Historian Queries: What Is a ‘Uyghur’?

The LA Review of Books has published an extract of the newly published Sacred Routes of Uyghur History by Professor Rian Thum, entitledSacred Routes of Uyghur History What Is a Uyghur? In the book, Thum “argues that the Uyghurs – and their place in China today – can only be understood in the light of longstanding traditions of local pilgrimage and manuscript culture” (Loyola U biography).

In the piece excerpted in LARB, Thum cites an anonymous 1934 article in Kashgar’s New Life in which the author claims the term “Uyghur” for his people:

The children of Adam living across the whole face of the earth are divided from one another into sects [maẕhab] and also separated into several peoples [qawm] and tribes [urughlar], for example Arab, Turk, English, French, Italian, Russian, Indian, Chinese, and the like. . . . Because most of our people here are in ignorance and unconsciousness we have forgotten what tribe we are from. If someone is asked what tribe we are from, he answers, “We are Muslims.” It is correct to say of us that we are Muslims, but in terms of descent and tribe, it is surely also necessary to know what tribe we are from. Is it not futile for a man’s child, upon forgetting his own father’s name, to ask it of another person? So enough then. We are the children of the Uyghurs. Uyghur means our noble national [milliy] name.15