July 2014: Update on Uyghur Writers and Writing as Crackdown Gains Momentum

In the wake of two high-profile and deadly attacks reportedly carried out by Uyghurs outside of their traditional homeland, the Chinese

Signatures of writers and translators on "Open Letter to our Uyghur Compatriots"
Signatures of writers and translators on “Open Letter to our Uyghur Compatriots”

authorities have launched a multi-faceted campaign to crush what they see as a terrorist movement that aims at founding an independent state in the Xinjiang autonomous region covering one-sixth of Chinese territory.

I am referring here to the Beijing “2013 Tian’anmen Square Attack” in which a 4 x 4 crashed into a crowd and burst into flames near Mao’s famous portrait, killing the passengers and two tourists, while injuring 38. And on March 1 this year, eight knife-wielding attackers appeared at the Kunming train station in Yunnan Province, and reportedly slashed 29 people to death while injuring 140 others.

As we enter Ramadan (June 28-July 27), when pious Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, Radio Free Asia (Anti-Terrorism Measures) reports that the authorities in Ürümqi are taking the strictest measures ever to ensure that there are no “incidents” during this, the most important month in the Muslim calendar. They include: newly installed surveillance cameras in mosques; preparation for “sudden-strike” searches of Uyghur households to break up unauthorized gatherings; requiring halal restaurants to remain open during the hours of the fast; and Muslim students at university will attend “patriotic study” classes and eat in the school canteen during the day so that they cannot practice fasting.

It should be noted, however, that some of RFA’s information about the crackdown comes from a spokesperson for the World Uyghur Congress, an organization of exiled Uyghur groups that is based outside China.

Alat Asem, Bilingual Uyghur author
Alat Asem, Bilingual Uyghur author

Meanwhile, how is the crackdown impacting the “official” literary scene? Here are a few May-June factoids for your reference:

Media Blitz to Publicize Novella by Bilingual Uyghur Writer (late May)

Alat Asem (阿拉提·阿斯木), Vice-chair of the Xinjiang Writers Association, is fast emerging as “poster-boy” for the well-integrated, bilingual Uyghur writer. His latest work — he has been widely published in both Chinese and Uyghur — a Chinese novella entitled 时间悄悄的嘴脸, is getting heavy coverage from the literary establishment’s media. His tales immerse us in a Uyghur world where Han just don’t figure; his hallmarks are womanizers, insulting monikers and a hybrid Chinese with an odd but appealing Turkic flavor. Read his own take on his novella (in Chinese here), a backgrounder on his writing by literary critic Zhao Xinghong (喜乐精神与丑角形象), or an English extract from his short story, Sidik Golden MobOff.

China Writers Association (June 21)

Ürümqi chosen as venue for the Annual conference of the association’s Ethnic Literature Committee

Launch: Uyghur Edition of Wang Meng’s Novel (June 24)

In a symbolic—and highly publicized—effort to evoke an era when Han-Uyghur relations were simpler and more amicable, Ürümqi hosted

Wang Meng's novel set in Xinjiang during the Cultural Revolution
Wang Meng’s novel set in Xinjiang during the Cultural Revolution

the launch ceremony for the Uyghur edition of Wang Meng’s novel, The Scenery over Here (这边风景, 王蒙著). Set in Ili, it draws on the Han author’s experience of 16 years of life in Xinjiang, including the Cultural Revolution, during which he labored among the Uyghur and became fluent in their language. Wang Meng is an influential Han intellectual who served as Minister of Culture in the late 1980s.

Uyghur Intellectuals Sign Anti-terrorism Open Letter (late June)

In a move that echoes the mass propaganda campaigns of the Cultural Revolution, an open letter condemning terrorism — signed by “more than 200 Uyghur writers, poets and translators”, according to Xinhua — has been published in full by the Xinjiang Daily (永不沉默). A copy of the handwritten letter is on the Internet, but none of the reports I’ve seen list the signatories. Xinhua reports that the letter “urges writers and poets in particular to shoulder responsibility as ‘safeguarding social stability and national unity is our holy mission’.” It also calls for Muslims to “go to mosques under the sunshine instead of illegal teaching sites hidden in underground dens.”

Pathlight's "ethnic writer" edition
Pathlight’s “ethnic writer” edition

For those interested in writing by contemporary Uyghur writers, see Spring 2014 Pathlight, a magazine featuring Chinese literature in English translation. They are: The Only Real Man by Alat Asem (阿拉提·阿斯木); Life of a Mimic by Patigul (帕蒂古丽); and The Mustache Dispute by Memtimin Hoshur (买买提明·吾守尔).

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