Sabancı Üniversitesi


HIST Webinar: Ildiko Beller-Hann (University of Copenhagen)


Uyhgur Knowledge Production and Identity Construction in China in the Reform Era


Ildikó Bellér-Hann

(University of Copenhagen)


Wednesday, May 26, 2021



Meeting ID: 991 6190 1267

Abstract: During the reform period that began in the late 1970s, the Chinese state employed diverse strategies toward the Turkic speaking Muslim Uyghurs, an officially recognized ethnic minority concentrated in the far northwest of the country. These ranged from affirmative action and large-scale development projects to censorship, surveillance and, since 2016, unprecedented suppression including mass incarcerations and brutal political re-education campaigns. As a result of the current tensions, many details of the history of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region are contested. Although it has never been possible under socialism to challenge the main tenets of state-sponsored, nationalist historiography, Uyghur knowledge production continued to bolster indigenous collective identity vigorously until the mid-2010s. In addition to fiction and academic publications in fields such as archaeology and ethnography, numerous authors explored Uyghur history, their works reaching large readerships. This paper is based on a research project that investigates the narrative strategies deployed by Uyghur authors in the reform period on the basis of selected examples. It demonstrates how Uyghur literati positioned themselves both during the years when they enjoyed relative freedom to research and cultivate their ethnic identity, and also in recent decades as the space for such activities has continuously narrowed. The general conclusion is that indigenous historical knowledge production under authoritarian conditions has to be interpreted in the temporal context of complex entanglements of power, knowledge and identity construction among both dominant group and indigenous minority.

Bio: Ildikó Bellér-Hann is an Associate Professor of Central Asian /Turkish Studies at the University of Copenhagen. After studying Turkish, Archaeology, and English at Eötvös Lóránd University in Budapest, she received her Ph.D. in Turkish Studies at the University of Cambridge, and her habilitation degree in Central Asian Studies at Humboldt University. Prior to the University of Copenhagen, she held positions at Newnham College, the University of Kent, and Martin Luther University. Her main fields of research interests span the histories and societies, historical anthropology, social support networks, kinship, and oral and literate traditions of the Turkic-speaking peoples of Xinjiang, Turkey, and Central Asia. Her major publications include Community Matters in Xinjiang 1880-1949: Towards a historical anthropology of the Uyghur (Brill, 2008); Negotiating Identity: Work, Religion and Social Relations among the Uyghur in the 1990s (LIT Verlag, 2015); Kashgar Revisited: Uyghur Studies in memory of Ambassador Gunnar Jarring (ed. with Birgit Schlyter and Jun Sugawara, Brill, 2017); (with Chris Hann) The Great Dispossession: Uyghurs between Civilizations (LIT Verlag, 2020); and Voiced and Voiceless in Xinjiang: Minorities, elites, and narrative constructions in context (ed. with Aysima Mirsultan and Rune Steenberg, Special Issue of Asian Ethnicity 22(1) (2021).