The Outsiders Within: Contesting Majority and Minority Peoplehood in Modern and Contemporary China
4: Embodying the Great Traditions of the Chinese Nation: Dressing Uyghurs in Han Clothing
Friday, March 25, 2022
3:30pm – 5:00pm EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 313B
Monash University, Australia
Ethnic minorities in the People’s Republic of China have long been represented in so-called “ethnic clothing” (minzu fuzhuang), at once imaginarily representing ethnic groups’ cultures and sartorially differentiating them from the presumed national norm, the Han majority. Yet in recent years, as the tragedy of mass incarceration of the Uyghur people in concentration camps has unfolded, there has been a curious proliferation of public events in Xinjiang wherein members of the Uyghur ethnicity are dressed in Han Clothing, the recently imagined pseudo-traditional clothing of China’s Han majority.
Based in the documentation of such public displays in official news stories and social media posts, this paper examines three core aspects of these novel representations of ethnic relations: (1) the frequent use of children in these displays highlights the pedagogical and temporal assumptions of majority-minority relations; (2) the events revolve around traditional rituals and studies of “Confucian values,” highlighting the Han-centric civilizational assumptions of majority-minority relations; and (3) the events’ emphasis on proper clothing and ritual movements highlight the bodily assumptions of majority-minority relations, eclipsing the imagined uncontrollable “dancing” Uyghur via the mimicry of an imagined steady and controlled Han demeanor.
Considering these ethnic displays in the larger political context, I argue that the curious practice of dressing Uyghurs as “traditional” Han sheds new light on ethnic policy in Xinjiang today, revealing recent developments not so much as an unexpected dark turn in ethnic relations but rather as the outgrowth of longstanding assumptions in majority-minority relations.