All posts tagged: Urumchi

Äskär: an Independent Uyghur Musician

Recently a Uyghur intellectual told me that the most important representations of Uyghur life are in music. Literature and film are also important but because these cultural mediums have a shorter history and smaller industry among Uyghurs, music continues to be the main mode of expression that circulates beyond intellectuals and cosmopolitan urbanites into the homes of every Uyghur family. It is because of this that most Uyghurs encounter abstract cultural concepts through music and oral poetry. Since the 1980s with the introduction of the cassette and then in the late 1990s the VCD, music has become a ubiquitous form of cultural representation. Since music has such an important place in Uyghur cultural life, in this blog we have detailed the rise of pop stars such as Abdulla, Erkin, Perhat Khaliq, Ablajan and others. But these mainstream pop singers have not always been mainstream. In fact most of them owe the start of their success to an anti-pop star—the first truly urban, heavy metal Uyghur musician, the iconoclast Äskär Memet. Now in his early 50s …

On Qurbanjan Semet’s Photobook “I am from Xinjiang on the Silk Road”

Initially many Uyghurs were excited about the Uyghur photographer Qurbanjan Semet’s book-length photo essay I am from Xinjiang on the Silk Road. At first they were thrilled to see Qurbanjan’s national primetime interview on CCTV News. They were astonished to see it be translated into English (by Wang Chiying) and sold alongside Xi Jinping’s boilerplate biography at Book Expo America. They wanted to know why people as famous and distant as the movie star Jackie Chan and novelist-turned-harmony-spokesperson Wang Meng were singing its praises. But when they actually had a chance to look at it they were often disappointed. The book (which was produced largely for Chinese and English-reading audiences) is presented as the portraits and stories of human life in and from Xinjiang. Yet, although the majority of the over 100 people portrayed in the book are Uyghur, only a small handful of them are uneducated people from the countryside. So while many Uyghurs agree that the message the book carries – that Uyghurs in general are not “Separatists, Extremists, and Terrorists” – is …

Ali K.’s “Burial Ground” Photo Series

Last weekend I went to Gulsay Cemetery at the south end of Ürümchi, back behind the power plants right next to lowest foothill of the eastern section of Heavenly Mountains. Many Uyghur, Kazakh and Hui heroes are buried in this cemetery; people often just refer to it as “the Muslim cemetery.” Looking at the markings around you, it feels as though you are in a completely Muslim world. In the Uyghur section of the cemetery all of the signs are in the Arabic script of modern Uyghur. There is little sign in this community of the dead that this cemetery is in the largest Chinese city in Central Asia. But if you look a few hundred meters away you immediately recognize that the city is now even here: the last stop on 308 bus line. Giant earth moving machines prowl the nearby city landfill; sunlight reflects off of the CITIC tower at Little West Gate. But even though the city has come to the cemetery the people here still seem at rest in the earth. …

“Lift” and the Future of Uyghur Film

When Memetjan Semet first came to Urumchi he remembers being shocked at how isolated everyone felt from each other. For the first time in his life he didn’t have his family and childhood friends to lean on for support. He also noticed that he wasn’t alone in this condition. No one in the big city seemed to care about others around themselves. Instead, people kept their heads down. They focused on their smart phones, chatted with friends in the virtual world, and ignored the difficulties of people nearby. The problems of strangers were not something they felt they needed to be concerned with. One time while waiting for an elevator in a large office building in the Uyghur section of the city, he noticed a disabled woman hobbling down the hallway. No one held the doors for her. Everyone pushed her to the side while getting on and off of the elevator. Over the next few minutes he watched her grow more and more defeated. Eventually she gave up, and began the long painful process …