All posts filed under: Literature

How is Abdukerim Rahman surviving without his books?

For decades there was an inside joke that was told by generations of Uyghur students in the School of Humanities at Xinjiang University. The joke went: “How can you be a doctoral advisor without having a Ph.D. degree?” In response they would say, “Work as hard as Abdukerim Rahman!”  Mr. Rahman is a legendary figure among students and faculty not only for his knowledge but also his humble and caring attitude toward his students. Students know that if a Uyghur language book had been published, it could be found in his home library. Everyone knows that even those books that are not available in the university library can be found there. Mr. Rahman is known for his passionate scholarship, for his love of book. But most importantly students recognize him as the father of Uyghur folklore studies. His humor, inspiration, and positive feedback always encourages their young souls. All folklorists, anthropologists or Uyghur literature researchers who are interested in Uyghur culture view him as an essential resource. His scholarship has become the critical texts in …

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 …