All posts tagged: Youth

Why are Uyghurs so Good at English?

Ever since Kasim Abdurehim, the founder of the private English school Atlan, took third place in the national English speaking contest in 2004, Uyghurs have found their way into the final rounds of almost every major English speaking competition in the nation. This year was no exception. The main difference is that now Uyghurs are learning how to be confident in their English ability at a younger age. It is because of people like Kasim and dozens of other award winning role models that kids like 14 year-old Tughluk Tursunjan feel confident on a national stage. Although Uyghurs represent less than one percent of China’s population, they still consistently beat Han contestants from the best schools in the country. Tughluk, who was this year’s winner of the Junior High School division of the “Outlook of Hope” contest on CCTV was taught by an English instructor named Nemo, a young Uyghur man who teaches at the Web English school in downtown Ürümchi. It was Nemo who coached him on how to speak with commanding gestures and …

Baseball in Xinjiang and the Documentary “Diamond in the Dunes”

The new documentary film Diamond in the Dunes, directed by Christopher Rufo (free streaming on PBS until September 8 for those with VPNs), tells the coming-of-age story of a Uyghur man named Parhat as he finds his way through college. It shows us how he and his Uyghur and Han classmates at Xinjiang University develop a passion for a game, for abilities and skills that don’t rely on ethnicity or Chinese business connections. It shows us how the citywide riots of 2009 shaped their life-paths and how they found ways to move forward despite the difficulties of their circumstances. Parhat tells this story by showing us how he motivated his fellow players to think beyond themselves and their abilities to speak and act. Even though he lacks the words to fully express what he feels in Chinese, he tries; even though his team has little support and little training in how to play, they try. Parhat knows what it means to experience feelings of lack — of not being good enough — but he also knows what …

The Fog of Drugs

Although the use of hashish has been a part of the Uyghur pharmacopoeia for centuries, drugs appear to have become a widespread problem for Uyghurs only in the early 1990s. It was only then that young men in their twenties began dying of overdoses and needle-borne disease. As Ilham Tohti mentioned in 2011, in the intervening decades drugs along with theft, pickpocketing, trafficking and prostitution “have gotten so bad that our entire ethnic group is suddenly perceived as a crime-prone community.” These are issues which Uyghurs discuss among themselves and feel embarrassed about when they are raised among outsiders. Rumors are a major part of this discussion. Many people point out that the drugs come from the Golden Triangle and tell tales about the way they are trafficked by Hui middleman. They suggest that there is a general conspiracy operating among non-Uyghurs—with the tacit support of the government—to poison young Uyghur men and thus curtail their futures. These stories are supported by popular media. A famous Uyghur writer, Jalalidin Behram, vividly describes the life paths …

Uyghur Hip-Hop as Folk Music

Adil Mijit is not the only Uyghur comedian to incorporate a discussion of hip-hop into his performances. In the recent state-sponsored film Shewket’s Summer directed by Pan Yu with assistance from Beijing Film Academy students, Abdukerim Abliz joins the Uyghur hip-hop crew Six City as a reticent folk musician (see the 117 minute mark in the above film). The film, which is both a “coming-of-age” and “parent-trap” melodrama, highlights the way conflicts resolved at the level of the family have larger implications for society. Although the film is heavy in the propaganda of ethnic harmony (a Han character named Luobin [!] is featured as an aspiring musician in search of “original” tunes and then as an inspiration to the Uyghur characters), the slick production values and money behind the film present Uyghur folk arts in a strongly positive light. As a wise Native American activist and anthropologist once told me, “If The Man offers you money, you take the money.” Six City and Abdukerim took the money. The fact that the Uyghur-language poetics of Six City …