Author: Darren Byler (雷风)

Book Review: The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History

This review first appeared in the journal Milestones: Commentary on the Islamic World on March 1, 2017 Rian Thum, The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History, Harvard University Press, 2014, 336 pp. Historical scholarship on the Uyghurs often focuses on the imperial ambitions of the states that surrounded Chinese Central Asia and, in turn, the political intrigue that surrounded the emissaries of those states. Instead of asking how Uyghurs themselves imagined their community, these studies focus on relations of conquest and resistance and the gravity of wealth and power. Of course, the colonial domination of the Uyghurs is an important part of their history, but it is not the beginning of their story. Rian Thum’s work seeks to amplify how Uyghurs themselves imagined their community prior to the state, prior to modernity, perhaps even prior to Islam. Drawing on an ethnography of oral traditions and an extensive archive of sacred texts from shrines across the Uyghur homeland, Rian Thum’s work does something different. It seeks to amplify how Uyghurs themselves imagined their community prior to the state, prior …

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 …