10. Uyghur University Students and Ramadan
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On the eve of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan (Uy. ramizan) September 2006, I shared lunch with two Uyghur friends at one of the several Xinjiang-style restaurants adjacent to Beijing’s Minzu University of China (MUC).2 During our meal, my friends made a surprising confession: they would not observe the Ramadan fast (Uy. roza tutmaq).3 Considering Beijing’s relaxed political climate compared to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), a climate that would allow Uyghur university students to fast without repercussion,4 my friends’ decisions confounded me. Why did these two particular Uyghur students choose not to observe the thirty-day fast, which, as one of the five pillars of Islam, is obligatory for healthy, adult Muslims? After puzzling over this matter, I prematurely concluded that my friends’ decisions appeared logical enough. Of course these two young Uyghurs would not observe the Ramadan fast. Before matriculating at MUC, these individuals attended “Chinese” middle (zhongxue 中學) and senior-secondary (gaozhong 高中) schools; schools in which minority students attend class and take their college entrance examinations (gaokao 高考) using the Chinese language. These students are commonly referred to as minkaohan (民考漢), as opposed to those minority students who study in a minority language, known as minkaomin (民考 民). My two friends’ decisions appeared to add to the litany of stereotypes commonly attributed to minkaohan Uyghurs. Since these two particular individuals, as minkaohan students, had achieved a high level of competency in Chinese, were capable of speaking Putonghua with perfect tones (though spoke in Uyghur to each other), and, unlike some of their peers, did not adorn doppa, atlas, or any 10 Uyghur University Students and Ramadan Challenging the Minkaomin/Minkaohan Labels Timothy Grose1 222 Timothy Grose other clothes commonly associated with Uyghurs, it was predictable they would not fast during Ramadan. Or was it? This chapter seeks to complicate the minkaomin/minkaohan categories and blur the perceived divisions among young Uyghurs. Closely connected to this objective, I urge us to look beyond the minkaomin/minkaohan binary in order to better evaluate the ethnonational identities of Uyghur youth. By proposing a reevaluation of minkaomin and minkaohan Uyghurs, I am contesting recent scholarship that has pointed to a possible link between the erosion of a distinctly “Uyghur” ethnonational identity and the steady increase of Chinesemedium schools in Xinjiang’s state-regulated education system (Dwyer 2005: 38; Kaltman 2007: 16–17; Rudelson 1997: 127–29; Smith 2002; Smith-Finley 2007; Taynen 2006). Rather than reifying the minkaomin/minkaohan labels, this chapter highlights thesubtlenuancesofUyghuridentity,especiallythewaysyoungUyghursexpress the Islamic underpinnings of their ethnonational identity. As I will describe below, the Communist Party of China (CPC), in an apparent attempt to uproot a Uyghur ethnonational identity grounded in Islamic culture, has implemented a series of policies both within and outside the realm of state-sponsored education aimed at curbing many Islamic practices. However, the efficacy of these policies is not guaranteed. Drawing attention to the fact that both minkaomin and minkaohan students observe the Ramadan fast, I contend that the religious practices of young Uyghurs—practices that provide a window into how these individuals assert Uyghur identity—may have little to do with young Uyghurs’ secondary education. Instead, the decision to fast during Ramadan, similar to other expressions of Uyghur-ness, can best be understood as emerging from a complex set of negotiations. Here Uyghur students must simultaneously engage with the hegemonic discourse on religion transmitted by the CPC, their families and upbringing, and their personal strategies for socioeconomic advancement. Methodology and Limitations This chapter draws on interviews and dietary journals recorded by Uyghur university students in Beijing. With the help of a Uyghur research assistant, I recruited Uyghur students to keep dietary journals during Ramadan, September Uyghur University Students and Ramadan 223 24 through October 21, 2006.5 I instructed participants to record meal times and to write brief descriptions of what they ate and drank. In addition to recording details about their meals, I asked respondents to provide basic information about themselves including their hometowns, whether they were educated in minkaomin or minkaohan schools, their college majors, and their parents’ occupations. Upon the completion of Ramadan, I collected the journals and analyzed the data. Follow-up interviews were conducted with three students in 2006. During Ramadan 2010, I conducted multiple interviews with three additional Uyghur students, students who were not part of the original study;6 these students did not maintain dietary journals. In order to maintain the anonymity of my informants , I use pseudonyms throughout this chapter. There...