Joshua L. Freeman completed his MA in Uyghur literature at Xinjiang Normal University in Ürümchi, China, and is currently a PhD candidate in Inner Asian and Altaic Studies at Harvard University. His upcoming dissertation, tentatively titled Print Communism: Uyghur Literary Canon between China and the USSR, focuses on a key group of Uyghur intellectuals who mobilized socialist cultural policies to substantially reshape Uyghur culture and identity. In addition to his academic work, he has published numerous translations of Uyghur modernist poetry.


From Cultural Periphery to Cultural Capital: Ili and the making of modern Uyghur culture

In China’s Xinjiang province, the Turkic-speaking Muslims of the Ili region were considered somewhat provincial by their brethren elsewhere in Xinjiang until the twentieth century. Yet by the 1950s, the inhabitants of the Ili Valley—now known, like Xinjiang’s other Turkic-speaking agriculturalists, as Uyghurs—came to be seen as the vanguard of the Uyghur people. This talk will explain that remarkable shift by looking to the west. In the early twentieth century, Russian and then Soviet influence was stronger in Ili than elsewhere in Xinjiang, a fact which made Ili’s Uyghur population uniquely well prepared to take a leading role once socialism came to Xinjiang. In addition, Uyghurs of Ili origin dominated the Soviet Union’s small Uyghur diaspora, a community whose cultural influence in Xinjiang was magnified by Soviet power and prestige. By the 1950s, these factors had largely enabled Ili intellectuals to shape Uyghur culture in their own image.

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