Daily Archives: 8 January 2009

What It Means to Be ‘Chinese Uighur’

From Under the Heel of the Dragon: Islam, Racism, Crime, and the Uighur in China, by Blaine Kaltman (Ohio U. Press, 2007), p. 17:

While discussing the importance of learning Mandarin with a twenty-nine-year-old unmarried Uighur man originally from Kashgar, I was introduced to the expression “Chinese Uighur.” It is a derisive term referring to Uighur who have learned to speak Mandarin properly and are making every effort to assimilate into Han society. While usually relatively well off economically, these Uighur are generally looked down on by other Uighur who feel they have sold out or betrayed their identity to advance in Han society.

As the man from Kashgar explained, “I think it’s harder for Uighur than for Han, because we do have to learn a second language. And, although the Chinese government encourages businesses to hire Uighur in Xinjiang, no one will hire a Uighur who can’t speak good Mandarin. But now, as Xinjiang becomes more developed, it is getting easier. Uighur children learn Mandarin at such a young age that it’s not so hard for them.”

He laughed and said, “you know, now there are many Uighur in Urumqi whose Mandarin is better than their Uighur because they go to Han schools, where all their classes and interactions are in Mandarin. Especially those rich Uighur children who have parents who send them to live at Han schools. They spend more time speaking Mandarin than Uighur, and when they come home they forget how to speak Uighur. In fact, now more and more Urumqi Uighur, middle-class Uighur children, can’t read Uighur. They can still speak it, because it’s their first language, but they never learn to read. And some speak it so poorly.”

He laughed again and said, “We call them ‘Chinese Uighur’ because they aren’t real Uighur.”

I asked, “What do you mean by ‘real Uighur’?” “My meaning is Chinese Uighur don’t read Uighur. They might not eat pork, but they don’t know why. They don’t keep Uighur traditions and culture alive. Many of them date Han or Hui girls. Many don’t go to pray.”

I wonder if there’s an epithet applied to Chinese Uighur that is the equivalent of oreo, banana, coconut, or apple.

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Uighur Bilingual Education Debate

From Under the Heel of the Dragon: Islam, Racism, Crime, and the Uighur in China, by Blaine Kaltman (Ohio U. Press, 2007), pp. 18-19:

The use of Mandarin as a vehicle for instruction and the benefits of learning Mandarin versus the Chinese government policies designed to maintain Uighur culture and language were issues that frequently came up during interviews. According to one Uighur businessman who was in his midforties, “This [the Uighur need to learn Mandarin] is a tricky problem because, while more and more schools [in Xinjiang] are teaching in Mandarin, there are still far too many that don’t. Many Uighur teachers don’t speak Mandarin. This is especially true outside Urumqi. Furthermore, the Han government wants Uighur to maintain their local language, so they encourage Uighur schools to teach in Uighur.” He thought for a moment and then added, “But this should be a Uighur responsibility. The Han know little of our culture. It’s up to Uighur parents to teach their children our language and about our Uighur culture. But it’s up to the schools to teach our children Mandarin and Han culture.”

Although many Uighur parents want their children to have a proper education and to learn Mandarin—which almost always means attending a predominantly Han school—they feel that being a Uighur student in a school where Han teachers and students make up the majority population is difficult because of racist attitudes and language difficulties. Some Uighur believe that Chinese government policies encouraging instruction in Uighur, not Mandarin, are designed to limit Uighur development in Chinese society.

Speakers of minority languages the world over face similar choices.

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Filed under Central Asia, China, education, language