Down and Out in Khandu and Qarakhoja: An Autobiography from Late Qing Turfan

In: Journal of Central Asian History
Eric Schluessel Department of History, The George Washington University Washington, DC USA

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In the summer of 2014, I ran across a short (21-folio) manuscript in the collection of the Institute for Oriental Manuscripts (Institut Vostochnix Rukopisiei) in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Dmitrieva catalog of Turkic manuscripts at the IVR describes the manuscript as follows: “Autograph by a poor man from Qarakhoja in Xinjiang with information about the life of Uyghurs at that time.” It was written in or before 1909. Qarakhoja is a town in the Turfan Depression in eastern Xinjiang, and this text is a memoir or autobiography of a literate but not wealthy man named Obulmahdi (Abū ‘l-Mahdī), recounting his life from his childhood in the 1850s through the first decade of the twentieth century. It presents a record of a complex life on the margins of society in the last years of the Qing empire’s (1636/44–1912) rule in Xinjiang.

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