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Gene A. Bunin: How the “Happiest Muslims in the World” are Coping with Their Happiness

Disclaimer: The greater part of this article seeks to convey the words, views, and behaviors of ethnic Uyghurs residing in both China proper (“inner China”) and China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, as observed by the author over the previous year and a half. So as to protect the people mentioned, I have intentionally obscured or changed the relevant names, locations, and times, as well as any other details that could aid in fixing a given person’s identity. Quotes from individuals are from unrecorded conversations, in Uyghur, and as such are subject to some corruption due to both imperfect memory and translation. While this admittedly runs the risk of vague reporting, I do believe that the essential has been preserved and thereby hope for the reader’s understanding.   It was about a year ago that I first walked into Karim’s restaurant, intending to write about it as part of the food guide I was putting together about Uyghur restaurants in inner China. While my travels for this project would result in my visiting close to 200 …

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 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 …

Year in Review: Most Overlooked in 2015

Last week we wrote about our most popular posts written in 2015. But what about pieces from the ALCCA archive that deserved more attention then they received over the past year? For all of you readers who are new to The Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia, here is a list of our most overlooked pieces in 2015. Abdulla, King of Uyghur Pop: His Themes Although much can be said about the way Abdulla’s poetic voice corresponds with his deep literacy in Uyghur culture, clearly he does much more than lean on the traditions of the past.  Although this attention to cultural symbolism and spiritual ritual are an important aspect of his public persona, Abdulla is also deeply engaged in the everyday life of increasingly urban Northwest China. In order to understand the depth of his appeal, here we outline the themes which emerge from his catalog and analyze one of these themes. What It Means To Be A Uyghur Man Watching the leaked surveillance video of two men walking with a sea of …