DU6 Uyghur

DIALOG UNIT 6: Uyghur Studies in Central Asia: Between Turkology and Chinese Studies


The Turkic speaking population of the Chinese westernmost province of Xinjiang has had close relations with their ethnic brethren in Russian/Soviet Central Asia throughout history. The Russian Empire, then the Soviet Union, used the ethnic links between the Turkic peoples living on both sides of their borders with China for their geopolitical interests. The latter shaped many cultural institutions in Soviet Kazakhstan, the largest Central Asian republic neighboring Xinjiang, which studied the history and culture of the Turkic peoples living in China, especially the Uyghurs.

The economic and political interests of the Soviet Union, as well as its so-called ‘national policy’ which regulated relations between the ethnic minorities of Soviet Central Asia resulted in the emergence of a specific field of academic inquiry – Uyghur Studies focused on the study of the language, history and culture of the Turkic speaking Uyghurs, a major part of whom lived in China, while sizable communities of Uyghurs existed in almost all Soviet Central Asian republics. The Soviet government considered the local Uyghurs as part of the large Uyghur nationality of China and treated them as immigrants from China.

At the same time the Soviet ideology and scholarship highlighted the Uyghurs’ close links with Central Asian Turkic peoples – the Kazakhs, the Uzbeks and the Kyrgyzs and supported the development of an academic field called ‘Uyghur studies’. A special department on Uyghur studies was established in the Academy of Sciences of Kazakhstan in 1949 where the largest Uyghur community lived. This academic unit became the basis for the Institute of Uyghur Studies, which was founded by a decision of the Kazakhstan government in 1986, during the Perestroika reforms of Gorbachev’s rule.

Hence, this Dialogue Unit traces back the history of Uyghur Studies in the Soviet Union and compare it with what happened in other academic traditions (such as the one in the Czech Republic). In order to do this, a special emphasis will be placed on two aspects:

–  the disciplinary critical analysis of Uyghur Studies in Kazakhstan;
–  and the role that material culture played in such an analysis.

The point of contrast will be the production of knives and blades in South Xinjiang and their study as part of a specifically Uyghur cultural heritage.

Prof. Allen Chun
Bc. Martin Lavička M.A.


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