Friday, 12 December 2008

The appropriation of Uighur nationalists

During the last few weeks, I have visited sites commemorating of a number of prominent historical Uighur figures, all of whom had little respect for the Chinese in their time and would presumably have little respect for the Chinese presence in their homeland today. Yet, all of these sites were built and are maintained by the Chinese government. What is the reason for this? Why is the government so keen to be involved in these projects, rather than reject them as elements of Uighur nationalism and 'splittism'?

A possible answer:

In the town of Kulja, in the Ili Valley, near to the Kazakhstan border, stands a memorial to nine Uighur politicians, all of whom died in 1949. The plaque reads that the nine politicians were on their way to Beijing to 'unite' for the first meeting of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), when misfortune struck, their plane had an accident and they were all killed. The plaque then explains that the memorial was erected by the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region's (XUAR) Government and endorsed by Mao Zedong himself. In three sentences, their history is explained. However, there is an alternative version of these events.

In the period following the Japanese invasion of China in 1931, the Uighur region fell into a period of weak Chinese influence, as resources and energies were re-focused on the enemy to the East. In 1944, the prevailing conditions allowed a group of Uighurs, supported by other local Turkic peoples, to declare the East Turkistan Republic, an independent Uighur state, ending control by the Chinese Nationalists (Guomindang) in Nanjing. This state was administered from Kulja and headed by an Uighur politician, Ahmedijan Kasim. Five years later, after the end of the civil war, the victorious CCP invited the Kulja politicians to Beijing in order to discuss their relationship with and part in the new China. It was on the way to Beijing that these nine politicians were killed.

The circumstances of their deaths are controversial. Official narrative states that their plane crashed and they were killed in the hills of Manchuria. Some doubt was thrown on this version of events, as it took the CCP until over two months after their deaths to make the announcement, which came after the meeting that they were supposed to attend. It seems particularly convenient for the CCP that potential opponents could be disposed of in this way.

So, given that historically the Ili martyrs were a potential challenge to the hegemony of the CCP, what purpose does it serve the CCP to commemorate them? Would it not be better to keep things quiet and let them fade from history?

I think not.

Even in death, the Ili martyrs could have proved to be a challenge to the CCP. As Uighur nationalist politicians, they had huge potential as rallying points for Uighurs. Their government set a precedence for nationalism in Uighurstan. They showed that an Uighur state outside of Chinese influence was more than just a dream by cementing its reality. For their part, the CCP was very unwilling to see a large part of its western territory fall from its grasp. Xinjiang had long provided them with a buffer to the expansionist Soviet Union and much needed space in a country that was overly populated.

The Chinese government were aware of the extent to which the Ili martyrs could undermine their designs on Xinjiang. They needed to try to ensure that such a series of events would not be allowed to occur again. Realising that denial and suppression would only fan the flames, the CCP took the decision of appropriating the Ili martyrs, only under their own historical narrative.

It was easy for Mao and the CCP to adopt the images of Ahmedijan Kasim and company as communist heroes. They came to prominence battling against the corrupt GMD regime of old China. Therefore, the Ili revolt was framed as being an earlier manifestation of the events that led to the CCP victory. The participants were cast as revolutionaries, brothers-in-arms in a common struggle. They died heroes' deaths serving eternal class war. Today, a museum in Kulja supports photos of Mao proclaiming his new Republic in Tiananmen square alongside pictures of Kasim in Kulja. The proximity of their portraits symbolises the proximity of their ideals.

Once linked so closely to a common cause, the Ili revolt could never function as a tool for Uighur nationalism. The Ili martyrs, commemorated by the government and in a statue decorated with Chinese characters and endorsed by Mao, had their history usurped by a regime acutely aware of the power of defining it.

Such is the importance of historical narrative. The CCP works hard throughout Uighurstan to ensure their version is dominant.

* * *

The Tomb of Abakh Hoja (The Fragrant Concubine) provides more examples. At her family tomb in Kashgar, official versions of her story tell of a beautiful young Kashgari who was taken to Beijing to enter the imperial harem. The Emperor Qianlong was immediately smitten with the girl, but she would not fulfill her role as his concubine, and instead spent all day weeping for home. In his efforts to combat her homesickness and win her over, the Emperor built mosques and bazaars for her and ordered the importation of Kashgari plants and trees.

According to the official narrative, the girl was eventually won over by the Emperor and consigned herself to her new life. “Love between this Uygur maid and the emperor” proclaims the information board outside her tomb “is an evidence for great unity among different ethnic groups in China”. The story, supposedly, reflects the difficulties but also ultimate success in the Chinese's 'taming' of the western lands.

Unsurprisingly, the Uighur version of events differ. While the Uighurs tell the same tale of a Kashgari girl who was kidnapped by the Emperor, the girl's desire for home was not overcome by the Emperor and she remained stoically loyal to her homeland. In a last ditch attempt to win her over, the girl was given the choice of compliance or death, to which she chose death. This version of events is not recorded on the information board outside of the tomb. While the historical factuality of 'The Fragrant Concubine' is not clear, her story is present in both Uighur and Chinese folklore. Although she is ethnically Uighur and her tomb is in a Uighur-dominated area, it is only the Chinese version that is allowed expression.

An idle wander off the officially designated route at the Tomb led me to another example of re-writing, or this time rather non-writing of history. According to the latest information boards, the elderly Tomb of the Fragrant Concubine owes its upkeep and current state of repair to two sources. Firstly to the Emperor Qianlong, who restored it after her death in 1788 and secondly to the XUAR arm of the CCP who, since 1956, have conducted regular repairs to preserve this beautiful construction.

Tucked around a dusty corner out of general sight, I found something puzzling: older, hand written information boards, no longer on official display. Previously, the information boards had been longer and contained more details. In addition to the Emperor Qianlong's contribution, restoration had also been carried out by Yakub Beg in 1873, 'the people' in 1927, and again in 1943, by an unnamed entity. The puzzle was, why had these details been included previously but now omitted?

A possible answer lay next to the Tomb, in the Juma mosque. The Juma mosque is an archetypal model of mosques in the region. An arch doorway topped by half crescents leads you into an open courtyard, on one side of which there is a raised platform, supporting carved wooden pillars and an ornately decorated roof. On the wall facing Mecca there is a small, plastic, analogue clock. An information board details the dimensions and materials used, that the building is protected by the XUAR and that it was construction in 1873, but no sponsor for the construction is given.

It is no coincidence that the name of Yakub Beg has been erased. Beg arrived in Kashgar in 1864 as a military general. Subsequently, he had considerable military success against the Chinese. Within 3 years of his arrival in Kashgar, he had taken the whole of the Tarim basin, including the Chinese capital of Urumqi, and proclaimed himself the King of Kashgar.

Beg's reign was cruel and weighed heavily on the people under it. Beg was not a popular or inspirational leader and not an example of a leader Uighurs might aspire to. Despite this, the CCP feels that his presence in history is enough of a threat to be erased. Why? Because Beg's rule was a discontinuation of Chinese rule.

The Chinese government wants to propagate the myth that since the East Han dynasty (60 B.C.), they have had uninterrupted rule of the area. Without exception, all official mentions of Xinjiang's history included a sentence that attests to its two millenniums as part of the Chinese state. Beg damages their lie. Beg was Turkic in ethnicity, coming from Andijion in today's Uzbekistan. Moreover, his authority and power came from his part in the Great Game, as a pawn for the British and the Russians, rather than from the Chinese. Indeed, Yakub Beg militarily conquered the Chinese, bringing an end to a period of their rule of the region. As a result, Yakub Beg, like the Ili martyrs, poses a threat to the official CCP narrative. Unlike his Ili counterparts though, the CCP have not found a way to link him into their own history so have simply written him out of the story, however clumsily the Tomb's curator has done this.

The Tomb of the Fragrant Concubine in Kashgar, like the Martyr's memorial in Kulja, is run and sponsored by the government because this gives them ultimate control over the version of history that is presented. By dominating the narrative, they seek to control the meaning that these Uighur symbols have, and to disarm any power them may have for resistance.

* * *

The third site we visited was the memorial to Mahmoud Kashgari, a 11th Century Uighur scholar. Kashgari, (meaning 'of Kashgar'), spent many years of his life in Baghdad where he received an Islamic eduction. His greatest composition was the 'Great Turkic Dictionary'. Kashgari's life occurred aside from the Chinese or their state. Indeed, Kashgari, a committed Turkic nationalist, was anti-Chinese, referring to them as 'the trouble-makers in the East'. In later life, Kashgari returned to Kashgar to establish a school, in the modern day village of Opal. When he died at the age of 97, he was buried on a hill nearby, with views stretching out across the valley to the huge Pamir mountain range in the distance. After nearly 1000 years, the tomb of Kashgari was a wind swept ruin, comprising of a crumbling half-cylindrical stone and a few wobbly pillars that must have supported a long-gone roof.

The final conundrum:

As the 1000th year of Kashgari's death approached, the XUAR arm of the CCP decided to renovate the Tomb of Kashgari. The tomb is now covered with beautiful fabrics and a headstone added to give the details of Kashgari's life. It has been enclosed in a new building which contains a small museum and prayer room. Surrounding the building are kept-gardens and a 10-metre high statue of Kashgari himself made of white marble.

I am sure that Kashgari is turning in his grave at the sight of what is happening to his descendants today. He regarded the Chinese with disdain and would certainly object to the current Chinese dominance of his kin. So once again, why do the Chinese government choose to honour him? Simply, I believe, because the most efficient way to undermine Kashgari's historical legacy is for the Chinese government to manipulate this legacy and to re-write Kashgari in terms of their choosing. This is achieved by excluding references to his anti-Chineseness and including references to his presence as an ethnic minority in the inseparable multi-ethnic Chinese empire. By reconstructing his tomb, they choose what is written about him. The information is in the Chinese language as well as Uighur and labeled 'protected by the government of the XUAR'. Posthumously, Kashgari has been assimilated into greater China.
* * *

In all of the cases that I mentioned, the Chinese government is engaging itself in a process of re-writing Uighur history in order to incorporate it into the official narrative currently espoused by Beijing. The methods by which it does this vary on a case by case scenario. Some figures can be assimilated others have to be destroyed, but none can be left untouched for fear of providing the Uighurs with something that challenges the myth of a continuous, unchanging Chinese authority in the region.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The border guard and the beasts

One of my primary motivations for coming to this region is that I know that it is a place were the relations between different ethnic groups of the People's Republic of China (PRC) are not always harmonious. I came here because I am interested in this and because I wanted to see it first hand and I hope to talk with some of the local people about their experiences of it.

Despite my prior knowledge, I was shocked by how quickly these tensions became apparent. On stepping out of the brand new Chinese customs post on the China/Kazakhstan border, there is a 50 metre walk to the outside world. On our side of the gates, a Chinese soldier stood. He looked no more than about 18 years old, he was a full head shorter than me and skinny. In fact, he looked quite comical with his gold badges and hat pulled down to the bridge of his nose, like a child in adult's clothing.

On the other side, a group of some 20 plus men, in the trade mark central Asian attire of leather jackets, shiny shoes and flat caps, stood huddled around the exit, 'TAXI, CHANGE MONEY, TAXI' they yelled in our direction. After the efficient ease of the high-tech Chinese customs point, this was crash back down to reality. Hassle and hustle. As we approached the Chinese soldier, the shouts grew louder and more personalised, 'MR, MR, dovotchka, dovotchka!' Suddenly, two men leapt through the gate and grabbed out at my girlfriend, K. The soldier yelled, the two men retreated. He took our passports and checked the entry stamp. Tightening bag straps and burying our passports deep inside our clothing we edged toward the gate, the crowd outside moved toward us, K stopped. From behind us, suddenly the soldier abandoned his post and went directly for the nearest man. His boot swung and connected with the man's backside.

The man, startled, straightened his body and turned his head, another kick, he grimaced. Another kick. By now the soldier found himself deep into enemy territory, 20 plus dark sets of eyes, in heads much older than his, on bodies probably twice his weight stared at him. The soldier, barking, retreated to his side of the gate.

* * *

Since our explosive entrance, we have had many discussions about what this event says about the relationship between the Uighur people and the Han-dominated Chinese state. K and I both come from western Europe and as a result find it hard to understand the role that violence plays in cultures and societies other than our own. While our countries certainly are not models of peaceful existence, internally at least, state violence is rare. In western Europe, the methods of policing society are largely based on deterrence (the possibility of punishment) rather than the physical assertion of power. Consequently, it is generally unusual to see authorities either openly challenged or using physical violence to assert their authority. Indeed, the need to resort to physical means of coercion would be seen as a loss of control rather than a way of asserting it.

So, once our hearts had slowed down and we were safely in a taxi, it was within this framework that we began to consider what our experience meant. Was it emblematic of the situation between the Uighur and the Han state or merely an isolated incident? If it was reflective, what did it say?

What follows are a series of notions that came up and which may be contradictory and are not exhaustive. Perhaps we spent too much time thinking about an isolated event and tried to read too much into it, but, that's how we are sometimes. I, in particular, tried to use the incident to characterise the 'bigger picture' despite it's apparent smallness. Having covered my bases, though, I do think that some of the reflections we had were valuable. So, with that in mind, here is an idea of the thought processes that went on.

* * *

Firstly, I wanted to understand why the men broke the rules. One possible motivation could be material gain, to persuade us to use whatever service they are providing. However, by creating the tense scenario they did, they certainly did not sell themselves to potential customers. Their behaviour was counter-productive to getting business, assuming that most people, like ourselves, would attempt to escape this hostile environment as soon as possible.

Therefore, I began to think that their actions were intended as a challenge to the legitimacy of the authorities. By breaking the rules and encroaching on the soldiers sovereign space, the Uighur men outside the gate were acting not out of material interest but in order to challenge the soldier's sovereignty, a symbolic attack on the established hierarchy.

The significance of this space is its visibility. The soldier works in a space that is highly visible to foreigners coming into the country. The strength of first impressions makes this a particularly fruitful site for undermining the state and its legitimacy. If the Chinese state wants to play down the narrative of the Uighur and keep it out of the international consciousness, the Uighur people themselves could be seeking to display it in any space they have access to.

Potentially, these actions could be part of a performance for outsiders. While travellers from further afield, such as ourselves, are rare, travellers from Central Asia are common. When we crossed, there were Kazakhs, Uzbek tour groups and Uighurs from outside of China crossing the border. Seeing that these groups are ethnically close to the Uighur, what with their all being Turkic peoples, those Uighur inside China have come to consider them to be some sort of natural allies in their struggles against the Chinese authorities. The Chinese government has used its economic and political clout to neutralise this potential alliance by engaging Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in the Shanghai Five treaty organisation. Through a mixture of incentives and threats, these governments have been persuaded to co-operate in the clamp down on Uighur challenges to the Chinese state. Yet while governments are actively undermining the Uighur cause, there is still something to fight for – public opinion.

Therefore, I thought that perhaps the Uighur at the gate wanted to do two things, first to draw attention to their cause and second to show that they are not beaten but still fighting. Choosing the international platform of a border post could convey the message:

“You all have your own 'stans, we want ours too. Kinspeople, why aren't you helping us?”

It may be a little far fetched to read so much into the incident, but I do think the sentiment exists. On a bus journey across the mountains, the driver, a Uighur, on hearing that we had come through central Asia asked me, 'Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, but where is Uighurstan?' A comparison through which the Uighurs can articulate their claim.

* * *

While the image of resistance is powerful, another contradictory image consistently came to mind. The only difference between the 20 plus men outside the gate and the scrawny-looking 18 year old inside it, was a uniform. Despite the young solider being heavily outnumbered and physically inferior to his counterparts, nobody dared to respond to his physical aggression. While the rejection of authority existed, there was clearly a line that would not be crossed: another aspect of the Uighur / state relationship?

While the Uighurs may strive to struggle in the small spaces that are available to them, there is an understanding that a limit exists and that the repercussions of exceeding it are more than they are were willing to risk.

The uniform is not just a young boy but a whole system that wields immense power over people's lives. An act of aggression toward the young soldier would be conceived of in the severest of terms and the possibility of this punishment is reason enough for restraint.

In the past, the Chinese government has descended down ruthlessly on the Uighurs, and the Uighurs are painfully aware of this. Any dissent, regardless of scale, motivation or cause, is liable to be understood by the punitive system in the strongest of terms. For example, in Baren village near Kashgar in 1999, a protest that local people claim was about government restrictions on mosque building was attributed by the government to foreign agitators and religious fundamentalism. In 1997 in Kulja, riots, attributed by the government to 'splittists', were, according to local people, concerned with securing the release of imprisoned religious leaders and lack of employment opportunities for Uighurs.

When talking to a Han Chinese woman about her childhood in Xinjiang, she referred to 'trouble' with the Uighur as a child. When pushed on what this 'troubles' was, she admitted that it was most often a result Uighur objection to local government actions. In its relations with the Uighur population, the Chinese government seems keener to throw around accusations of treason rather than address the more tangible reasons for discontent. Under an ideological state, such as communist China, challenging the state is easily construed as attacking its very existence. Consequently, the punishments are the severest, and numerous Uighurs have fallen foul of such ideological acrobatics.

So, if we think of the small space between Kazakhstan and China as a stage for Uighurs to put themselves on display, then we should also think about what it means to the Chinese state and its soldier. The flippant encroachment of his sovereignty is clearly not the image he would like outsiders to see not being punished. Whereas from a western European perspective, resorting to violence is seen as a loss of control, in the culture of the Chinese state, I think violence plays a different role.

An example to illustrate:

On a previous visit to the PRC 5 years ago, I was walking down a street in Beijing when I saw two policeman coming out of an expensive hotel, following a young man, who was handcuffed. This young man was wearing a hotel worker's uniform, I assumed the crime was no more serious than theft given the relatively relaxed way the policeman behaved. The situation seemed calm, the arrested boy didn't struggle, the policeman chatted between themselves, paying only the necessary attention to their charge. However, after the trio had made their way out onto the pavement, things changed. First, one policeman forced the boy to kneel then, they flung him forward, causing him to fall face-first onto the concrete. The other policeman then put his heavy boot on the back of the boy's head and proceeded to squeeze his face into the concrete. What struck me though, was that despite this sudden increase of violence, the attitude of the trio remained the same, the criminal was subdued and the police nonchalant.

As the young man was already restrained and was passively accepting his fate, the use of violence seemed excessive to the point of absurdity. What could be gained from behaving in this way? It was only later, on refection, that I could make sense of what I had seen. The violence used by the police was not intended for its receiver. It was neither for restraint nor vengeance. The violence was for the consumption of a third party – the audience who had assembled to see what was happening. The attitude of the policemen suddenly changed because they were in public. By exercising their complete domination over the boy, the police were reinforcing the hierarchy of authority in society as a whole.

In these terms, the soldier's behaviour at the border becomes more understandable. It was precisely the presence of third parties that was the motivation for the soldier to perform. By using violence that he knew would not be reciprocated, he displayed to us the power of his uniform. He, a single individual, could not only restrain his opponents, but was in fact able to inflict humiliation upon them at will, knowing they were powerless to stop him. With a few quick swings of his leg, he made a definitive statement about his ascendancy and, accordingly, about the Uighur's inferiority.

* * *

By now, you may think that I have thought far too much about an event that lasted for just a few seconds, and you're probably right. Because I came here to look for manifestations of social inequity and disharmony, I am liable to see it wherever I look. Here, I have taken one small incident and tried to turn it into a metaphor for something much bigger than it is and maybe, as a result, read too much into it.

However, while the situation I described may not be as meaningful as I made it to be, I do think it provides a glimpse into some elements of life here. Clearly, tensions exists. They exist between the state and between its subjects. To a large extent, these tension are delineated along ethnic lines, in which a state dominated by Han Chinese comes to be reacted against by those who feel disgruntled with its hegemony: the Uighur.

Friday, 21 November 2008

What's in a name?

China's most westerly province – 新疆, Xinjiang - what's in a name?

After deciding to embark on the project of blogging a contested part of the world, the first (and I'm sure not last) conundrum I have is what to call it. Inherently, the decision to use one label over another is political. Having lived in Lebanon for the past year amongst Lebanese and Palestinians, I have become accustomed to referring to the space to Lebanon's south as Palestine, its capital as 'occupied Jerusalem'. The legitimacy of Israel is denied by the use of a name. On the other side, the Zionist colonisation project takes definitions seriously too. Tel Aviv, a major city in the new state of Israel, is the renamed Arab town of Jaffa. All allusions to an Arab past have been vanquished in an attempt to re-write history and narratives that contradict official policy.

The extension of Han Chinese power into the geographical area spanning the Taklamakan Desert, the central Tian Shan mountain range, the Dzungarian Basin and the Altai mountain range has its own definitional difficulties. In Mandarin Chinese, the area is referred to as Xin Jiang 新疆 'new border(lands)'. In addition, many of Xinjiang's cities have experienced either a sinification of their names. In some cases, such as for Urumqi, the Han Chinese signifier retains relative closeness to the original name 乌鲁木齐(wulumuqi). In others, there is less attempt to be faithful to the original name, so Kashgar becomes 喀什 (kashi). In further cases, all attempts are forgone as the Uighur town Kulja becomes 伊宁 (yining) that takes its name from the Ili river that runs nearby.

In these towns themselves, the Uighurs use continue to use their names, whereas the Han use theirs. The major difference is while the Uighur recognise the Han names, the majority of Han can be completely confused by the Uighur's ones. Why? All official references to locations are in Han Chinese: the map I bought in a bookstore, the road signs marking distances and direction, the 'welcome' signs at towns entrances, the 'to-from' sign in the front of buses. There is little reason to expect the average Han Chinese to know Uighur names because, in everyday life these names are simply blotted out of existence. The labels that are attributed to places in this region are expressions of unequal power relations.

I want to consider more closely now the Chinese signifier for the area as a whole 新疆, because, unlike the sinified city names, the provincial name is entirely a Han Chinese creation, with a Han Chinese meaning and it displays, in part, the Han Chinese attitude toward it.

My analysis here relies on a specific idea of naming, that naming is not just a process that acts on its subject but is also that which acts on an object. Thus, by naming night as night, there must also be a contingent definition of day, without which night would be meaningless. All names operate in this way.

In using the character 新(new) to define a space, that space is always consider in the context of another space, that can be considered old. If it were not, then 'new' would cease to have meaning. So what are the new and old in our context?

In the state provincial museum in Urumqi, it is possible to see evidence of the discoveries of human remains in the Taklamakan desert that show the area has a history of human inhabitation that stretches back for at least 3000 years. These human remains are older than any found in other parts of today's China. Clearly, even human history is not new to these parts. The 新 of 新疆 however does not seek to refer to this ancient history, the 新 of 新疆 refers to a new history, the history of Han Chinese presence. Han Chinese origins and history lie in the centre of China, with, amongst others Confucius (Shandong province) and Qin Shi Huang (whose tomb of terracotta warriors is near Xian in Shaanxi province). Their presence by comparison is 'new'. The 新of 新疆attests only to a Han Chinese reading of history and refers to the contested space only in terms of its attachment to a Han Chinese state.

The second character that makes up the signifier is 疆meaning border or borderlands. Border as a geographical or political term is contingent on its compliment. For border to have any significance, there must be a centre against which to define it. The term border has two implications that on first glance can be considered as contradictory, difference and unity. The border is different, in that it is distinct from the centre. Borders are often restive places where the influence and grasp on power of the centre is weak. During the European appropriation of North America, the borders were the homes of Indians, of dangerous wild animals, of untamed environments. During the 'Great Game' of the 19th and early 20th century, Tsarist Russia and Imperial Britain battled to extend the borders of their respective influences into the exotic, dangerous unknown of central Asia. In Afghanistan, the British government, keen to expand its own borderlands, granted local leaders sovereignty over lands they felt unable of paying the costs of winning militarily, thus establishing what is now the Federally Administered Tribal administrative areas of modern Pakistan. This territory that was too difficult for the British still exists under its own law and has provided the main base for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to maintain their presence. Throughout history, exile and banishment to the periphery have always been a prominent tool of punishment. The punishment is doubly efficient as the punished is at once moved away from the centre where they could be dangerous, but not so far away as that they are outside of the eyes and ears of the state. Leon Trotsky was banished to Alma Ata, Napoleon to Saint Helena. By sending these influential people to these far away places, they are far removed from the loci of power and thus their strength is neutralised, yet they remain within the state's surveillance mechanism. The examples I have given thus far are European but parallels exist in Chinese culture. The danger and untamed idea of border is symbolised by the Great Wall. Built with intention of protecting the Han Chinese from the dangerous barbarians beyond, it highlights the special prevalence that dangerous outsiders have in the minds of Han Chinese.

The punishment of exile is to the Chinese an equally powerful one. Chinese emperors would send criminals and vagabonds to the fringes of the empire, to the lands of outsiders where access to imperial power did not exist. Hainan island, the most southerly part of China, is an example of this. Today, Hainan is a tropical paradise and a major tourist draw for China's fast developing internal tourism market. However, in the past, this distant island far from the imperial centres of Xian, Beijing or Nanjing served as the primary place of exile for those deemed undesirable by the dynasty of the day. It was only recently, that Hainan island became an exclusive holiday resort where China's new elite could bathe in the tropical sun and eat up exotic culinary treats to the sounds and rhythms of southern China's 'ethnic minorities'.

The rehabilitation of Hainan however did not remove the need for a place to deposit the undesirables of society. Since its inception after the civil war, the Communist revolution has had millions of internal enemies, former capitalist, intellectuals, rightists, common criminals, peasants who opposed communalisation amongst others. These challenges to the state's authority needed to be removed and their influence nullified. Where better to send them. than to the borderlands, dispossessed of their power base, yet under within the state's surveillance.

Finally, the label of border, within an international system of nation-states, implies ownership. Between all modern nation states, abstract lines of demarcation exist that define how geographical spaces are to be divided amongst states. The border division is an all or nothing game, on one side of the border, sovereignty is afforded to A, on the other to B. Thus, while at once being considered as periphery, the border is also by definition considered to be within the sovereign space of the centre. The Chinese name 新疆defines its referent as peripheral, yet also irrevocably bound to its centre.

For the reasons given, I currently believe that the name 新疆 is the violent imposition of Han Chinese conceptions of history and of value on a geographical space that is not exclusively theirs. This Han Chinese name is imposed by the state in order to emphasis a Han-centred reading of history that highlights on the one hand the space's attachment to the Chinese state and on the other hand its marginality within the Chinese state.

For these reasons, when specifying geographical spaces, I will, wherever possible refrain from making generalised statements about the region as a whole and prefer to refer to cities, towns, villages or areas. I will where I can use Uighur names for these cities, towns and villages, a fact that is testament to my personal bias.