Year: 2013

The Legacy of Ai Qing’s Xinjiang Poetics

“Sometimes the mountains faded into the whiteness of the clouds and it was difficult to distinguish what was snow and what was clouds. Yet some days there were no clouds and the mountains seem to float in the air. This caused me to have a good and proper smile”. –Ai Qing, The Poetic Life, 2007, 67 (Looking south from his labor camp in Shihezi to the Heavenly Mountains) 1. Like the rest of contemporary China, Xinjiang is going through a rapid economic transformation. By simultaneously depoliticizing the economic and encouraging a new ethic of entrepreneurialism, new forms of governance and subsidized development in Xinjiang are drawing waves of rural Han migrant workers from other parts of China. In general terms, these new arrivals are faced with the same uncomfortable environment and displacement that confronted Ai Qing, China’s preeminent revolutionary poet and father of the rabble-rouser Ai Weiwei, when he arrived in the late 1950s. In fact, throughout China’s history new migrants to Northwest China have been forced to resolve whether Xinjiang can be transformed into a home, in …

Climbing the Father of Ice Mountains

In his book The Gift the Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov describes the mountains of Northwest China as a “transparent and changeable setting” where “the dryness of the air produced an amazing contrast between light and shadow: in the light there were such flashes, such a wealth of brilliance, that at times it became impossible to look at a rock, at a stream; and in the shadow a darkness that absorbed all detail.” Since the nineteenth century the mountains of Xinjiang have drawn adventurers with their remote and quiet brilliance high above the desert oases of the Uyghurs. The people who live in those mountains – Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Kazakhs – seem to reflect this quiet dignity; they move with grace, speak in low tones, and act as though trained by survival. Those who come to test their mettle often find themselves deeply impressed by the strong women and men who help them through this atmosphere of rock and sky. A few months ago it was the allure of these bare mountains, and their great height, …

Minor Politics and a Kazakh Singer On “The Voice Of China”

The first time Tasken competed on the TV show The Voice of China, the Chinese version ofAmerica’s Got Talent, he didn’t get through to the second round.But the second time, he sang the song “A Lovely Rose” in Chinese. The judges were so impressed, they asked him to sing it in his native language – Kazakh. Kazakhs in China The second largest Turkic Muslim group in Xinjiang, with 1.5 million people, Kazakhs in China have a long tradition of pastoral herding between high-elevation summer pastures and lower-elevation winter pastures on the northern fringes of the Heavenly Mountains (Tian Shan). But in recent decades, a combination of state policies and the sense of lack which accompanies rapidly imposed development has radically transformed their way of life.Their rangeland was gradually seized by the Production and Construction Corps, a paramilitary established by agricultural Han in China’s border areas as land reclamation and irrigation projects were geared to secure the Chinese-Soviet frontier. This has led many Kazakhs into a more sedentary existence in government housing in small villages, and following the …

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Tragic Comedy and Uyghur Women

The sketch comedy that I outlined in earlier writing ends with a return to proper gender norms: a husband taking responsibility for his wife and children. But before this can take place, Abdukerim’s character is confronted with the wide range of his sins and their social effects. Around the 12-minute mark his partner reminds him that before he “had a big wife, a middle wife, a little wife, old wife, young wife. You had so many wives at a time, that… when you met new girls you forgot about the other ones. And you even had a role in sending them to the streets. You didn’t pay attention to the grieving of your wife and children” (12:24). He continues, “Because of people like you, now people have the perception that all jade-sellers are bad (yaman or ‘immoral behavior’). Don’t do that, brother. Let us live with our faces and chests up (with dignity and honor). We need to have face again.” 1. Structural Violence and Uyghur Women Abdukerim is drawing the attention of his audience to the …