rachel Moore (1994: 127) observes, these fluctuating alterities can become so stereotypically fixed and represented that essentializing regimes, elites, and anthropologists often engage in “marketing alterities” for remarkably different purposes.  The hierarchy of alterior opposition emerges within the context of social relations.  As Thomas (1994: 171) has argued, these are often “strategic reformulations” and do not represent “eternal properties of self-other relations” divorced from particular sociohistorical moments.[8]

“This interstitial passage between fixed identifications opens up the possibility of a cultural hybridity,” Bhabha (1994: 4) has suggested, “that entertains without an assumed or imposed hierarchy.”  Essentialized identifications makes the construction of Hui Muslims as hybrid possible, and at the same time, threatening to purifying projects.  If we examine the case of the Hui Dungans described above, it becomes clear that Hui represent themselves as such depending on the nature of their interaction with others.

Thus, Beijing and Shanghai Hui differ in language, custom, and locality, often leading to disruptive and non-hierarchical competitive business relations, often only until a non-Hui enters the scene.  At this moment, the Beijing and Shanghai Hui may unite as “Hui”, and so-on up the scale of interactions.  When Hui or Dungan move outside of China, their “Chinese”-ness may become enhanced in interactions with non-Chinese, or “Muslim-ness” in interactions with non-Muslims.  Indeed, the very nature of the Hui as a “nationality” is based on Chinese nationality policies that recognized them as an official minzu (), giving them legal status.  This initiated a process that I have described elsewhere in which a Muslim people became transformed into a minority nationality (Gladney 1991).

Outside the confines of the Chinese nation-state, it should come as no surprise that the Hui will begin to regard themselves less as a nationality and emphasize other aspects of their identity, such as Islam or their Chinese language.   This helps to understand how the Hui at the Çin Lokantisi in Istanbul often related to others simply as Muslims, hoping to over-ride differences between “Turk” and “Chinese”.  Here I should note, there is nothing determinative in these relations.  They are merely reflections of what I have observed in the field.  The hierarchy of relations is not fixed; it is determined by the local context of difference, as defined by specific constellation of stereotypical relations, of hierarchy, power, class, and opposition, that are often shifting and multifaceted, but never arbitrary.  Thus, even in China, there have been times where Hui have united with Han Chinese against other Hui, when it was in their interest to do so, often downplaying their Muslim identity, in favor of cultural, ethnic, or linguistic similarities to the Han Chinese with whom they sought to share practical interests.  The history of Gansu and Xinjiang is filled with these shifting power-alliances (see Forbes 1986), where brother united with brother, and sometimes with the Chinese, against a cousin who was often a rival Hui warlord (Lipman 1984).  The relational and dialogic approach seeks to map out the significant fault lines of relation, opposition, and nodes of hierarchy — a heuristic way of depicting this phenomenon.  It does not, of course, pretend to have predictive or universal, dehistoricized explanatory value.

The Uyghur: Indigeneities of Place, Space, and State Recognition

The following statement was told to me by a Uyghur CITS tour guide at the ancient Astana underground tombs outside of Turpan:

The Uyghur people are the descendants of a high civilization of Central Asian nomadic people who had a kingdom based here in Turfan.  The elegant paintings and wrapping in this tomb date to the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.) and are comparable in beauty and sophistication.  A mummy in the Xinjiang Provincial Tombs also found in this area dates over 6000 years old and proves the Uyghur people are even older than the Han Chinese [Personal Interview, March 1985].

Chinese histories notwithstanding, every Uyghur firmly believes that their ancestors were the indigenous people of the Tarim basin, now know as Xinjiang.  This land was “their” land.  Nevertheless, I have argued elsewhere  the constructed “ethnogenesis” of the Uyghur (Gladney 1990).  In his popular history of Xinjiang, Jack Chen (1977: 100) noted the re-introduction of the term Uyghur to describe the Turkic inhabitants of Chinese Turkestan.  While a collection of nomadic steppe peoples known as the “Uyghur” have existed since before the 8th century, this identity was lost from the 15th to 20th centuries.   It is not until the fall of the Turkish Khanate (552-744 C.E.) to a people reported by the Chinese historians as Hui-he or Hui-hu that we find the beginnings of the Uyghur Empire described by Mackerras (1972).  At this time the Uyghur were but one collection of nine nomadic tribes, who initially in confederation with other Basmil and Karlukh nomads, defeated the Second Turkish Khanate and then dominated the federation under the leadership of Koli Beile in 742 (Sinor 1969:113).

Gradual sedentarization of the Uyghur, and their defeat of the Turkish Khanate, occurred precisely as trade with the unified Tang state became especially lucrative.  Samolin (1964:74-5) argues that the stability of rule, trade with the Tang and ties to the imperial court, as well as the growing importance of establishing fixed Manichaean ritual centers, contributed to a settled way of life for the Uyghur tribes.  Sedentarization and interaction with the Chinese state was accompanied by socioreligious change: the traditional shamanistic Turkic-speaking Uyghur came increasingly under the influence of Persian Manichaeanism, Buddhism, and eventually, Nestorian Christianity (Sinor 1969:114-15).  Extensive trade and military alliances along the old Silk Road with the Chinese state developed to the extent that the Uyghur gradually adopted cultural, dress and even agricultural practices of the Chinese (Mackerras 1972:37).  Conquest of the Uyghur capital of Karabalghasun in Mongolia by the nomadic Kyrgyz in 840, without rescue from the Tang who may have become by then intimidated by the wealthy Uyghur empire, led to further sedentarization and crystallization of Uyghur identity.

The gradual Islamicization of the Uyghur from the 10th to as late as the 17th centuries, while displacing their Buddhist religion, did little to bridge these oases-based loyalties (Rudleson 1998).  From that time on, the people of Uyghuristan centered in the Turfan depression who resisted Islamic conversion until the 17th century were the last to be known as Uyghur.  The others were known only by their oasis or by the generic term of Muslims (Haneda 1978:7).   With the arrival of Islam, the ethnonym “Uyghur” fades from the historical record.  Instead, we find the proliferation of such localisms as “yerlik” (persons of the land), “sart” (caravaneer), “taranchi” (agriculturalists from the Tarim basin transplanted to Yili under Qian Long), and other oasis-based localisms.

During the Republican period, Uyghur identity was again marked by factionalism along locality, religious and political lines.  Andrew Forbes (1986), in his detailed analysis of the complex warlord politics of Republican Xinjiang, finds important continuing distinctions between the three macro-regions of Xinjiang: the northwestern Zungaria, southern Tarim basin, and eastern Kumul-Turfan (“Uyghuristan”) areas.  Rudelson’s (1998) important volume confirms this persistent regional diversity along four macro-regions, dividing the southern Tarim into two distinct socio-ecological regions.  The Uyghur were recognized as a nationality in the 1930s in Xinjiang under a Soviet-influenced policy of nationality recognition that contributed to a widespread acceptance today of continuity with the ancient Uyghur kingdom and their eventual “ethnogenesis” as a bona fide  nationality (see  Chen 1977; Gladney 1990; Rudleson 1988).  This nationality designation not only masks tremendous regional and linguistic diversity, it also includes groups such as the Loplyk and Dolans that had very little to do with the oasis-based Turkic Muslims that became known as the Uyghur (see Svanberg 1989b; Hoppe 1995).

It is the argument of this chapter that diversity and factionalism within the Uyghur reflects a dialogic hierarchy of relationality common among all social groupings.  Uyghur are divided from within by religious conflicts, in this case competing Sufi and non-Sufi factions, territorial loyalties (whether they be oases or places of origin), linguistic discrepancies, commoner-elite alienation, and competing political loyalties.  It is also important to note that Islam was only one of several unifying markers for Uyghur identity, depending on those with whom they were in significant opposition at the time.  For example, to the Dungan (Hui), the Uyghur distinguish themselves as the legitimate autochthonous minority, since both share a belief in Sunni Islam.  In contrast to the nomadic Muslim peoples (Kazakh or Kyrgyz), Uyghur might stress their attachment to the land and oasis of origin.  In opposition to the Han Chinese, the Uyghur will generally emphasize their long history in the region.

The Kazakh: Nomadic Nostalgia and the Power of Genealogy

When two Kazakhs who do not know each other meet, they make their acquaintance by giving the lineage to which they belong and their closest patrilineal relatives.  In East Berlin Kazakhs from Turkey established contact with Kazakh guest students from the Mongolian People’s Republic studying in the German Democratic Republic.  As the Xinjiang Kazakhs the Kazakhs from Mongolia belonged to Orta Jü z and generally also to the same lineages that are found in Turkey.  In some cases they have found common kinship relations which even led to organized meetings in East Berlin between relatives coming from Turkey and visitors from Mongolia [Svanberg 1989a: 116].

Ramazan Kubilay of Zeytin Burnu, Istanbul, once related to me that he was a direct descendant of Genghiz Kahn, whom he strongly believed was a Kazakh nomad.  Indeed, for most Kazakhs, nomadism is only a distant memory to which they look in ethnic nostalgia.  Robert B. Ekvall concluded his classic ethnography of Tibetan nomadic pastoralism, Fields on the Hoof, with the following dire prediction: “In the framework of communist doctrine and experience…there is no logical and acceptable place for the nomad” (Ekvall 1968:94).  He was completely accurate with regard to the former Soviet Union, where among the entire population of over 7 million Kazakhs there are now only a few semi-nomadic pastoralists remaining in the most remote desert regions.  His predictions for China, though not unreasonable at the time, were proven false.  Indeed, the last few years have witnessed a resurgence of nomadic pastoralism in some grassland areas to the extent that the ecological balance of these zones has become threatened through over-grazing.  Yang Li and Hsin-i Wu of the Gansu Grassland Ecological Research Institute reported that the privatization of land-use and herd stocks in China came at the same time that the “free-market system was instituted in China and the government decreased the price control measures.  Since then, the cost of animal products has soared; this has resulted in the overgrazing of China’s grasslands far beyond carrying-capacity” (Li and Wu 1990:1, emphasis in original).

While it has yet to be demonstrated that Kazakh pastoralists in the Altai mountains have posed any threat to the grasslands of the alpine meadows or valley floors, Svanberg and Benson (1988: 200-205) have documented a resurgence of traditional nomadic pastoralism with the free market reforms.  As descendants of the Turkish Khanate that dominated the Mongolian Steppe in the 6th century A.D., the Kazakhs are pursuing a style of nomadic pastoralism that is derived from these Turkish ancestors, who, according to the late Joseph Fletcher (1979:24), “developed steppe nomadism in its final form, the form in which the Mongols later adopted it.”   Even as Kazakh nomadism disappears from the Central Asian steppe, debate has raged in the former Soviet Union over the role of religion and Turkism in defining Kazakh national identity.  While some intellectuals argue for the role of Islam in defining Kazakh identity, others maintain that it is only pan-Turkism that can unite the peoples of the steppe (see Saray 1993: 16-17).  These endless debates have marred the important role of nomadism for Kazakh national identity, the idea of a nomadic past that unites Kazakhs transnationally from China to Central Asia to Turkey, among a people for whom, according to Martha Olcott’s study, “traditional Kazakh culture defined a man through the animals he owned, making private ownership of livestock almost the definition of what it was to be Kazakh” (Olcott 1987: 248).  While Russian-speaking urban Kazakhs in modern Almaty certainly do not wish to become nomads, I argue that a kind of “nomadic nostalgia” nevertheless characterizes much current discourse regarding the re-discovery of their pastoralist past, a resumed interest in pre-Islamic Kazakh belief systems, an urge to preserve and discover “pure” Kazakh nomadic traditions in the Altai Mountains of China, a continued lament over the tragedy of Stalinist sedentarization, and this discourse impedes to some extent the construction of a contemporary “Kazakhstani” identity that includes non-Kazakhs.

In the Altai mountains of China, with the pervasiveness of market economies in China and the former Soviet Union, and the increasing contacts of these Kazakhs with the large immigrant community in Turkey, the role of animal husbandry and Kazakh identity is resurfacing as an important factor in changes in their socioecological nexus (Kazakh 1987).  During interviews with Kazakh immigrants in the Zeytin Burnu district of Istanbul (see Gladney 1990; Svanberg 1989a), I found a population that largely defined itself in terms of its burgeoning leather and tanning industry, with leather fashion boutiques run by extended Kazakh networks in Istanbul, Paris, London, Berlin, Stockholm, and New York.  Now that more unrestricted travel has been taking place between Turkey, Kazakhstan, and China (there are direct flights from Istanbul to Urumqi, Istanbul to Almaty, and Almaty to Urumqi, which I flew for the first time May 1993, as well as the Eurasian rail connection between Urumqi and Almaty, which I first traveled in October 1995), Kazakhs once separated by artificial political boundaries are regularly trading and exchanging ideas and commodities at an unprecedented extent.

The continued salience of “nomadic nostalgia” to contemporary Kazakh identity in Kazakhstan is clearly demonstrated by their recently selected national stigmata: the flag of Kazakhstan, which has the famous flying horses beneath the interior dome of the yurt on a field of blue sky.

In my interviews with Kazakh pastoralists in the Southern Pastures in 1987, 1992, and 1995, and later among the Kazakh nomads of the Altai mountains near Fuyun County (in 2002 and 2003), I found that whereas a traditional Kazakh herding unit (known as an auylI) had the mutual participation of all members in a wide-range of tasks, each household of the clan in the post-collectivist period divided up the various tasks of nomadic pastoralism: herding, marketing, leather processing and rug-making.  This was almost completely abolished during the Chinese collectivization campaigns of the 1960s and 1970s and the de-privatization of the herds, just as under Stalin in the 1920s and 1930s.  There was no inherent incentive to care for the animals when the state controlled the profits, and traditional shared work roles were reassigned to specific collective enterprise tasks.  The traditional household and auyl economies were dismantled.  Now that there has been a return to traditional nomadic pastoralism in China and the private ownership of animals one would expect a resurgence of traditional household and auyl economic organization.  However, unlike the traditional Kazakh social structure as outlined by Alfred Hudson (1938) and Lawrence Krader (1963), one now finds that often each yurt will perform specialized tasks for the entire clan or auyl:  one household will be responsible for herding, another for marketing, and another for production of certain leather goods, crafts, or rugs.  While this may not be the rule for all Kazakh auyls of the Altai, it represents a new form of household economy and social organization that is perhaps due to the collectivized experience of the 1960s and 1970s.  These households are also becoming tied into the local and transnational economies through the marketing of their products.  This reorganization of traditional household economies may be one factor in the increased herd sizes reported in the Altai and will be an important aspect in the changing socioecology of the region (Banks 2002).

The Kazakhs of Kazakhstan and Turkey look to the nomads of the Altai as their living cultural ancestors.  Understanding of this nomadic way of life will assist in determining the evolving nature of Kazakh national identity.  It is a way of life that is resurgent, albeit in a somewhat altered form, in China, while passing away elsewhere.  It is clear that in reciting the oft-memorized genealogies among the Kazakhs, nomadism and its cultural by-products loom large as an important factor in their representation of Kazakh identity.  For the Kazakhs, the tracing of genealogy is a much more powerful force in their identity construction than we have found for either Hui or Uyghur.  For Kazakhs, their identity is represented as segmentary in principle.  For the Hui, a generalized notion of descent from foreign Muslim ancestors is important for contemporary identity.  It does not really matter to modern Hui if these ancestors may have been Arab, Persian, or Turk, only that they were Muslim, migrated to China, and maintained their distinctive identities.  For the Uyghur, knowledge of genealogy seems to be important only as it relates to the land, as proof of early Uyghur settlement in the Tarim oases, prior to the Chinese or other nomadic Turks.  The keeping of detailed genealogies, according to my Uyghur informants in Xinjiang and Turkey, is something the Chinese like to do, not them.  Indeed, it is Kazakh preoccupation with genealogical minutiae that not only influences mate-selection and nomadic nostalgia, but may also contribute to an increased awareness of identity.

At the highest level, most Kazakhs among the Saqabay knew they were descendants of the Orta Jü z (middle) (mistranlated “Horde” or in Turkish, “orda”, which refers to the original tribal military formations).  At the level Kazakhs refer to as “tayipa”  (from the Arabic, tayifa), which Svanberg (1989a:115) translates as “tribe” and Hudson (1938: 19) as “uru” (Krader 1963 as “ru”) they identified with the Kerey.  At the next level of ru, or “lineage” (Svanberg 1989a: 115), they traced their lineage to the Zantekey.  Yet many Kazakhs call all of these levels juz  or ru, and there is no real consistency.  At the base is the emphasis upon migration groups known as “auyl” (or “awl” Hudson 1938:19), which would have been comprised of different households, related by these complicated descent lines.  It was clear, however, that a Saqabay would rarely marry a Barzarkul or Tasbike, and only with great reluctance marry outside of the Zantekey line.  As Svanberg notes, beyond the Kerey, there was not much knowledge of specific connections to other Orta lineages.  This knowledge is increasing, however, with frequent travel to Central Asia, where Kazakh members of the Ulu (or “Great”) Orda are primarily concentrated.  Interactions traditionally would move up the scale from household to auyl to lineage.  Now, there is specific interest only at the lineage and above level, since migration groups have changed dramatically as noted above.  It is noteworthy that distinction from Uyghur and Hui only takes place at much higher levels of interaction, revealing a much higher range of relations than has been described for Uyghur or Hui.  Kazakh preoccupation with genealogy is reflected in their more detailed scale of relational identity.[9]

Genealogies travel well.  Kazakh notions of transhumance based on the auyl that trace to the roots of nomadic descent lines also extend far beyond any contemporary configurations of the nation-state.  It allows Kazakh networks that extend throughout Central Asia, China, Turkey, and Europe.  It finds its representation on the Kazakh and Kyrgyz flags.  As Charles Scott has argued:

Genealogies are ways of allowing differences, discontinuities, and the priority of exteriority and spatial imagery while one comes to know various ordered regions of human life [Scott 1990: 57].

 Dialogic Identities

This chapter has attempted to provide an approach to dialogic and relational identity that seeks to understand different configurations of identity across among the Muslim minority peoples of China known as Hui, Uyghur, and Kazakh.  It is clear that in some cases the oppositional relations described above may not always pertain — one could find examples, say of instances where Hui and Uyghur have united against Kazakh interests in Xinjiang or even Almaty — yet the move here is toward a more contextualized, relational approach to identity formation and expression in which imagination, representation, and subscription play important roles in identity formation, as opposed to essentialized “tribal” or relativized “situational” formulations, or clashes between broad “civilizations.”

The dialogic relational approach has attempted to describe the context of “both/and” Muslim identities in China: how it is, say, a person who calls himself a “Turkestani” can be both Kashgari and Uyghur, Muslim and Turk, Chinese and Central Asian.  In China, all of these groups are Chinese citizens, and travel on a Chinese passport, whether they like it or not.   The goal then becomes not any essentialized attempt at a final definition of the meanings of these representations (i.e., what  is a Uyghur), but an examination of the conditions of dialogue and relationality (i.e., when is a Uyghur and with whom are they being contrasted).  As this chapter has argued, being Uyghur is not as meaningful for younger émigrés in Istanbul, nor was it between the 15 and early 20th centuries, but it certainly has become relevant for the 8-9 million Oasis-dwelling Turkic people who have been labeled “Uyghur” since 1934 as a result of nation-state incorporation, great game rivalries, and Sino-Soviet nationality policies.    This model also suggests a recipe for ethnic and religious conflict prevention and resolution, how it is, say, President Nazarbayev can seek to build a “Kazakhstani” identity that includes both Kazakhs and Russians, and both “Orta” and “Ulu” Kazakh tribal members (many Chinese Kazakhs are suspicious of Nazarbayev, claiming that he favors members of his own Kazakh lineage, the Ulu”, over the “Orta” line, who are mainly from China and Southern Kazakhstan).

These identities are particularly called into question once people move across national borders and become members of the transnational diaspora (see Chow 1994: 99-105).   The project then becomes not any essentialized attempt at a final definition of the meanings of these representations, but an examination of when they come to the fore, and with whom they are asserted.  In this regard, they should be regarded as “dialogic identifications” that often change in relation with the states and peoples with whom they are in relation or opposition.  It is entirely possible to find threats to our common humanity, global challenges, that can cause us to rise above our ethnic, national, tribal, and even religious identities.  These threats include global warming, disease (HIV/AIDs, the ebola virus, etc.), poverty, energy and water conflicts, etc.  By re-focusing on these common threats, humanity might conceivably ignore lesser conflicts and unite to build more peaceful solutions to regional and national conflicts.

It is clear that we must attend to the nature of shifting national identities in these regions, and the impact of changing international geo-politics.  But geo-politics are not enough, as these processes of identity formation and re-formation cannot be understood without attention to historiography and cultural studies.  For Bakhtin (1981 [1975]: 84ff), this interaction and vitality is the essence of dialogue.   It is also what engenders movement and ethnoreligious change on both sides.  As the dialogue evolves, hopefully new light will be shed on these emergent identities, the nature of the majority nationality itself, and the relevance of ethnicity to understanding the modern Eurasian nation-state.

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[1]   See particularly the rebuttal issue to Huntington in Foreign Affairs Fall 1993 (Vol. 72, No. 4) which contained critical readings by Fouad Ajami, Kishore Mahbubani, Robert Bartley, Liu Binyan, Jean Kirkpatrick, and others.  Richard Cooper (1994:9) launched the general critique by arguing that conflict arises not between cultures, but between rivals for political control, which occurs “within as well as between civilizations.”  Liu Binyan (1994: 20) notes the so-called Confucian civilizations on either side of the Formosan Straits have many more issues dividing them than ideologies uniting them.

[2]   Charles Maier (1994: 10) argues that the “Islamic challenge (will) be one that is ultimately fought within the borders of its own civilization”, which though reifying “Islamic” civilization, at least admits that the potential for conflict between Muslim groups is at least as great as tensions between Muslim and non-Muslim, as the Iran-Iraq and Gulf Wars evidenced.  The Malay Muslim scholar, Chandra Muzaffar (1994) suggests that reifying “Islamic” civilization as unified or predominantly Arab, also neglects the fact that the largest Muslim populations today are spread across the multi-national populations of South and Southeast Asia.

[3] Samuel Huntington’s (1996) phrase “Clash of Civilizations” is still widely invoked to explain conflicts between the West and Islam. See the trenchant critique of Roger Cohen’s New York Times article, “Islam and the West at War” (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/17/opinion/roger-cohen-islam-and-the-west-at-war.html?_r=0; Accessed 28 March 2015)  by Robert Wright, “The Clash of Civilizations that Isn’t” The New Yorker Magazine 25 February 2015 (http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/clash-civilizations-isnt). Accessed 30 March 2015.  Also see the rejection by John Cassidy that the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris on January 7, 2015 represented such a clash, “Charlie Hebdo and the ‘Clash of Civilizations’” The New Yorker Magazine 8 January 2015 (http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/charlie-hebdo-clash-civilizations) Accessed 29 March 2015.

[4]  The publication in Minzu Yanjiu (Nationality Research) (1986) of several papers given at the 1986 National conference in Shanghai where Stalin’s principles were discussed reveal that, though the principles were beginning to be questioned for the first time, they are still held as most appropriate for China. The Peking University anthropologist and Hui scholar, Rong Ma, has argued that the entire concept of “minzu” (“ethnicity” or “nationality”), should be reformulated in order to prevent a Soviet Union-style break-up in China, de-politicizing the policy and re-translating the term minzu from “nationality” to “ethnic group” (Ma 2007: 2).

[5]   In an interesting paper, David Prochalska (1995) has suggested that a kind of “imperialist nostalgia”  helps to account for the popularity in France of Algerian Orientalist post-cards (then and now).  The rise of nationalist and essentializing projects today might reflect a “primordialist nostalgia” for purist communal origins that helps to explain the resurfacing of the term “tribe.”

[6]    As Taussig notes, identity is constantly constructed in imitation of and resistance to an often imagined “other”, creating sameness-es and differences in mimeotic interaction:  “…mimesis registers both sameness and difference, of being like, and of being Other.  Creating stability from this instability is no small task, yet all identity formation is engaged in this habitually bracing activity in which the issue is not so much staying the same, but maintaining sameness through alterity” (Taussig 1993: 27).

[7]    In this sense, Eriksen (1993) is correct to stress relationality and relativity.  The problem is that he neglects to place stress upon the context of the perception of difference, assuming it almost always to pertain.  For Eriksen, everyone is ethnic, whether they like it or not.  “Virtually every human being belongs to an ethnic group,” Eriksen (1993: 11) decides for us, “whether he or she lives in Europe, Melanesia, or Central America.”  This ignores the relevance and irrelevance of ethnicity, its historicity, and why, say, majorities (such as the “whites” in my Introductory Anthropology class, or the “majority” Han in China, or dominant Turks in Turkey, have a hard time thinking of themselves as “ethnic”).

[8]  The strategic nature of this scheme is revealed in the rather apt Bedouin proverb: “I against my brother, my brother and I against our cousin, our cousins and us against the outsider.”

[9]  In an interesting paper on “Ethnic Composition in Xinjiang”, Thomas Hoppe (1995) presented a strikingly similar hierarchy of opposition among the Kyrgyz pastoralists of southwestern Xinjiang.  It is interesting that while Kyrgyz and Kazakh preserve a fascination for lineage and genealogy as former nomadic pastoralists, this is not the case for the Uyghur groupings and Hui groupings discussed in this chapter.  In a fascinating parallel, Uradyn Erden Bulag (1993: 47) demonstrates in his groundbreaking thesis that contemporary Mongols in Mongolia are reviving their genealogy and clan names (obog) which had been lost under Soviet influence.

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