All posts filed under: Literature

Uyghur Urbanism in Recent Modernist Poetry

  Self-Portrait in a detail of Yarmemet Niyaz’s 2013 painting “蓝色的旅律” A good while ago the anthropologist Stevan Harrell asked me to consider the unique position of Uyghurs as heirs to an urbanism that predates the rise of Chinese cities in Central Asia. He asked me to think through the ways in which this urban tradition has affected Uyghur social organization. I’m still thinking about this. Uyghur thinkers are too. They are thinking about the way new urban forms reorient their lives. They are grappling with the way certain spaces draw them in by reflecting their pasts while other forms face them with a blankness that does not allow them a way in. One of the most remarkable paintings at the first Uyghur contemporary art exhibition in 2015 was a mixed media piece in which the artist Yarmemet Niyaz inserted a small rectangular mirror onto the side of a bright blue house next to an old coal stove (Uy: mesh) that many people use in Uyghur oasis cities. The mirror interpellates the viewer. You can …

Traffic Lights and Uyghur Black Humor

On April 13, 2014 Abdulbasit Ablimit a 17-year-old from a small town near Aqsu was shot twice. It appears as though he had run a red light on his electric motor-scooter and, rather than stop and pay a fine, he had fled. According to his friends, three kilometers later he was shot. The official state narrative, posted a few days after the incident, says he attacked the police with stones, tried to grab their guns and so on. Abdulbasit died within hours. His body was given to his family for burial. But he was not buried. Instead his body was carried, wrapped in a white shroud with a procession of hundreds of his friends and family on a march toward the town center. They demanded that the officers who had killed Abdulbasit be arrested. As you can hear in the video above, they chanted “God is Great” – one of the few Arabic phrases that everyone knows and understands. Realizing their mistake, security officials seized Abdulbasit’s body again and arrested many of the grieving protesters …

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 …

Wang Meng, Chinese Literary Giant, Uyghur Speaker

   By all standards Wang Meng (1934- ) has had a tremendously successful career. Easing out of his problematic role as Cultural Minister in 1989, Wang was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1994 by the Chinese Literary Society. He has published more than 100 books and was listed as the 24th most commercially successful writer in China in 2010 with a net worth of 1.75 million yuan. This past year a village on the border of Kazakhstan opened a museum in his honor. Unlike other contemporary Han intellectuals who have been exiled to Chinese Central Asia, Wang spent most of his life in Xinjiang living with Uyghurs in Ghulja (Yining) on the border of Kazakhstan. He wrote numerous books about his experiences with Uyghurs which addressed the way he came to appreciate Xinjiang culture and learn Uyghur language. Relative to Ai Qing (who I wrote about last week), Wang was able to transform his exile into the Central Asian landscape into a tremendously productive career. By utilizing an ethnographer’s curiosity, Wang was able to …