To view this PAPER PRESENTATION, search for the session title in the Browse by Titlelisting. (See the session title located immediately below ["In Session:"])
China and Inner Asia
In Session: Ethnocultural Violence and Historical Memory on the Inner Asian Frontiers of the PRC
2: State Violence, Pastoral Romanticism, and Kazakh Historical Memory in Post-Mao Xinjiang
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Simon Fraser University, Canada
Kazakh historical memory in contemporary Xinjiang is an assemblage of pastoral romance, heroic and tragic tales, and stories of harrowing migrations that inevitably led to the creation of Kazakh ‘tribal’ identities. Rather than simply reiterating a ‘kinship society’ trope, these narratives are a decolonizing response to state representations and settler colonialism since the incorporation of Xinjiang into the PRC. Using ethnographic reports, Kazakh genealogy publications, and oral histories, this paper investigates how changing socio-political frameworks in Xinjiang since the 1950s affect representations and historical memories of Kazakh society and its relation to the Chinese state.
Early Chinese ethnologists used Marxist-Leninist class analysis and Western anthropological concepts such as tribe and clan to argue that Kazakh society prior to the 1950s was led by local nobles and wealthy “herd-lords” who exploited dependent herders, women, and peasants. The representation of the pastoral nobility as reactionary and patriarchal took effect during the subsequent period of socialist remodeling leading to an erosion of Kazakh political and economic sovereignty. In response both to the wrenching transformations of the socialist era and state censorship, post-Mao Kazakh popular memory portrays an egalitarian, free, and masculine pastoral nomadic past, while flattening structural violence within Kazakh society that predated the establishment of the PRC, such as the peonage, gendered violence, and pastural disputes that animated earlier analyses. Beginning in the 1980s, folklore projects and historical novels reimagined a romanticized pastoral past, and in the 1990s locally published genealogies popularized the nationalistic myth of common ancestry from Kazakh nobility.