All posts filed under: Celebrity

Hong Qi, the Uyghur Folksinger who grew up Han

The Uyghur Chinese musician and poet Hong Qi celebrated his forty-first birthday last May 6. He doesn’t know if that day was really his birthday. He said his mother just guessed. There is a lot that Hong Qi doesn’t know about his origins. He is one of those rare Uyghurs who grew up thinking he was Han. Hong Qi was born into a situation of extreme poverty. Hotan—the prefecture in the south of Xinjiang where he lived until age three—is the poorest prefecture in the nation. According to government statistics, in 2012 the average per capita income for the 2 million Uyghurs in Hotan was $183. Although he was born in a prefecture where the population was more than 90 percent Uyghur, Hong Qi didn’t realize he was Uyghur until he was 16. That was when his Han parents told him he was adopted. Like many military families in the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, Hong Qi moved a lot as a kid. He spent significant portions of his childhood in Ürümchi. He read a …

A Uyghur Dream Manifesto

In an earlier version of her “Wild Pigeon” project the award winning National Geographic photographer Carolyn Drake dedicated one category of her images to dreams and what Uyghur viewers of her images said about them. One viewer told her:    “Good dreams, you tell your good friends. If you do, maybe the dream will come true. If someone says ‘I was in a forest, I faced a tiger, and the tiger attacked me,’ some people will say, ‘don’t speak about it.’ If someone speaks bad words, they will come true.” Not only are dreams an important way of relating to reality, Uyghurs have particular conventions for describing dreams. Dream narratives are told as if the dreamer is simultaneously a participant and an observer of the events in the dream. In this dream logic the teller is the center of an out-of-body experience. Lines are consistently concluded with a suffix that highlights the “as if” or “seeming to be” aspect of the dream world. In this post I will discuss two good dreams that relate to …

Shiralijan’s Fist and Xinjiang Spirit

The Xinjiang Flying Tigers may have lost the CBA championship to the Beijing Ducks, but despite this loss, Xinjiangers around the world came away from the games with a powerful meme. It came at the end of game five, after the Tigers rallied and pulled off the win in front of a hostile Beijing crowd of 18,000. Shiralijan the star Uyghur point guard for the Tigers who had been tasked with defending Stephon Marbury – the star of the Ducks (and MVP of the league, according to Anthony Tao!) threw the ball in the air and raised a fist to the crowd while turning a full circle. He punched the air with his right hand while his left hand grabbed his bicep. Relating the gesture to the semiotics on the Uyghur countryside where he’s from, most Uyghur onlookers immediately interpreted the gesture as a “fuck you” to the crowd that had been chanting “stupid East Turkistani cunt” or “DongTu shabi”[1] for the past three days. According to some Uyghur observers he was reacting as any self-respecting …

The Legacy of the Uyghur Rock Icon Exmetjan

People still remember where they were the day Exmetjan[1] died. It was Thursday, June 13, 1991. He was only 22 years old. As is common with the death of an icon, many people refused to believe he was gone. Instead rumors spread that thugs from a rival disco had knifed him in a back alley or that he had faked his death and gone abroad to marry a princess. Exmetjan had been in Ürümchi preparing for a concert across the then (relatively) open border with Kazakhstan when he died. Back in those days before the train reached Kashgar and the highway stretched across the desert to Hotan, it was difficult to carry bodies home for burial. There were no freezer trucks. After a long and bumpy ride around the desert Exmetjan arrived in his hometown of Qarakash (near Hotan) covered in celery and ice against the smell of rot. People remember when he arrived. As his official biography puts it, Exmetjan died of “an illness.” Although everyone knows he died of a heroin overdose, no …