Workshop: Present Tense, Past Perfect? Narrative constructions of social representations in Central Eurasia

Man sitting on the ground
Photo: Chris Hann

Copenhagen, 28-29 March 2019

(By invitation only)

This two-day workshop is the major event of a three-year research project, “Between homogenization and fragmentation: textual practices as strategies of integration and identity maintenance among the Uyghurs of Xinjiang, China (20th‒21st centuries),” supported by the Danish Velux Fonden (start date: 1 September 2017).

In the extremely tense political context created by ongoing securitization and aggressive assimilation policies, this project explores textual strategies employed by the Uyghurs to demarcate and sustain their collective identity and negotiate their subjecthood within the Chinese polity in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Focusing on four distinct text corpora of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the project explores how Uyghur elites have used the leeway available to them through their status as a minority to produce knowledge about their group and construct identity.

The recent escalation of the “Xinjiang problem” lends the project a new significance, since this leeway is no longer available. Since the writing of the original proposal, the near-contemporary perspective of three of the sub-projects has metamorphosed into a retrospective due to the further escalation of the political situation. Researchers attend to multiple, cross-cutting loyalties, discourses of belonging and identity, indigenous subjectivity, and local practices and agency against the backdrop of sometimes stable, at other times changing historical circumstances. These may create tension in the present that in turn can lead to either an idealization of the past or to using the past as a social commentary on the present. The title of the workshop is intended to emphasize the importance of the historical context for knowledge production as well as our interest in textual strategies of all sorts.

We are particularly interested in the textual strategies employed by indigenous authors to construct group representations of all sorts (legal, ethnographic, fictional or historical, etc.), taking careful account of the interaction between texts and contexts. Through the presentation of diverse case studies, we anticipate stimulating discussions that will mark out new directions for the study of the representation of social identities.

Ildikó Bellér-Hann, Anna-Luise Kraayvanger, Aysima Mirsultan, Rune Steenberg


28 March 


Opening and Introduction 


Actualized Narratives in the Oghuzname-Chingizname-Complex 
Ingeborg Baldauf, Humboldt University


The Imperial Uncanny: On Translation and Disruption in Turn-of-the-Century Xinjiang 
Eric Schluessel, University of Montana


From ethnographic narratives to criminal law: the construction of a criminal framework against local practices in Central Asia, late 19th century-early 1920s 
Aude-Cécile Monnot,
Center for History of Sciences Po/EHESS, Paris




Lunch Break


Mediations by “Good People”: Legal Dispute and the Amicable Arrangement (ṣulḥ) among the Uyghurs in the Republican Era  
Jun Sugawara, Lanzhou University  


Narrating communal and personal identity: Fazil shangye in the Kucha documents (1934-1949) 
Aysima Mirsultan, University of Copenhagen


Coffee Break


Stuck in the center: Uyghur histories for the Turkistanis of Mecca  
Rian Thum , University of Nottingham


Articulating identity: Uyghur constructions of sub-national histories in reform China  
Ildikó Bellér-Hann, University of Copenhagen



19:00 - 

Dinner at Bistro Royal

29 March 


The Story of an Unborn Book. Investigating the Heritagization of Past Narratives among the Chinese Sibe 
Ildikó Gyöngyvér Sárközi, Institute of Ethnology, Research Centre for the Humanities, HAS 


Where is the Safe Place? Continuity and Authenticity of Uyghur Dastan Oral Tradition
Amy Anderson  


"Comprehensive Collection, Focus on Revision”: An Examination of the Early 'Jangar Epic' Literary Construction in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region 
Michael D.R. Long University of Cambridge




Lunch Break


“Örp-Adet”. The Rise and Fall of a Genre in Uyghur Language Publishing 1980–2015 
Rune Steenberg, University of Copenhagen


Twilight of the Ili Elites: High Socialism in Xinjiang, 1957-1966
Joshua L. Freeman, Harvard University


Coffee Break 


Reading between the lines of Chinese propaganda: assessing the rhetoric in official and semi-official documents concerning the XUAR  
Martin Lavička, Palacký University Olomouc, Czech Republic


Curating a Paper Museum: Genealogical Projects of Kazakhs in Xinjiang
Guldana Salimjan, University of British Columbia




Closing Remarks


Dinner at Ricemarket


  • Chris Hann, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology
  • Ondřej Klimeš, Czech Academy of Sciences
  • Nathan Light, Uppsala University