Oasis Identities: Uyghur Nationalism along China's Silk Road

Synopsis

The rising tide of ethnic nationalism that has swept across Central Asia in the past decade has energized efforts by the Chinese government to win favor among its ethnic minorities. As a result, China has granted the Uyghurs -- a Turkic Muslim people who inhabit the oases of China's far northwestern province, Xinjiang -- special previledges, opening up international borders, reestablishing long-severed transborder contacts and trade networks, and allowing intellectuals the liberty to construct their own versions of Uyghur history.

From the outset, however, this process has been problematic, heightening intra and interoasis tensions. Greater freedoms for the Uyghur people have threatened China's economic, ideological, and military control over this vital region and have produced resistance movements and separatist terror attacks. In this study, a leading expert on Central Aisa explores the history, culture, politics, and geography of Xinjiang's oasis communities, shedding new light on the competing ideas, symbols, and allegiances that make up the many diverse Uyghur identities.

Drawing upon extensive fieldwork in the Xinjiang oasis of Turpan, Justin Jon Rudelson assesses the factors that undermine the creation of a pan-Uyghur identity. He explains the historical and contemporary impact of the geography of the region, where oases are relatively isolated from one another; the fragmented visions and cross-cutting allegiances of the three major social groups (intellectuals, peasants, and merchants); and the inability of the Uyghur elite who spearheaded the nationalist movement to transcend their own provincialism, thereby engendering rival oasis identities and subverting ethnic unity.

Oasis identities is a vivid, ground-breaking work offering insight into not only the trumoil besetting this important but little-studied region but also the barriers facing all emerging nations and cultures struggling to define their national identities.