Academic journal article The Journal of Central Asian Studies

Tajikistan and China Changing Images

Academic journal article The Journal of Central Asian Studies

Tajikistan and China Changing Images

Article excerpt


With the intensification of commercial, economic, political, and cultural relations with China, people to people contacts are tremendously growing with the country. What is the perception of China towards Tajikistan? This question cannot be answered without studying the Tajik perception of China. In this context, the image of the country is understood to be a set of stable, stratified, and dynamic understanding of political, historical, cultural and geographical space. At the same time, it is one of the ways of self-identification. Needless to say, that during the past two decades Tajik population went through large scale social transformation resulting in the change in Tajik perception of China. At the same time, many important archetypes, symbols and signs continue to persist in the new image, which creates difficulties in terms of the new reality. What is China's perception of Tajiks today? When we try to answer this question, the word "China" brings many contradictory responses which are caused by the complex history of Sino-Central Asian relations, as well as by the delicate ethnic history of the peoples of Central Asia. In the Tajik language, there are two geographical names of China - Khitoy and Chin. Chin1 refers to China, Chinese Turkestan now Xingjian, and Chinese. In addition to the uncertainty of geographical names, the image of China contains the notion of different time periods. For example:

a. The traditional recordings in the classical literature in Farsi are dominated by terms like: distant country, the seat of strange people and magical creatures, production of porcelain and tea, birthplace of skilled artists, craftsmen and beauties.

b. The second era was formed when Tajikistan was part of the Soviet Union. Its dominant concepts include brotherly people, Communist Party, struggle against imperialism.

c. After independence the basic concepts and associations include great neighbour, huge territory, successful reform, cheap low-quality goods, incomprehensible and alien culture, hardworking and unpretentious people.

In order to track these changes in the concepts associated with the Silk Route, it is necessary to recall the history of the Tajik-Chinese relations.

Historical Background:

Areas included in modern Tajikistan, maintained relations with China since ancient times. Izhan Qian was the first Chinese, who visited and wrote about the Pamirs, Davan (Fergana Valley), Tokharistan (Dahi), Kang (Khorazm) and Ansi (Parthia)2 in 140-135 BC. Though relations with Tang China (618-907) were strengthened after the emergence of Silk Route, these came to a halt when the Arab armies defeated China in the battle of Talas in 75 1 : apart from trade, there were no political or cultural ties, for almost one thousand years.3 The relations with China were revised when China became part of the empire of Chenghis Khan and his descendants and during the Ming dynasty in China (1368-1644). The maritime route by the Europeans led to the abandonment of Silk Route, and the territories of the modern Tajikistan lost most of contacts with China. The Chinese invasion of Kashgar in 1760 and the subsequent long struggle of the people of Eastern Turkestan against China did not contribute to the revival of contacts. Since then, besides trade, the situation in Eastern Turkestan spontaneously slapped the Tajik perception of China. Added to this was the involvement of Khokand Khanate (1709-1876) in the affairs of Kashgar.4

Bukhara Emirate too had strong trade links with Kashgar5 and was the second largest foreign trade partner after Russian Empire. The volume of trade between Bukhara and Kashgar is evident by the fact that within 2-3 weeks 700-800 fully loaded camels from Bukhara crossed the Terek pass in Kashgar.6 The merchants from Bukhara, Kokand and Khujand exported to Kashgar fabrics, pearls, jewelry, furs, leather, sugar, metal products, and in return brought tea, porcelain dishes, Chinese silk, Chinese silver coins, etc. …

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