All posts tagged: Urumchi

The Reciter: A Uyghur family’s pride — and downfall

It took him three years, but finally, at the age of 14, Nurali recited the entire Quran. This, he remembers, was one of the happiest days of his mother’s life. Over the phone she told him how proud she was. How he had brought so much joy and honor to his family. He was a living Quran, his life itself part of a sacred tradition that had been passed on for centuries. Now he became Nurali Qari — Nurali the Reciter. Nurali was living with his aunt in Cairo at the time, far away from his Uyghur classmates — whom he had last seen at his 10th birthday party at the fanciest restaurant in Ürümqi. The restaurant, Herembagh, was famous for upscale Turkish-style Uyghur cuisine. The waiters wore white gloves and everyone drank tea out of tiny tulip-shaped glasses. But that isn’t what Nurali remembers. Instead, he recalls the toys that the other kids showered on him and how he was the apple of his mother’s eye. He was a young boy on the cusp of …

The Changing ‘Bright Future’ of Han Life in Xinjiang

In 2014, in the middle of a neighborhood at the southern edge of Ürümchi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, there was a restaurant with a big red sign. In Chinese, the six-foot-tall characters read “BIG MEAT” (大肉 dà ròu), as pork is commonly referred to across China. The sign was an anti-Islamic political statement; it told everyone in the neighborhood that Han migrants had arrived and that they would not respect the values of the Muslims who called it their home. This Uyghur-majority neighborhood known as Dawan was one of the centers of violence during the July 5, 2009 protests. A large number of the Han migrants who were killed or injured during the violence came from this neighborhood. In the years that followed, many Han migrants moved from this neighborhood to majority Han districts to the north. Those who remained marked their space, signaling their defiance. The six-foot-tall sign was a statement regarding the type of “quality,” or sùzhì (素质), that was protected by the institutions of the city. Unlike many places in China, in Ürümchi, …

A Police State Going into Hiding

Uyghur music played in the center of the Grand Bazaar in 2019 Over the past two years, multiple news reports, academic research, and eyewitness accounts have pieced together a picture of the tight surveillance in the police state the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has become. I experienced some of this surveillance myself during a trip to Urumqi and Xinjiang’s south in the spring of 2018. One year later, in 2019, I was prepared to encounter even more restrictions during a second trip to Ürümchi and two southern cities, where surveillance has been reported to be most severe. To my surprise, I noticed soon after my arrival that much of the visible surveillance measures had been reduced noticeably compared to 2018. This created an illusion of a more relaxed atmosphere, at least on the surface. However, as I was to discover during my travel, surveillance had not decreased but emerged in more discrete ways. Despite still being many, the overall number of surveillance cameras seemed to have declined, at least it didn’t look like that there …

Salvage Freedom

It is hard to know what to start thinking with in a book as rich with ideas as Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World. What struck me the most though, was a middle section on “Freedom . . .” Here and in the pages that surround it, Tsing writes that the way Southeast Asian refugee immigrants and white Vietnam War vets pick mushrooms in Oregon might be conceptualized as a practice of salvage accumulation. Tsing argues that such a practice produces sites of life that are “simultaneously inside and outside of capitalism” (Tsing 2015, 63). In these pericapitalist worlds, people produce irregular forms of freedom. Importantly, she notes, this is not the liberal freedom of rational individual choice; rather, it is a form of freedom haunted by forms of power “held in abeyance” (Tsing 2015, 76). When mushroom pickers in Oregon speak of freedom, they are speaking of freedom from the drudgery of wage labor, apartment life, property restrictions, and the violence of urban policing. The freedom of salvage accumulation …