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  • Uyghur Nation: Reform and Revolution on the Russia-China Frontier by David Brophy
  • Ondřej Klimeš
David Brophy. Uyghur Nation: Reform and Revolution on the Russia-China Frontier. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016. 347pp. $39.95 (cloth).

David Brophy’s book examines the national formation of Uyghurs in the late Qing and early Republican era, a widely debated theme in Uyghur history. More precisely, it explores various social and political contexts in which the Uyghur national idea featured within the Xinjiang Turkic Muslim community in both Russian and Chinese Turkistan between the 1880s and the 1930s. The study presents new knowledge drawn from previously unused sources in several languages. It also makes several valuable conceptual arguments about Xinjiang and Uyghur history.

First, Brophy perceives Xinjiang not as a periphery but as an intersection of empires. Concentrating mostly on China and Russia as the main players in a Xinjiang Great Game, Brophy also documents Xinjiang Turkic gravitation to the Ottoman Empire and the position of Xinjiang in relation to British and Japanese interests. The “crossroad” paradigm has in the past produced historiographies of economic and political relations of Xinjiang with the surrounding powers. The novelty of Brophy’s work is in applying this perspective to the study of Uyghur social and political history. Chapters 2 and 3, for instance, draw parallels with China’s cosmopolitan treaty ports and with the post-Taiping Yangzi delta and highlight how rising mobility across the Russo-Chinese border, extraterritoriality, manipulation of imperial subjecthood, new cultural trends, and the rise of an entrepreneurial class linked Xinjiang’s Turkic Muslims with the Russian, Ottoman, and Qing Empires. While the book is mainly about the intellectual past of Uyghurs, Brophy also pays attention to economic trends and international relations. One implication of his research is that cultural and political thinking about Uyghurs as a modern nation spread through commercial networks and migrant diasporas.

This approach sets the stage for the second main argument of the book. Brophy deemphasizes nationality policies of the Soviet Union and China as the primary framework for emergence of the Uyghur nation. He instead explores social dynamics and political aspirations among Xinjiang’s Turkic Muslims and their responses to imperial, national, and revolutionary political projects. He sees the genesis of the “Uyghur nation” as an interplay of two processes. One is the rediscovery of Turkic past and the creation of a modern nation by “Uyghur” intellectuals connected to Russian Muslim and Ottoman intellectual milieus; another is the transfer of the Uyghur national idea from the Soviet Union to Xinjiang as a part of the Bolshevik revolutionary mission.

This perspective reveals in great detail how various cultural and political actors have found different, and sometimes conflicting, applications for the Uyghur symbol and how the category became “a rallying point” for various individuals, networks, organizations, state institutions, and other contestants on both sides of the Russo-Chinese border. Chapter 1 traces the category “Uyghur” in various communal narratives among the Turkic Muslims of Xinjiang down to the late Qing dynasty and describes how a “Uyghur” past was discovered by European and Russian Turkology in the nineteenth century. Chapter 4 illustrates how, in the second decade of the twentieth century, Western racial thought transformed the Ottomanist and Islamist political arguments in the Ottoman Empire into “Turkist” discourse and how it sparked narratives of Turkic identities among Muslims of the Russian Empire. Via diasporas in Istanbul and Russia, these discourses found their [End Page E-15] way into Xinjiang Muslim communities in both Russian Central Asia and early Republican Xinjiang.

Chapters 5 to 7 present what is perhaps the crucial part of this argument, examining how the Uyghur symbol was appropriated by the Taranchi, Kashgari, and Dungan diasporas in Soviet Central Asia as a category of religiosity, imperial subjecthood, or political affiliation prior to its gradual adoption throughout the 1920s as a marker of ethnic and national identity. In other words, Brophy argues that state-sponsored ethnicization, or implantation of the Uyghur category onto the ethnically defined constituency of Xinjiang Turkic Muslims, was a secondary process distinct from the ongoing “internal” discussion of the Uyghur question among members of the Xinjiang Muslim diaspora...


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