Author: Darren Byler (雷风)

The Best of 2016

It has been something of a slow production year here at the Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia. Dissertation writing, conference travel and website development have taken some time away from producing new content. Yet we did have a chance to be a part of Perhat Khaliq’s first visit to the United States. And over the past year we have published a few new pieces, including a long-form photo essay on the work of the Xinjiang-based Han Buddhist photographer Tian Lin and an in-depth essay on the way Uyghur young people are using  social media to critique government elites and ostentatious displays of wealth. Both of these two projects were two of our top five pieces in 2016. Below is a list of our top five most popular posts for the past year. Thanks as always for reading! 1. Ms. Munirä’s Wedding Gifts: Trolling Uyghur Elite Society Back in April 2016 the daughter of a well-to-do Uyghur border official in Kashgar, a woman known now simply as Ms. Munirä, got married. Like many weddings of wealthy Uyghurs, it …

The Art of the Bazaar: A Photo Essay

Every Friday Muslim migrant men fill the streets surrounding the mosque in the Ürümchi neighborhood of Black First Mountain (Heijia Shan). They come to pray. After the noonday (zohr) prayers and straining to hear the weekly message from the imam, they tuck their rugs under their arms and buy their meat for the week. Thousands come, Uyghurs from the countryside who are in the city working as day laborers in demolition sites or hawking goods on the streets, to perform their ritual ablutions and stroll through one of Ürümchi’s last remaining bazaars. For centuries bazaars and mosques have been a linked ritual space for Muslims in Chinese Central Asia. Following the protests and subsequent violence of 2009, this neighborhood was one of the first areas targeted for urban cleansing. The degraded housing of the nearly 10,000 Uyghur migrants in the neighborhood was leveled. Each family was registered or forced to leave. Those who were not expelled from the city were offered partially-subsidized housing in newly built 20-story apartment buildings as compensation for the loss of their …

Uyghur Sports and Masculinity

Excerpts from an essay on Uyghur sports cowritten by Parhat Ablet and Darren Byler. It first appeared in Pop Culture in Asia and Oceania published by ABC-CLIO/Greenwood (2016). Traditional Uyghur sports can be thought of as two interrelated categories – children’s games, traditional competitions – both of which are played primarily by men and boys. From “goat-pulling” on horseback to “rabbit-pulling” on sleds, Uyghur traditional sports are part of the weave of everyday life from youth to middle-age. Over the past two decades the increase in formal education in the Uyghur homeland of Southern Xinjiang coupled with the spread of television and Internet media has led to a greater popularity of Western sports such as soccer, basketball and boxing. Yet despite the recent overlay of Western sports, the traditional games and competitions of rural Uyghur life continue to play an important, yet diminishing, role in Uyghur masculinity. A prominent feature of Uyghur children’s games is that everyday objects are turned into tools of play. The team sport known variously as chukchuk-kaltek, gaga, or walley (hereafter walley) that is …

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Introducing Living Otherwise

Changes are in store for the Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia thanks to a generous fellowship from the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington. Not only have we moved from Beige Wind to a new site called Living Otherwise and transformed it into magazine-style repository, but we are also developing some new exciting larger-scale projects that highlight the arts and changing cultural systems of the city of Ürümchi and Northwest China more broadly. Over the next year we will be bringing you more long-form essays, such as the recently published piece “Ms. Munirä’s Wedding Gifts,” as well as interactive mapping projects and virtual exhibitions of Xinjiang arts and politics. The first of these larger scale projects is a multilinear photo essay titled “Living Otherwise: Buddhist Photography on the New Silk Road.” The project tells the story of Tian Lin, a Han settler and former monk, who has developed a meditative photo practice among Uyghur squatters in the city of Ürümchi and through this become a major figure in Xinjiang arts scene. …