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From the Margins to the Centre: The Uyghur Challenge in Beijing

  • Nimrod Baranovitch

Abstract

Recent literature on Uyghur identity in China makes clear that Uyghurs today not only have perceptions and narratives relating to their identity which challenge official ones, but also that these are expressed publicly in literature, art and everyday practice. However, to date this agency has been highlighted only in the context of the Uyghurs' native-place, Xinjiang, while the little that has been written on representations of Uyghur identity in nationally distributed media and culture suggests that Uyghurs are still completely marginalized and voiceless. This article challenges this view by shifting the focus to Uyghurs who migrated to Beijing and by showing that they have been able to achieve an independent public voice that extends not only beyond Xinjiang but also beyond China. The article explores the role that Uyghur artists and entrepreneurs, and Xinjiang restaurants in Beijing play in challenging the orthodox representations of Uyghur identity in China and argues that although there are only a few thousand Uyghurs in the city they play a significant role in the negotiation of Uyghur identity, representation and nationalism. The article also challenges the widely held view that internal migrants in China are silent and politically powerless.

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Research for this article was funded by the Harry S. Trueman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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