Growing up Uyghur in Xinjiang: “Setting Sail in a Chinese-language World”

(Posted Dec 22, 2021) In China’s Minority Fiction, Sabina Knight notes how China is pushing its ethnic minorities — particularly the Uyghur in Xinjiang — to master Mandarin:

“The question of cultural survival haunts Patigül’s Bloodline《百年血脉》(2015). The novel situates the narrator—who, like the author, is half-Uyghur and half-Hui—within the matrix of the Han majority’s aggressive promotion of Chinese:

As my father, he needed to demonstrate that he knew about Chinese, but . . . his knowledge was [just] bits and pieces he’d picked up from other Uyghurs in the village, and he still spoke Uyghur most of the time; I, on the other hand, went to a Chinese school and was setting sail into a Chinese-language world. (trans. Natascha Bruce)

The novel opens in Qochek, in the Kazakh autonomous prefecture of Xinjiang. Yet the protagonist soon leaves the city after a call from a voice claiming to be her older brother. Not sure it’s her brother, whose voice she hasn’t heard in five years, she nonetheless gives up her life in Xinjiang to go to Guangzhou. In this raw, wrenching, and at times brutal narrative, the protagonist’s search for her family members and their history encapsulates different possible futures for Uyghurs, especially assimilation, whether in Xinjiang or elsewhere in China.”

(To read the full excerpt from Bloodline cited above, visit here. Also recommended is Patigül’s essay on how she adapted to life on China’s east coast, Life of a Mimic. For an introduction to Patigül en français, visit Brigitte Duzan’s Patigül: Présentation. )

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