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From Revolutionaries to Conservatives: The Maoist Uyghur Elite in Post-Mao China

Lecture by Joshua Freeman, Princeton University

Tuesday, February 25, 2020
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Haines 279

In the 1950s, a cohort of young Uyghur intellectuals formed an alliance with the Maoist party-state and emerged as the new cultural elite of Xinjiang, China’s majority-Muslim northwest region. Adept at explaining socialist policy in a Uyghur cultural context, these poets, editors, and translators endeavored to replace existing traditions with a new culture suited to the socialist revolution. While the party-state placed increasing pressure on the culture and religion of the “old society,” this group of socialist Uyghur intellectuals promoted new cultural forms, ranging from simplified poetic meters to a written language supposedly closer to popular speech. Most of these intellectuals were denounced during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, which also led throughout China to the burning of most written works, whether recent or ancient. By the early 1980s, when reformist policies took hold in Xinjiang and Uyghur-language books and journals began once more to be printed in large quantities, the unprecedented destruction of the preceding years had lent a sense of chronological depth and classic status to the cultural products and norms introduced in the 1950s. Thus it was that as Mao-era intellectuals were rehabilitated and their works reprinted, they assumed a leading role in 1980s Uyghur public culture as guardians of timeless Uyghur tradition—a tradition they themselves had presented several decades before as a revolutionary challenge to age-old Uyghur culture.

Sponsor(s): Asia Pacific Center, Program on Central Asia