Save

Alignment and Alienation: The Ambivalent Modernisations of Uyghur Marriage in the 21st Century

In: Oriente Moderno
Authors:
Rune Steenberg Researcher, Faculty of Arts, Department of Asian Studies, Palacky University Olomouc Olomouc Czech Republic

Search for other papers by Rune Steenberg in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
and
Musapir Private Scholar North America

Search for other papers by Musapir in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
Open Access

Abstract

Uyghur marriages in Xinjiang in the 2010s have been characterised by various, sometimes seemingly contradictory trends of modernisation, such as monetisation, simplification, emphasis on ethnic symbolism, displays of piety and the active integration of both Turkish, Western and Chinese elements. This article views these trends as complex, inter-related reactions to the region’s socio-economic transformations and political campaigns. It analyses how these transformations and campaigns affect everyday decisions at the local level. The study of marriage provides a good insight into the effects of economic and political transformations on the ground. In such studies, we argue for a distinction between trends on the level of symbolic positioning and identity display from trends on a deeper structural level pertaining to social relations, economic integration and household strategies. In the case of Uyghurs in southern Xinjiang these two levels have shown opposite trends. On a surface level of symbolic display, the relatively open years of 2010-2014 allowed for the flourishing of trends that did not follow the Party-State line, such as Islamic piety and a strengthened Uyghur ethno-national identity. Yet, on a deeper structural level these trends signified improved integration into modern Chinese society. In contrast, the increased state violence of 2015-2020 enforced a strong symbolic alignment with Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ideology but at the same time alienated the Uyghur population from this society effectively necessitating the development of forms of organisation that the CCP deems backwards and undesirable.

Introduction*

September 2017, Kucha, Xinjiang. It is Zeynep’s1 wedding day. She wears a long, white, European style dress and tiara. Her make-up is done by a professional according to the newest trends of the coastal urban centres of eastern China. Her wedding invitations were circulated through WeChat in Chinese, showing high quality studio photos of her and the groom, accompanied by an English love song. Though Zeynep and her family consider themselves Muslim, there is no Islamic nikāḥ ceremony at Zeynep’s wedding. Up until 2016 most Uyghurs saw the nikāḥ as necessary for the marriage to be valid and lawful. At Zeynep’s wedding, the couple — in Han-Chinese fashion — bowed three times to each set of parents before the wedding guests. The symbolism of this celebration stood in stark contrast to that of the wedding of Zeynep’s sister Meryem six years earlier in 2011. Meryem had been dressed in a neo-traditional Uyghur etles dress and the corresponding headgear doppa, underscoring her ethnic affiliation much more pronounced than was the case for Zeynep’s attire. Her guests had been invited on hand-signed, pre-printed shiny cardboard cards in Uyghur calligraphy and personally delivered to individuals and households by her brothers and cousins. At her wedding the nikāḥ had been the central ritual. It lasted for an hour and featured a sermon by a local molla2 who spoke of loyalty, family, kindness, sex and correct ablutions.

A close look at marriage and weddings can provide deep insights into the local effects of large scale political, economic and religious developments. Since the communist takeover of the region now known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in 1949, wedding practices amongst Uyghurs3 have varied a great deal with the changing circumstances (Clark, 1999; Hann, 2011). They also vary from family to family and oasis to oasis, but in the case of Zeynep and her sister we have two very different weddings held by one and the same household.

This difference is indicative of a greater trend that we have observed in many weddings from 2011-2017 and that we interpret as reactions to large scale economic and political transformation. In this article we examine some of the most important trends in weddings and marriages during the 2010s in southern Xinjiang and relate them to the wider socio-economic developments and the politics of the Chinese party-state. We have chosen not to focus on any single phenomenon, but rather to seek to consolidate the different trends within a broader framing analysis.

Our analysis aims to explain the parallel occurrence of seemingly contradictory trends in weddings such as the popularity of both ethno-national and Islamic symbolism and of expressions of Western and Chinese modernity at the same time. We understand these as varied reactions to processes of alienation and community fragmentation following from rapid economic transformation and from Uyghur experiences of discrimination and state violence. Similarly, we see increased wedding-spending and commodification alongside a reduction in complexity of the marriage procedures and a heightened emphasis on piety and charity as complex responses to the ongoing monetisation of local economies and social relations.4 Lastly, the massive restrictions on weddings and marriage imposed by the state after 2014 provide an explanation for quickly changing outer forms even where they do not directly correspond with the deeper content or functions of the marriage procedures.

When looking at weddings to identify local responses to state policies and economic transformation, it is important to analytically distinguish between the surface level of political and identity-related symbolisms and the structural level of deeper socio-economic choices made by households and communities. We argue that trends on one level do not correspond to similar trends on the other. In southern Xinjiang between 2010-2014 the symbolic distancing of many Uyghurs from the authorities by means of ethnic and religious symbols betrayed a deeper level of socio-economic integration and modernisation connected to commodification and the loss of traditional communities. In contrast, the alignment with party-state public symbolism forcibly adopted by Uyghur families after 2014, obscures their socio-economic disintegration and alienation from the state. It is the aim of this article to understand these overlapping trends in weddings in light of the broader developments in southern Xinjiang in the 2010s while also reversely using weddings as a lens with which to examine social transformation more broadly.

The article draws on a mix of fieldwork, collected materials and online research. Rune Steenberg conducted 24 months of fieldwork for his PhD-thesis on marriage and his subsequent post-doctoral research on trader networks in Kashgar and Atush in 2010-11, 2013, 2015 and 2016. Because of the political restrictions on research in Xinjiang it consisted mainly of participant observation, informal interviews and the collection of wedding videos and other relevant material. During this time, Rune visited more than 20 weddings and other marriage related celebrations and ceremonies and collected 16 wedding videos spanning the time 2007-2016. Musapir has conducted a total of 14 months of fieldwork in Khotan and Kucha between 2010 and 2016 including interviews and participant observation. During this time, Musapir lived in the region and visited upwards of 30 weddings in Ürümchi and Kucha though not for the purpose of research. For the changes after 2016, we draw on oral histories and interviews with more than 20 Uyghurs living abroad, their relaying of news from their relatives in the region, on reporting by recent travellers out of the region and on social media posts and short wedding videos uploaded onto WeChat, YouTube and other platforms.

Marriage, Kinship, State

Uyghur kinship ties in southern Xinjiang rest on mutual relations of exchange and dependency in which marriages and weddings are constituting parts. As in other Central Asian contexts, marriage establishes a new household, unites two families, and helps define and consolidate their wider social networks (Yarmuhemmet Tahir, 2009; Enwer Semet, 2007; Abdukérim Raxman et al., 1996; Abdushükür, 2001). As a rule, match-making — whether initiated by the couple or the parents — entails considering the needs of both generations and involves the wider kinship group and the local community. Escaping the unfruitful dichotomy of arranged and free choice (love) marriage, we can speak of mediated marriage negotiated amongst several actors all affected socio-economically by its outcome.5

Special to Uyghur kinship in southern Xinjiang is the pronounced centrality of marriage for constructing the closest social relations of a household. Unlike in most other parts of Central Asia, no socio-centric descent groups6 like lineages, tribes or clans are of any significance here. While filiation (the link between parents and children and by association sibling links) is of utmost importance for a person’s immediate social units and closest relations, descent (links stretching over several generations) is not. Close kinship is based less on genealogical closeness and more on permanent relations of gift giving and mutual support of labor and money.

Marriage is the strongest and most culturally meaningful way to establish such relations of mutual dependency. In-laws and other affines are thus the closest relatives after parents and siblings. Weddings and other life cycle rituals (toy) are prominent events for forging close and reliable ties of kinship (Steenberg, 2013). Many celebrations and rituals along the marriage process are devoted to the strengthening of particular social relationships. The morning communal meal (in Kashgar known as toy neziri) is prepared firstly for the local mosque community, while the “preparation tea” (meslihet chay) given a few days earlier is aimed at consolidating relations with the groom’s friends and peers, and the meal given on the second day of the wedding at the official lifting of the veil of the bride (yüz achqu) focuses on connecting the groom’s and bride’s female relatives.

The importance of kinship in Uyghur society has not gone unchallenged in the modern era. For centuries Uyghur kinship has been confronted with systems of state and law that have shaped and transformed it (Bellér-Hann, 2008a, 2008b; Newby, 1998; Steenberg, 2016), but after 1949 — in the PRC era — the CCP in line with its modernist, secularist ideology began a more deliberate effort to transform society. This has included efforts to control kinship structures — not least those of its minorities. The Great Leap Forward (1958-62) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) both went to extremes in opposing and seeking to destroy existing social institutions, but other, less radical measures have arguably had more lasting effects on Uyghur kinship and marriage practices.

One of the strongest and most successful challenges to established kinship practice was posed by the PRC Marriage Laws of 1950 and 1980. Here, a minimum age for marriage was fixed, polygamy was outlawed, arranged marriage was forbidden and state registration was prescribed by law (Engel, 1984). From the early 1990s mandatory family planning brought further changes and challenges to Uyghur kinship practices.

Many state regulations have been dealt with creatively by the local population. Forged birth certificates were used to meet the minimum age requirement for marriage and clandestine adoptions and bribing were widely tolerated ways to partly circumvent restrictions up until 2014, when a more radical enforcement was put in place. Though certainly transformed and changed, Uyghur kinship networks remained important and arguably even strengthened in the Reform Era of Deng Xiaoping, where the Chinese economy was gradually liberated and families and networks all over China7 including Xinjiang8 became instrumental in organising and enabling the establishment of a market system with Chinese characteristics.9 The structure of Uyghur kinship in southern Xinjiang is well suited for developing such networks with its integrative, non-genealogical characteristics and the focus on gift giving as conducive of the closest relations. These structures have been continuously reinforced by the Uyghurs’ colonial experience of discrimination and marginalisation before and within the PRC. They are still consolidated by the comparatively limited access Uyghurs have had to the formal resources and mechanisms installed through policies of modernisation.

Modernisation and Development

Modernisation (Chin. xiandaihua, Uygh. zamaniwilishish) and development (Chin. fazhan, Uygh. tereqqiyat) are key concepts, leitmotivs and aims of the Chinese government and have been so at least since 1949. They are values to strive for both in the eyes of the government and for most Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Broadly speaking they hereby understand the transformation of society and the economy towards one dominated by a number of related characteristics such as: a scientific, secularist understanding of the world; industrialisation; growth of material wealth; urbanisation; raised comforts and consumption; increased mobility; technological improvement; a state regulated money-economy as the dominating form of exchange; standardisation and regulation of products and processes; a universal formal education; digitisation and a generally rule and law based social order sanctioned by the state. These are characteristics most Chinese government officials, and most Uyghur intellectuals would recognise as elements of modernisation.

A move towards such a society has undoubtedly taken place in China and Xinjiang during the past decades, sometimes enforced, sometimes carried ahead by citizens with great enthusiasm. It is connected to at least two other underlying transformations that are less readily recognised by many of those participating in them or even by those actively pushing them ahead: They lead towards an increasing formalisation of society, connected to state regulation but also carried by other large organisations and companies through the anonymising instruments of bureaucracy and money.10 This entails, as Louis Dumont (1986), Marilyn Strathern (1988) and others have described, a process of individualisation, of the compartmentalisation of society into individuals and to a degree a dissolution of concrete communities — both physically, economically and emotionally — to the advantage of imagined ones in the form of abstract identities. Arjun Appadurai begins his exploration of modernity with tracing the development of his own understanding of it from one of “modernity as embodied sensation” to “modernity-as-theory” (Appadurai, 1996: 2).

Following him, we also intentionally move from describing “modernisation” as a local notion to employing it as an analytical concept in Xinjiang. In line with Bourdieu, this concept allows us to move beyond a crude phenomenological description of a local understanding in order to include more structural phenomena in the analysis without turning these into “guiding” or motivating factors (Bourdieu, 1976: 161-163).

Concretely, in this case, the move helps us connect the striving for “modernisation” by local actors concerned with education, technological improvement and accumulating wealth and a government concerned with economic growth, taxation, regulation and control, on the one hand, to processes that contribute to formalisation, individualisation, disruption of community and a stronger focus on identity, on the other.

In Xinjiang, as elsewhere in China, modernisation constituted a core value in the Maoist era and did so again in a different form after Mao’s death and the introduction of social and economic reforms by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s. Deng’s concept of development for China included different phases and a geographically unbalanced development initially focusing on the urban, eastern, coastal areas. Xinjiang belonged to the part of China that received the least attention and investment in the initial phases. Clark (1999) and Hann (2011) have argued that the 1980s provided a counter development to the Maoist controls as the state retreated from many realms of life and that a re-embedding of the economy into society took place.

In the 1990s a new form of modernisation focused on economic development, industrialisation and infrastructural expansion began to transform Xinjiang once more. “The Open the West” (Chin. xibudakaifu) development campaign started in 1992 brought industries, railroads and massive Han-Chinese immigration to the region. Yet, it was the “Develop the Great West” program starting in 1999 that became the driver of a new form of rapid socio-economic transformation in Xinjiang. This transformation included an increasing formalisation, regulation and monetisation of the economy — and of most Uyghurs’ lives.

“Develop the Great West” was dedicated to improving transportation, communication, energy provision and urban infrastructure in China’s western regions and to bolstering the regions’ gross domestic product (GDP). Along with other lesser developed provinces, Xinjiang was supposed to gradually catch up with the developed east coast. This did not happen. Disparities grew in the 2000s both across China and within Xinjiang. The region developed, GDP grew, infrastructure was massively expanded and formalisation pushed ahead. In July 2009 violence erupted when Uyghurs protested against discrimination by the state.11 The government’s prescribed solution against unrest and dissatisfaction was to further boost investment (Klimeš, 2018). The GDP went further up and the formal infrastructure was enhanced — also for businesses. Along with increased regulation and state control, this created incentives to disengage from informal institutions and engage in the formal Chinese economy. Yet, most of the government investment was received by capital heavy and well-connected Han-Chinese commercial actors flocking the region. Access to the profitable parts of the economy largely remained controlled by their networks who had strong ties to the government and many Uyghurs experienced increased marginalisation and loss of ownership of their land and livelihoods.

Modern Marriage

The modernization efforts of “Develop the Great West” involved the settlement of nomads, the construction of New Socialist Villages,12 the dismantlement of traditional neighborhoods13 and massive labour migration. Uyghur aspirations towards full integration and recognition as equal, valued members of society were hampered by discrimination and exclusion in many parts of the formal economy and state bureaucracy.

When a large commercial bank in Ürümchi hired new staff in November 2013, only two of 100 applicants invited to take the job placement exam were Uyghurs, both of whom were young, unmarried women who had studied in mainland China. Large numbers of Uyghurs who had adapted to the modern formal system with a degree of success, gradually losing their attachment to traditional forms of community, nevertheless felt marginalised and othered within modern Chinese society.

A Uyghur schoolteacher in Kashgar told how his extensive daily guarding duties at the school gate were making it difficult for him to prepare for class and to attend social gatherings like the morning meal at weddings or afternoon arrangements. At the same time, he did not feel that he, as a young Uyghur male, would be able to find work in the Han-dominated private sector beyond construction or other heavy, manual labour. As a result, he and many other Uyghurs began to stress their not-belonging to the dominant Chinese culture based on Han-Chinese traditions.

They did so by symbolically and in daily practice incorporating elements that invoked notions of Uyghurness and Islam. This contributed to the construction of a positive self-image both individually and on a shared public basis that did not (fully) conform to the state sanctioned versions. It also formed a base from which to establish new moral communities better suited for the pressures of the modernised social contexts within which Uyghurs increasingly found themselves inhabiting rather marginal positions. Uyghurness and Islam were performed at weddings like that of Zeynep’s elder sister Meryem described above.

Clothing seen as ethnic increased in popularity, decoration and the design of invitations deliberately expressed Uyghur ethnicity including poems by national poets like Abduréhim Ötkür and literary legends like Yusuf Has Hajib. Also, Islamic symbols and gestures became common amongst all age groups, such as the greeting “essalamu eleykum” in its full, not simplified pronunciation; long dresses; mandatory headwear; gestures of blessing (duʿāʾ); and routinely employing religiously loaded terms like “allagha amanet”, “xudayim buyrusa” or “bismillah”. Alcohol was banned from weddings in the southern oases and in general the difference from the Han was stressed symbolically. This reflected an Uyghur dissatisfaction with their position in modern Chinese society, but also notably their desire to find a suitable and valued space within it. Their turn away from the party line towards other identities and ideologies was not a turn away from modern values or a disengaging with modernisation, but rather a deliberate engagement with it. It departed from long established communities, its values and the self-understanding it had nurtured, to embrace ideological stands that were better suited to an individualised, commercialised society. This turn thus betrayed a deeper modern transformation of desires and household strategies. The government saw the dissatisfaction but failed to appreciate the signs of integration.

In the rapidly modernising and liberalising environment of the 2000s, growing markets provided Uyghurs with opportunities to create their own wealth and resources in spite of hampered access to state resources and their experience of discrimination within the formal economy. Many Uyghur traders operated outside the formal schemes drawing on their extended networks to export textiles, shoes, plastic ware, and electronics from East China to Central Asia (Laruelle and Peyrouse, 2009; Steenberg, 2016). Wealth increased in southern Xinjiang and ordinary Uyghurs engaged in market activity both in state regulated and non-regulated sectors.

This influenced wedding related businesses on both the supply and demand sides. In Kashgar, such businesses grew rapidly between 2010-2014. This was not because people married more, nor was it because people necessarily married more elaborately, but because people married more commercially. Weddings were becoming increasingly monetised. Service providers like restaurants, wedding photographers, tailors of etles dresses, car rentals, stylists, decorators and hairdressers competed for these expanding markets. The markets were novel or growing, as the services here offered had previously predominately been performed by the community and relatives for token sums and delayed counter gifts.

Now commercial actors offered to write and distribute invitations, plan the celebrations and arrange for music and dance performances. For an increasing number of families, parts of the celebrations and rituals were held in restaurants instead of in homes; food was pre-ordered; decoration and styling were professional; and luxurious cars were rented instead of borrowed. The commercialisation of these practices can be viewed as a type of primitive accumulation or “enclosure” moments in modern, industrial society (Harvey, 2005).14 Markets around weddings and marriage expanded into areas that used to be accessible without recourse to money, areas that used to be part of the realm of labour support given as a gift, such as cooking, cleaning, organisation, writing and distribution of invitations and many other services.

Now they were in the process of becoming mainly commodities to be purchased (Gregory, 1982). In the 2010s, guests were increasingly expected to bring cash to help cover the wedding cost, rather than traditional gifts like cloth, food and labour. Around 2015, when it became popular to distribute invitations online,15 invitations like the ones for Zeynep’s wedding had an inbuilt option to wire money directly as a wedding gift (hongbao).

Uyghur middle class families contributed to the commercialisation of weddings both out of coercion, conviction and convenience. They faced multiple incentives to use formal monetised markets instead of social networks to access labour and other resources. They were under pressure by the authorities to adapt to modern Chinese ways of life and invest their resources into formal education and comply with bureaucratic measures that also demanded time and effort to be understood. Also, they were benefiting from new income opportunities provided by growing markets. For well-integrated, affluent households it had become convenient to pay for services instead of securing them through the upholding of long-term gift giving relations with neighbours and relatives. It also accorded with the party-state’s ideology of modernisation that these families and individuals broadly shared (Enwer Semet, 2007: 2-3, 396). They were for the most part staunch believers in modernisation.

More Expensive, Less Complex

Celebrating in large restaurants gave incentives to reduce the complexity of the marriage events while not reducing the size or spending. The restaurants were able to care for hundreds of guests at the same time. When celebrations were held in private homes, they would have attended separate events divided by age, gender and type of relation. This reduction in complexity of the marriage process was made possible by the decline in importance of a range of social relations. Now the special marriage related events that had been aimed at their consolidation could be left out.

In Kashgar, the otherwise central event of ashsüyi (Clark, 1999: 160; Steenberg, 2013) where the ingredients for the early wedding meal (toy néziri) are transported by the groom’s relatives to the bride’s parents’ home to be cooked here by the former before dawn on the wedding day, is left out when the food is provided by a restaurant. The morning meal is the largest event of the wedding, hosted for the male members of the mosque community, relatives and friends. When not held in a restaurant, the guests, who easily number several hundred arriving between 5 and 10 o’clock in the morning, are often hosted and served in neighbours’ houses and apartments and in Kucha sometimes in the mosque. This type of cooperation and sharing in which the neighbours’ houses become part of the family’s space for a limited period of time, subsides with commercialisation.

When wedding celebrations are held in restaurants, the two days of distinct celebrations can be collapsed into one. What used to be separate events, first at the bride’s parents’ place mainly for men and then a day later at the groom’s parents’ place mainly for women, are now held at the same time, in the same restaurant with men and women placed at separate tables in the same room. After the wedding, the repeated ceremonial visitations of the new conjugal couple to the bride’s parents’ home (known in Kashgar as onbeshkünlik and in Atush as chillaq) have been strongly reduced or abandoned entirely due to the logic of commercialisation. These rituals were about introducing the new in-laws to the neighbourhood community and wider set of relatives who would contribute labour and provide space for further celebrations in which the new couple would also become involved. Now, the role of these neighbours and relatives have been reduced. They are still invited to the restaurant weddings, but here they come only in the capacity of guests, not as co-hosts or essential service providers. Their importance has declined both in marriage and beyond. This has made managing relations with them more straightforward, simpler and better suited to the household strategies of middle-class families increasingly dependent on monetary income, market access and bureaucratic state institutions, striving to deepen their integration into the formal systems despite continuing experiences of discrimination and marginalisation.

Reduced complexity did not equal reduced size or spending. Large sums were invested into the weddings. Opulent restaurant celebrations add on to the family’s prestige and build status that is more general than that created in celebrations at home, and less directed at creating mutual dependency with particular households and families. Excessive spending at weddings had become a way to convert money into symbolic capital rather than direct social capital (Bourdieu, 1986; Werner, 1999). This symbolic capital is important to forge short-term social relations when needed but does not directly entail stable, long-term dependencies. As known from other parts of China and Central Asia, opulent banquets and professional performance troupes became popular features of the weddings of the wealthy (Werner, 1999; Trevisani, 2016).

Also, in Kashgar in 2011-2014, affluent women were increasingly flaunting their wealth by wearing altun doppa (gold caps) at weddings, a female version of the traditional Uyghur skull cap embroidered with gold thread and gold plating. The relations that remained important in the commodified wedding unsurprisingly were those from whom most monetary support was expected. These were primarily siblings and affines — and to some degree close friends and colleagues.

Class Segmentation and Community Disintegration

As wealthy families acquired most of the services needed for a wedding on the market and as the giving that consolidated their social networks became focused on gifts of money and guaranteeing liquidity (Steenberg, 2016), the wealthy were no longer in need of the labour help that poorer neighbours and relatives could offer. Thus, they felt less indebted to them or responsible for them. This has supported a process of increasing class segmentation, as has been described elsewhere in Central Asia and China under the influence of commodification.16

The networks of rich and poor become increasingly separated and the poor thus increasingly dependent on selling their labour and on state programmes. They are left with less resource to invest into building sustainable communities and hardly any means of creating relations of mutual obligation with wealthier households. Thus, for lower class and poor Uyghurs — by far the largest segment of both urban and rural population in southern Xinjiang — community was dismantled and lost in more than one manner. It was lost through urban restructuring and removal of poor families into high rise apartments at the edges of the city (Kobi, 2016; Pawan and Niyazi, 2016; Steenberg and Rippa, 2019); through commodification and formalisation of the economy resulting in labour migration; but also through increased class segregation that weakened the social resources such households were able to maintain and draw on.

The poor, too, simplified their weddings, but here it was motivated by cost reduction and lack of resources and not a choice to de-prioritise certain social relations. Loss of community along with the commodification of weddings made marriage expensive and difficult for poor urban families. An elder man in Kashgar remarked in 2013 that “weddings are complicated, unless you have money, then they are easy.” He was expressing two things. First, buying services is much easier than managing the complex gift giving relations with other households necessary to garner the labour support needed for a non-commercial wedding. Second, he was expressing that weddings had become a matter of grave economic concern for the not-wealthy. This was illustrated on another occasion when during field work in Hotan, professor in anthropology, Rahile Dawut, presented a famous performer of oral epics with 8000 yuan (1200 USD) for letting her record hours of his recitation. In tears, he exclaimed his joy at now being able to afford the marriage of one of his sons.

In 2010-2016, the rising cost of marriage was a much-discussed problem in Kashgar. Both intellectuals, religious dignitaries, government cadre and poor labourers widely condemned excessive spending at weddings and some, in petitions circulated via WeChat, called for the government to put a legal roof on bridewealth (toyluq). Bridewealth was in these years averaging between 20,000 and 60,000 yuan (3,000-10,000 USD) to be paid by the groom’s parents to the bride’s parents. Much of this was then used for gold, clothes and furniture that the bride took with her into the new conjugal unit.17 When celebrations were held in restaurants, the rent and service fees added about the same factor of cost to the marriage expenses. Increasingly, the groom was also expected to provide a new apartment for the bridal couple to move into.18 The average wage of a government worker in the same period went up from about 3300 to 4000 yuan (500-600 USD) per month while many families were living on less than half of this.19 This meant that marriage costs amounted to the equivalent of one to several annual household incomes.

The tensions around the cost of weddings, commodification and excessive spending were reflected in an online exchange amongst young Uyghur in 2016. A video had been posted on social media showing a traditional presentation of the wedding gifts, sanduq échish (“opening the chest” to show the dowry), of a certain Ms. Munire. In the video her extremely lavish and expensive gifts were displayed one by one and the video caused a viral backlash by netizens who performed their own mock-ceremonies to ridicule this — in their eyes — misuse of a good, ancient tradition in order to flaunt wealth. They argued that such flaunting puts unnecessary pressure on poor families to provide expensive gifts and that young women’s value becomes measured against the price of the gifts. Their view, that such showcasing of expensive wedding gifts only celebrates extravaganza and unequal wealth distribution among the classes, was shared by many.20

Modernisation and Re-Traditionalisation

Both poor and wealthy Uyghurs felt the effects of the weakening of kinship networks and the dismantling of long-established communities in the 2000s and 2010s. The wealthy undoubtedly dealt better with the material sides of this loss than the poor, but both groups sought for new moral guidance, new belonging, and new ways to construct positive self-identities. They strove to achieve forms of community better suited to the heightened mobility and individualism of modern, state centred society. Some turned strongly towards Chinese and Western notions of modernity, while others reacted to the same uncertainties by embracing new notions of Islamic piety and a strengthened Uyghur ethno-national (milliy) identity. All of these symbolic strategies were very visible in marriages in 2010-2016.

Companies involved in the service market around weddings, offered both Western, Chinese and Uyghur style decoration and styling. For example, the classical, European, white wedding dress was often worn while hair styling and make-up followed Chinese fashion with a few pieces of Uyghur etles cloth added into the dress. Similarly, in high-quality wedding photos the couple would wear European clothing, add Western romantic symbols such as red roses and hearts, and pose before photo-sceneries of British country houses, Swiss log cabins, or the Eiffel tower. Yet, the set-up of the pictures, the gestures employed and the usage of other symbols such as teddy bears and Hello Kitty often gave them a distinctly Chinese flare.

Western and Chinese trends were especially popular among educated higher middle-class cadre families, well integrated into the formal, Chinese-run structures of state and commerce. In southern Xinjiang, they were looking to Ürümchi for inspiration, in Ürümchi to eastern China.21 Many couples from these circles held their honeymoon in mainland Chinese cities. They strove for a modern image and for symbolic integration into both Chinese and international modernity while often seeing explicitly Uyghur and Islamic elements, such as modesty codes, gifts of food (Uygh. dastxan) or traditional folk music, as backward (Uygh. qalaq).

A much larger segment of Uyghur families less integrated into Chinese circles, including most intellectuals and many middle-class households in southern Xinjiang, strongly pushed back against seeing Uyghurness as backward. Zeynep’s sister Meryem, had her wedding photos styled in a neo-traditional Uyghur way with doppa caps, etles dresses and symbolic references to village life seen as nostalgic carriers of authentic Uyghurness. Despite being treated with suspicion by the state,22 the traditional Uyghur skull cap, doppa was worn excessively at weddings along with dresses made of etles style silk. Both were seen as prime markers of Uyghurness. Etles dresses became so popular to wear at weddings and other celebrations that several tailor shops in Kashgar and Atush focused their entire production on them.

In Kashgar in the early 2010s, wedding music in both higher- and lower-class segments was only played on traditional instruments, despite such ensembles being much more expensive than the synthesizer-players employed in much of the surrounding countryside. At poor families’ weddings, the guests were asked to contribute to the musicians’ pay. In the cities, transporting the bride on horse carriage instead of by car was also becoming popular. This conscious re-traditionalisation was especially pursued by urban families and promoted in educated circles, but the trends influenced all segments of society to some degree. It is important to note that the re-traditionalisation only took place on a symbolic level. It did not include a return to complex celebrations at home relying on labour help provided by neighbours and relatives. Instead, it was focussed on symbols of Uyghur ethno-nationalism that provided a rallying point for an imagined community that helped to compensate for the loss of the long-established concrete communities centred around families and neighbourhoods. It also served as a base for generating positive self-identities in spite of continued experiences of being marginalised, othered, excluded and discriminated against by the state and the Han-Chinese-dominated formal economy.

As the neighbourhood community and certain groups of relatives became less central to household strategies and as the events aimed at the reproduction of these relationships were omitted from the marriage process, expressions of abstract belonging and imagined communities became all the more urgent and meaningful to people. They also became increasingly important for the construction of concrete social networks. This gradually transformed aspects of the meaning that weddings held: their function as platforms for symbolic construction and invocation of identities and imagined communities increased while their function as places for consolidating concrete multi-generational communities and networks across classes decreased. For intellectual Uyghur elites, ethno-nationalism was particularly attractive because it united all Uyghurs (the poor and the wealthy) under their symbolic leadership and because its secular design fitted the state’s — and predominately also their own — modernist ideology.

In contrast, for many Uyghurs less well educated and less integrated into the Chinese system, the new community was found rather in shared faith than in ethno-national identity. On average, these were the poorer segments, but they also included wealthy traders and businesspeople. The reaction to community dismantlement and alienation followed the same pattern in the two groups, only the one turned to ethnicity while the other turned to Islam to compensate for this loss and to create a positive self-identity from an abstract rather than concrete notion of belonging.

Embracing Piousness

Broad interest in a more textual and international Islam had been gathering momentum in Xinjiang since the 1990s (Schrode, 2008; Waite, 2007; Fuller and Lipman, 2004). This accorded with similar trends in nearby post-soviet Central Asia and across the globe (Khalid, 2014; Olcott, 2007). In the 2000s and 2010s many Uyghurs turned to global Islam as an attractive counter-discourse to state narratives of development and prosperity which to them had increasingly lost its credibility. State violence,23 discrimination and economic marginalisation had dealt significant blows to the belief amongst Uyghurs that the government was looking out for their safety and rights.

Instead, many found assurance, security and community in these new forms of textually focussed Islam. Its emphasis on individual piousness was well suited to a fragmented modern life where labour migration and urban restructuring more often than not made it necessary to practice outside established, long-term local communities. Marriage provided one of the central spaces for contestation between the rivalling sanctioning powers of religion (in the nikāḥ) and the state. The state-recognised marriage certificate (Uygh. toy xeti, Chin. jiehunzhang) is to be obtained at the local government office prior to the wedding. It requires the presence and stated individual consent of the young couple.

In the early 2010s, several mullas performing nikāḥ, deliberately noted that they did not require nor respect state marriage certificates, as marriage in their view was a matter purely of religion. During this time, so-called “pious weddings” (Uygh. islamche toy) gained in popularity in southern Xinjiang. Dance and music were all but banned from these, gender segregation was strong, and dressing modest.24 Few weddings followed this model entirely, but all were influenced by the movement. The general trends in cities like Kashgar, Hotan, Yarkent and Kucha emphasised the religious elements in the wedding and celebrated piousness. They shaped the wedding of Zeynep’s sister Meryem in 2011. Alcohol generally disappeared from Uyghur weddings, even those within the cities. Greetings were predominantly performed in an explicitly formalised manner using both hands and ending in a duʿāʾ (blessing). Wedding videos featured increasingly religious symbolism and Islamic soundscapes such as the call to prayer.

In videos from Kashgar, the previously popular image of the People’s Square featuring a statue of Chairman Mao was now replaced by footage of the Idgah Mosque, a central symbol of Uyghur religious culture. Dancing and singing were given less prominent positions both in the videos and in the celebrations. Instead, the religious wedding ceremony (nikāḥ) was extended from about 15 minutes to last upwards of an hour. While private religious teaching had been strictly prohibited and controlled since the late 1990s, the nikāḥ, still largely unrestricted by the government in 2010-2014, was taken as a good opportunity to inform young men about proper religious conduct. The nikāḥ drew large crowds when featuring the popular so-called “star-mollas” whose witty and knowledgeable talks often drew on teachings learnt abroad (in Central Asia or the Middle East) rather than in officially sanctioned state institutions.

Local marriage traditions considered non-Islamic were contested and removed from the celebrations:25 traditions like eating salt and bread during the nikāḥ ritual,26 lifting the bride over a fire (Rudelson, 1997), circling the city centre with the wedding procession, blocking the way of the procession and blocking the door to the arriving bride were dismissed. Piously focused weddings also provided a space for negotiating the rising inequality in Uyghur society as conspicuous consumption was condemned and very simple and humble weddings at low expenses promoted. For wealthy families, charity rather than celebration was encouraged to summon religious merits instead of accumulating worldly debt and obligation. This made such weddings popular with poor families who were consciously opting for the pious version to avoid costs and to draw solidarity from a new kind of class-transgressing community based on faith instead of the lost one based on locality and cross-generational household dependencies.

Yet, even though reducing the cost of weddings was also something promoted by the state, the pious version of the simple wedding and the values it represented were not well received by the government.

Tightened State Control

The turn towards ethno-nationalism and piety can be seen as modern reactions to rapid and disruptive socio-economic transformation. Loss of community, marginalisation within the formal systems and alienation from the state increased interest in these identities that were then negotiated at weddings and elsewhere. These trends were primarily about the construction of meaning and morality suited to the changed context, but the early 2010s also saw some acts of direct resistance to the official state narrative and regulations. By far the most of these were peaceful employments of “weapons of the weak” or “hidden transcripts” (Scott, 1986, and 1990; Light, 2007; Smith Finley, 2013), small acts of defiance expressing discontent without openly challenging the authorities.

However, a number of violent attacks on police, government offices, a mine, and even public places in and outside the region were also attributed to Uyghur groups, some allegedly sporting Islamist symbols. Freely accessible information about these incidents is notoriously scarce and interpretation remains difficult (Rodríguez-Merino, 2019). The government on their side conflated the violent attacks with all criticism in general and blamed “outside forces” for “infecting” Uyghur minds with extremism. In May 2014, a two-year campaign, the so called “People’s War on Terror” (Byler and Zolin, 2017) was launched to counter this. In the following two years, propaganda and soft coercion still constituted part of the state’s effort to assert control, but it was increasingly supported by much more violent measures: nightly house-raids, arrests, interrogations, and ubiquitous military checkpoints. Weddings became central symbolic platforms for the state on which to display control and demand loyalty while silencing alternative discourses.

In late 2014, several new regulations were introduced by the local authorities in Kashgar. The nikāḥ ceremony became more strictly regulated. The ritual could no longer be performed by any person knowledgeable of the Qurʾān and Islam. Instead, only a state-trained and -employed imam of the closest Friday mosque was permitted to hold it upon approval by the local party committee. This excluded the star-mollas and in effect shortened the ceremony from an hour down to merely five minutes and strongly reduced the number of participants. It further produced long waiting lists and moved many ceremonies back several hours because of the limited number of recognised imams available.

Also, in an effort to stop the pious weddings that the government viewed as expressions of religious radicalism, music and dance were made mandatory at weddings with a 2000 yuan (300 USD) fine for non-compliance. This provided an interesting opportunity for the folk musicians known as Bakhshis. They had previously been known as musical religious healers closely related to Sufism and pre-Islamic rituals, but pious weddings and government clamp down on their healing practices had forced them into a secular, folkloristic realm. Now they were hired to play at weddings, a performance that was considered as proof of moderate religiosity in the eyes of the government, although it retained an element of local (religious) tradition in the eyes of ordinary Uyghurs.

A Violent Response

In August 2016, Chen Quanguo, was appointed the new First Party Secretary of Xinjiang and transferred here from a similar position in Tibet. It was the second change in six years of the region’s most powerful position.27 One of Chen’s first actions in office was to collect the passports of ten thousand of Uyghurs, ordering many backs from abroad. He then went on to duplicate many of the strategies he had employed in Tibet: increased policing, checkpoints, raids, mass detentions, and forced political training. By summer 2017, hundreds of thousands of minority people had been rounded up and placed in temporary detention facilities for allegedly harboring extremist views (Roberts, 2018; Smith Finley, 2019; Zenz 2019). Countless intellectuals who had been involved in the study and promotion of Uyghur language and culture were being removed from office, arrested and in many cases given lengthy prison sentences.28

Ethnographic evidence from Xinjiang has been difficult to gather and confirm since 2017 and neither of the authors of this article has been to the region since October 2016. Our information thus relies reporting by others, on online videos of recent weddings, by interviews with Uyghurs and Kazakhs outside Xinjiang as well as scattered online communication with people in the region. Reportedly, in parts of southern Xinjiang, weddings can no longer be held at home or in private restaurants, but only in facilities provided and surveyed by the government. There is a strong coercion to adopt modern Han-style make-up, dress code, drinking and even ceremonies. In some cases, the religious marriage ceremony nikāḥ has been discouraged or even forbidden for cadre and party members as it was the case during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Instead, reportedly the Han tradition of “wedding bows” to the parents-in-law has been employed by Uyghurs just as invitations are now often written in Chinese.29

The political measures taken by the party-state have strongly influenced weddings and their symbolism. When Zeynep’s family chose to celebrate her wedding in such a different fashion from that of her sister six years earlier, it is difficult to say what exactly motivated them, but under the given circumstances seemingly voluntary adherence to the Party line and ideology must be interpreted with a high degree of scepticism. With hundreds of thousands held in detention and re-education centres for months because they were seen to display the wrong political or religious attitudes, the line between prohibition, coercion and encouragement has been strongly blurred by violence. This is also the case for the many Uyghurs who upon release from detention or re-education centres — or as a condition for this release — have signed contracts to work long hours in factories (Xu et al. 2020). The question of voluntariness in entering into such precarious labour arrangements must be assessed considering the given alternatives and unstated potential consequences of non-compliance.

Conclusion: Integration or Violence

In this article, we have accounted for several cross-cutting trends in Uyghur marriages and weddings in southern Xinjiang in the 2010s and their relation to the region’s more general socio-economic and political developments. Throughout the decade, we have observed a pronounced commodification of marriage celebrations connected to the region’s rapid economic growth and the government’s push for increased regulation and market formalisation. In complex local responses to this, 2010-2014 saw both a rising popularity of modern Chinese and international symbols at Uyghur weddings and a strengthened display of Uyghur ethnic identity and religiosity. Meryem’s wedding in 2011, as described above, was shaped by these trends. In 2014-2016 the amount of religious symbolism at weddings was greatly reduced as the state clamped down upon what it deemed expressions of radicalism. After 2016, state violence increased massively to suppress any form of alternative ideology to that of the state. This produced weddings with Chinese and international modernist symbolism void of religious reference and with a limited and controlled display of Uyghur ethnicity. Meryem’s sister Zeynep’s wedding in 2017 was indicative of these trends.

In our analysis, we distinguish two separate levels on which state-led modernisation has influenced and shaped Uyghur marriage and weddings. First, the symbolic level, where identities are re-presented (De Coppet, 1992) and political and religious views are displayed. Second, the deeper, structural level of household strategies. The former informs the choice of decoration, dressing, music and other highly visible areas of symbolic expression. The latter is connected to the economic and political structures that condition the rationality of partner choices, the size and complexity of the celebrations, the elaborateness of particular elements or rituals, the invitation and involvement of guests etc.

Distinguishing these different levels maps out how marriage actually provides two parallel fields of alignment or discord between the Uyghur population and party-state’s aims and ideology. The state demands surface display of loyalty by all citizens while, at the same time, it seeks to modernise Uyghur society by rendering it more legible and centred around the state and less around kinship and community. The symbolic aspects usually receive most attention in research concerned with identity, while the latter aspects have been described as characteristic of modernist and developmentalist states in more economically focussed analyses (Scott, 2009; Harvey, 2005). We argue that in southern Xinjiang in the 2010s, the reactions to state policy on these two levels do not coincide; they can even be said to contradict each other.

Between 2010-2014, the strong display of ethnic identity and religiosity at weddings signalled dissatisfaction and alienation amongst Uyghurs who felt marginalised and discriminated against in the formal Chinese economy and bureaucracy. At the same time, this signified a turn towards abstract identity markers of an imagined national and a global, religious community while gradually losing or giving up local social dependencies. Along with the commodification and simplification of wedding procedures, these were signs of a deeper de facto integration of large parts of Uyghur society into modern, Chinese market economic and bureaucratic structures. They hint at the gradual dismantlement of many of the previously dominant, informal social institutions and concrete communities.

In contrast, the heightened state restrictions and repression that started during the People’s War on Terror in 2014 and peaked in the subsequent state violence and mass incarceration 2017-2020 produced a superficially unambiguous display of loyalty towards the party and its values. Zeynep’s very Chinese wedding ceremony and bridal styling demonstrates this. The removal of her nikāḥ ceremony is but its most obvious sign of political coercion.30

Yet, on a deeper structural level, the violence with which this is enforced is in many ways counterproductive for affecting the type of modern transformation and integration that the state is looking for. The insecurity and alienation it creates and the discriminatory system as a whole become incentives for households and individuals to strengthen their kinship ties and informal networks and to avoid relying on the state and its formal systems. This state violence undermines trust in the formal systems and is thus likely to continue to be the most pertinent contributing factor to continued disparities, alienation and lack of integration of the Uyghur population.

A close look at marriage practices beyond just the symbolism of weddings provides a deeper understanding of local reactions to state policies and large-scale economic transformations. While the overt symbolism is easy to read, it only accounts for one part of these connections while often missing deeper and more significant elements. By analysing symbolism and deeper strategic choices separately, we have in this article suggested that local Uyghur expressions of Islamic piousness and ethno-nationalism actually indicate increased socio-economic integration and modernisation.

The increased importance on abstract identities and imagined communities over local concrete ones show how these people have integrated into the formal economy and bureaucracies while alternatives forms of organisation, mutual dependencies, solidarity and concrete communities have been eroded. The new types of rituals that the monetised and commercialised weddings bring forth help re-produce such imagined and identitarian communities.31 In the words of Stephen Gudeman and Chris Hann many Uyghurs in 2010-2014 came to accept a practical logic promoted by the party-state in which “the market is construed as liberating, the house and community are seen as constricting,” and self-sufficiency within concrete communities and social networks is no longer an ideal (Gudeman and Hann, 2015b: 3).

The integration into formal market structures is welcomed by the government as a “measure of progress,” much like it is by proponents of modernisation theory and modernistic ideologies across the world (Gudeman and Hann, 2015b: 6). Yet, such an integration does not take place neutrally; it means integration into a certain position in a hierarchical structure. For Uyghurs, in general, this position has been a subdued and difficult one. The fact that most Uyghurs were drawn towards imagined communities positioned in opposition to the party-state indicates that the integration did not take place on equal footing with Han-Chinese but was experienced as degrading and therefore caused alienation from the party-state. This alienation has since been exacerbated by state violence, which may prove to be harmful to the state’s further aims of modernisation and integration, as it already most certainly has been damaging to Uyghur communities, families and individuals.

References

  • Abdukérim Raxman; Reweydulla Hebibulla; Sherip Xushtar (1996). Uyghur Örp-Adetliri. Ürümchi, Shinjang Yashlar Ösümler Neshriyati.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Abdushükür Memet’imin (2002). Aʾile. Ürümchi, Shinjang Univérsitéti Neshriyati.

  • Anderson, A.; and Byler, D. (2019). “‘Eating Hanness’: Uyghur Musical tradition in a time of re-education”. China Perspectives, 3, p. 17-26.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Barnard, A.; and Good, A. (1987). Research Practices in the Study of Kinship. London, Academic Press.

  • Bellér-Hann, I. (2008a) Community Matters in Xinjiang. 1880-1949: Towards a Historical Anthropology of the Uyghurs. Leiden-Boston, E.J. Brill.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bellér-Hann, I. (2008b). “Strangers, Guests and Beggars in Xinjiang. The Ambiguities of Hospitality among the Uyghurs. Etudes Orientales, 25, 1, p. 145-164.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bellér-Hann, I. (2013). “The Bulldozer State: Chinese Socialist Development in Xinjiang”. In: Reeves, M. (ed.). Ethnographies of the State in Central Asia: Performing Politics. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, p. 173-197.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Becquelin, N. (2000). “Xinjiang in the Nineties”. The China Journal, 4, 4, p. 65-90.

  • Bourdieu, P. (1986). “The Forms of Capital”. In: Richardson, J.G. (ed.). Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. New York, Greenwood Press, 1986, p. 241-258.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bourdieu, P. (1976). Entwurf einer Theorie der Praxis, auf der ethnologischen Grundlage der kabylischen Gesellschaft. Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bovingdon, G. (2010). The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land. New York, Columbia University Press.

  • Byler, D.; Zolin, N. (2017). “Uyghur Migrant Life in the City during the People’s War on Terror.” Youth Circulations, October 30, 2017. Available at http://www.youthcirculations.com/blog/2017/10/22/uyghur-migrant-life-in-the-city-during-the-peoples-war.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Clark, W.C. (1999). Convergence or Divergence: Uighur Family Change in Urumqi. Unpublished PhD thesis. Seattle, University of Washington.

  • Clarke, M. (2007). “Xinjiang in the Reform Era, 1978-91: The Political and Economic Dynamics of Dengist Integration”. Issues and Studies¸ 43, 2, p. 39-92.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Davis, D.S.; Harrell, S. (1993). Chinese families in the post-Mao era. Berkeley-Los Angeles-London, University of California Press.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • De Coppet, D. (1992). “Comparison, a universal for anthropology: from ‘re-presentations’ to the comparison of hierarchies of values”. In: Kuper, A. (ed.). Conceptualizing Society. London-New York, Routledge, p. 59-75.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dillon, M. (2019). Xinjiang in the Twenty-First Century: Islam, Ethnicity and Resistance. London, Routledge.

  • Dumont, L. (1986). Essays on Individualism: Modern Ideology in Anthropological Perspective. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

  • Engel, J.W. (1984). “Marriage in the People’s Republic of China: analysis of a new law”. Journal of Marriage and Family, 46, 4, p. 955-961.

  • Enwer Semet Q. (2007). Uyghurlarda Perhiz. Ürümchi: Shinjang Xelq Neshriyiti.

  • Fuller, G.E.; Lipman, J.N. (2004). “Islam in Xinjiang”. In: Starr, F. (ed.). Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland. New York-London, Routledge, p. 320-352.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Goody, J.; Tambiah, S.J. (1973). Bridewealth and dowry. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

  • Gregory, C. (1982). Gifts and Commodities. London, Academic Press.

  • Gudeman, S.; Hann, C. (2015a). Economy and Ritual. Studies of Post-Socialist Transformations. New York, Berghahn Books.

  • Gudeman, S.; and Hann, C. (2015b). “Introduction: self-sufficiency as reality and as myth”. In: Gudeman, S.; Hann, C.H. (eds.). Oikos and Market: Explorations in Self-Sufficiency After Socialism. New York, Berghahn Books, p. 1-23.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Habermas, J. (1981). Theorie des Kommunikativen Handelns. Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp.

  • Hann, C. (2011). “Embedded socialism? Land, Labour, and Money in Eastern Xinjiang.” In: Hann, C.; Hart, K. (eds.). Market and Society: The Great Transformation Today. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, p. 256-271.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hardenberg, R. (2017). Approaching Ritual. Socio-cosmic Fields in Globalised Contexts. Tübingen, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Harvey, D. (2005). A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

  • Khalid, A. (2014). Islam after Communism: Religion and Politics in Central Asia. Berkeley, University of California Press.

  • Kipnis, A.B. (1997). Producing guanxi: Sentiment, self, and subculture in a north China village. Durham-London, Duke University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Klimeš, O. (2018). “Advancing ‘Ethnic Unity’ and ‘De-Extremization’: Ideational Governance in Xinjiang under ‘New Circumstances’ (2012-2017)”. Journal of Chinese Political Science, 23, 3, p. 413-436.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kobi, M. (2016). Constructing, Creating, and Contesting Cityscapes: A Socio-Anthropological Approach to Urban Transformation in Southern Xinjiang, People’s Republic of China. Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kreutzmann, H. (2020). “Modernisierung entlang der neuen Seidenstraße — Mobilität, Sesshaftmachung und Sonderwirtschaftszonen und Xinjiang, China”. In: Gamerith, W.; Scharfenort, N. (eds.). Menschen, Migration und Mobilität. Passau, Passauer Kontaktstudium Geographie, p. 97-112.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kuehnast, K.; and Dudwick, N. (2004). Better a Hundred Friends than a Hundred Rubles? Social Networks in Transition — The Kyrgyz Republic. Washington The World Bank.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Laruelle, M.; Peyrouse, S. (2009). “Cross-border Minorities as Cultural and Economic Mediators between China and Central Asia.” China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, 7, 1, p. 93-119.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Light, N. (2007). “Cultural politics and the pragmatics of resistance: reflexive discourses on culture and history”. In: Bellér-Hann, I.; Cesàro, M.C.; Harris, R.; Smith Finley, J. (eds.). Situating the Uyghur between China and Central Asia. London, Routledge, p. 79-94.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • McBrien, J. (2006). “Listening to the wedding speaker: discussing religion and culture in Southern Kyrgyzstan”. Central Asian Survey, 25, 3, p. 341-357.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Newby, L. (1998). “The Begs of Xinjiang: Between Two Worlds.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies University of London, 61, p. 278-297.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Olcott, M.B. (2007). Roots of Radical Islam in Central Asia. Washington, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

  • Osburg, J. (2013). Anxious wealth: Money and morality among China’ new Rich. Stanford, Stanford University Press.

  • Pawan, S.; Niyazi, A. (2016). “From Mahalla to Xiaoqu”. Inner Asia, 18, 1, p. 121-134.

  • Polanyi, K. (1944). The Great Transformation. The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. Boston, Beacon Press.

  • Roberts, S. (2018). “The biopolitics of China’s war on terror and the exclusion of the Uyghurs”. Critical Asian Studies, 50, 2, p. 232-258.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rodríguez-Merino, P. (2019). “Old ‘counter-revolution’, new ‘terrorism’: historicizing the framing of violence in Xinjiang by the Chinese state”. Central Asian Survey, 38, 1, p. 27-45.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rudelson, J. (1997). Oasis Identities: Uyghur nationalism along China’s Silk Road. New York, Columbia University Press.

  • Schrode, P. (2007). Die Totengeister der Uiguren: Beobachtungen zu Islam und Gesellschaft in Ostturkestan. Berlin, Klaus Schwarz Verlag.

  • Schrode, P. (2008). “The Dynamics of Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy in Uyghur Religious Practice”. Die Welt des Islams, 48, 3, p. 394-433.

  • Scott, J.C. (1985). Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven, Yale University Press.

  • Scott, J.C. (1990). Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. New Haven, Yale University Press.

  • Scott, J.C. (2009). The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven, Yale University Press.

  • Smith Finley, J. (2013). The Art of Symbolic Resistance: Uyghur identities and Uyghur- Han relations in contemporary Xinjiang. Leiden-Boston, Brill.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Smith Finley, J. (2019). “Securitization, insecurity and conflict in contemporary Xinjiang: has PRC counter-terrorism evolved into state terror?”. Central Asian Survey, 38, 1, p. 1-26.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Steenberg, R. (2013). ‘Uyghur Marriage in Kashgar. Muslim Marriage in China’. Un­pub­lished PhD Dissertation. Berlin, Freie Universität.

  • Steenberg, R. (2016). “Embedded rubber sandals: trade and gifts across the Sino-Kyrgyz border.” Central Asian Survey, 35, 3, p. 405-420.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Steenberg, R.; Rippa, A. (2019). “Development for all? State schemes, security, and marginalization in Kashgar, Xinjiang.” Critical Asian Studies, 51, 2, p. 274-295.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Strathern, M. (1988). The Gender of the Gift: Problems with Women and Problems with Society in Melanesia. Berkeley, University of California Press.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Trevisani, T. (2016). “Modern weddings in Uzbekistan: ritual change from ‘above’ and from ‘below’.” Central Asian Survey, 35, 1, p. 61-75.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Waite, E. (2007). “The Emergence of Muslim Reformism in Contemporary Xinjiang: Implications for the Uyghurs’ Positioning Between a Central Asian and Chinese Context”. In: Bellér-Hann, I.; Cesàro, C.; Harris, R.; Smith-Finley, J. (eds). Situating the Uyghurs Between China and Central Asia. Aldershot, Ashgate, p. 165-184.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Weber, M. (1989). “Wissenschaft als Beruf”. Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie, 37, 4, p. 340.

  • Yan, Y. (1996). The Flow of Gifts. Reciprocity and Social Networks in a Chinese Village. Stanford, Stanford University Press.

  • Yarmuhemmet Tahir T. (2009). Qaʾide yosunlirimiz. Ürümchi, Qeshqer Uyghur Neshriyati / Shinjang Güzel Sen’et-foto Süret Neshriyati.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Zenz, A. (2019). “Thoroughly reforming them towards a healthy heart attitude: China’s political re-education campaign in Xinjiang”. Central Asian Survey, 38, 1, p. 102-128.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
*

This work was supported from European Regional Development Fund Project “Sinophone Borderlands — Interaction at the Edges”, CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_019/0000791.

1

These names are pseudonyms chosen to protect the informants’ identity.

2

A religiously learned man who is not the imam of a mosque but has knowledge of the holy scripts and the ritual procedures.

3

Uyghurs are the traditionally largest population group of the region. They are Turkic-speaking, mainly Sunni Muslim town dwellers, farmers and traders and one of China’s 53 recognised ethnic minority groups.

4

Monetisation refers to the increasing importance of money for accessing resources, exchange and social ties.

5

Only in extreme cases involving serious conflict is the process decided exclusively or primarily by either actor. Further, regardless of how the couple met, the communication between the two sides, prominently including negotiations over the wedding celebrations, bride wealth (toyluq) and dowry (qiz méli) almost always involves go-betweens.

6

Socio-centric groups, like the O’Hara clan or the members of a football club, have clearly defined boundaries that remain fixed no matter whose perspective we view them from. By comparison, socio-centric categories like relatives or someone’s family change depending on whose perspective one chooses. See Barnard and Good (1987).

7

For changing economic policies and the effects on Chinese families see Davis and Harrell (1993).

8

For the economic transformation of Xinjiang since the 1980s, see Becquelin (2000), Clarke (2007), Clark (1999), and Hann (2011).

9

For the establishment of a market system see Kipnis (1997), and Osburg (2013).

10

Different aspects of this process have been described by Weber (1989 [1919]) as the disenchantment of the world, by Habermas (1981) as the colonisation of lifeworld and by Polanyi (1944) as a disembedding of the economy from social life.

11

On June 5th 2009 Uyghur students and workers marched the streets of the provincial capital to demand justice for two murdered Uyghur workers at a toy factory in mainland China. The protests were met with riot police rather than concessions and violence erupted leaving hundreds of dead. See Bovingdon (2010: 167-170), Dillon (2019: 93-115).

12

For the construction of New Socialist Villages see Kreutzmann (2020), Dillon (2019).

13

For the dismantlement of traditional neighbourhoods see Bellér and Hann (2013), Pawan and Niyazi (2016), Kobi (2016).

14

Primitive accumulation and enclosure were originally used in a Marxist sense to describe the initial privatisation and commercialisation of the commons and of agricultural lands during the early phase of capitalism and industrialisation in England.

15

WeChat has become a major electronic transaction tool in the past few years and has in many areas of life replaced cash — including in commercial transactions and to give gifts of money.

16

See Kuehnast and Dudwick (2004), Trevisani (2016), Bellér and Hann (2008b), for mainland China compare Osburg (2013).

17

See Goody and Tambiah (1973) on the relation between bridewealth and dowry.

18

This break with the tradition of moving in with the groom’s parents reflected modern day desires of separate living but also was a result of the limited sizes of the apartments planned and allowed by the government. In contrast to traditional courtyard houses both in the cities and in the countryside, the new apartments did not allow for extensive multi-generational households but only small, nuclear families adhering to family planning policies.

19

Data from extensive fieldwork interviews in Kashgar, Atush and Kucha by the authors 2010-2016.

20

Uyghur kinship has long been intrinsically interwoven with both gift exchange and commodity market activities. This has made it so well suited for building commercial networks (see Steenberg 2016). Yet these networks, despite their commercial aims are still based in long-term inter-household dependency, which makes them based on gift giving relations of mutual obligations very different from the short term, unidimensional networks built on particular interests between households and mainly dependent on the state and market for their daily provisions and livelihood security. This can be productively compared to Yan’s (1996, p. 210-229) distinction between networks of “guanxi” (instrumental gift giving relations) and those of “renqing” (affective gift giving relations).

21

A video advertisement for Raziman, one of the most popular wedding photographers in Xinjiang in the early 2010s, shows white wedding dresses and European clothing in the first six scenarios it presents as suggestions for couples. Only in the seventh and last a distinct Uyghur symbolism is used though rural idyll is referenced in several others too. Their symbol is the letter R in latin script and a red heart that are understood as both western and modern Chinese elements. https://v.qq.com/x/page/g0559mlwygr.html (last accessed 13.02.2020).

22

In 2012, the government forbade Uyghur students in Ürümchi to wear the doppa which provoked protests and dissatisfaction.

23

One of the most influential events to decrease Uyghurs’ trust in the government was the violence of July 2009 described above and the thousands of arrests that followed. This resulted in a widespread feeling of having been betrayed by the government in the Uyghur population. Furthermore, as a young Uyghur man expressed it some years later: before 2009 many people felt comfortable with waiting to deepen their relationship with Islam and generating religious merits for the afterlife till their retirement. This aligned well with government preferences for younger people to refrain from expressed religious practice. After 2009, Uyghurs felt betrayed by the government and many even expressed doubts whether they would even make it to retirement at all before entering afterlife and felt the need to engage with religion immediately. The experience of extreme state violence had further alienated them from the state.

24

This trend has also been described elsewhere in Central Asia in the 21st century. See for example McBrien (2006); Hilgers (2009: 95-110).

25

This process had already been going on throughout the 2000s but was now accelerated.

26

See Bellér-Hann (2008a); Schrode (2007) about the tradition of eating salt and bread during nikāḥ.

27

Officially on level with the governor of Xinjiang — head of the administrative structure paralleled by the party structure — the first party secretary — head of the latter — de facto holds the decisive power. In Xinjiang most governors have been from the minority population while all but one-party secretaries since 1949 have been Han.

28

These included the earlier mentioned professor in anthropology Rahile Dawut along with hundreds of academics.

29

Anderson and Byler (2019) argue that Uyghur musical tradition is gradually replaced by Han tradition in a coerced attempt to display loyalty to the party.

30

Zeynep’s parents who married at a much smaller scale during the end of the Cultural Revolution did not have the nikāḥ performed either, as it was then forbidden. Yet, between 1979-2017 the ceremony had become re-established as the most important and central element of Uyghur weddings, rendering it religiously legitimate and as Meryem’s wedding shows, in the 2000s it had also developed into a large and anticipated cultural event.

31

On the relation between ritual and economy see Gudeman and Hann (2015a) and Hardenberg (2017).

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 330 0 0
Full Text Views 304 89 11
PDF Views & Downloads 375 122 10