All posts tagged: gender

Uyghur Love In A Time Of Interethnic Marriage

In May 2019, a young Uyghur graduate student in Europe who I’ll refer to as Nurzat received a WeChat video call from his panic-stricken girlfriend in a small city in southern Xinjiang. The young woman, who I’ll call Adila, told him that she would break up with him if he didn’t come back within the next several months to marry her. She said her parents were forcing her to do this. They thought that the risk of her being chosen for marriage by a Han young man was too high. They needed to find a Uyghur husband for her now, in order to protect her. Adila told Nurzat, “Please don’t blame me for doing this. A lot of Uyghur women are rushing to get married now. Everyone is afraid.” Nurzat and Adila met when they were both college students in Ürümchi. She had been placed in a major that put her in line for a job in the police force back in her hometown, while he found a computer engineering track that led him to …

Singing Back to the Steppe: Kazakh Poetry Battles in Contemporary Xinjiang

  On a summer evening in 2015, when I was attending a friend’s wedding after-party in a small village in Mori in Northern Xinjiang, a professional aqin – an oral poet who improvises while performing – sat next to me playing his dombra (a Kazakh two-stringed instrument). He was singing a song with the refrain: “ahaw sar qiz, pisqan darbiz, darbizingning qizilin maghan jarghiz” (Hey, fair-haired girl, you are like a ripe melon, let me cut your red ripe melon). It was clear he was directing the song at me. I felt my face begin to turn red. I was tongue-tied. I didn’t know what to say or do. How do you respond to lyrics like that from a poet? A Kazakh girl sitting nearby tried to sooth my discomfort by making excuses for him. She said he was just joking around and that the lyrics were supposed to be funny. That is just the manner of a poet. A while later, the poet received a phone call from his leader to go entertain some visiting officials who would attend …

Gendered Futures, “Mother Tongue,” and Berna the Uyghur city girl

(Part 2 of 2)   I have written previously about the way endearing child stars such as the seven-year old Berna are being mobilized as a method of securing the future of Uyghur ways of knowing and speaking. Yet Uyghur “mother tongue fever” has a long legacy. The famous Uyghur poem Ana Til or “Mother Tongue” was composed by the poet Haji Qutluq Shewqi in the mid-nineteenth century when a love of Uyghur was directed in opposition to the dominance of Persian and Arabic in Uyghur education. While the vectors of linguistic force have found new centers of gravity in the past few decades, the sentiment carried forward by that old poem resonates more strongly than ever in Uyghur popular culture. Yet as I will explain below despite the continuity of these feelings, there are also some important differences from these desires of the past. Despite, and because of, their almost bizarre appeal, young performers like Berna and her promoters are challenging staid masculine notions of what it means to be Uyghur and what the …