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The History of the History of Xinjiang by Gardner Bovingdon One day in February of 1997, a group ofUyghurs and I decided to visit a famous ancient graveyard on the outskirts of Kashgar, a city in southern Xinjiang. 1 The driver had not been before, and those who had did not remember the way. When after a half hour's drive we saw a likely site, we climbed out of the car to have· a look. A tall crenelated wall with a brass plaque suggested a protected historical site. As we approached, we began to sense things were not quite right. The plaque read "Pan Tuo City: a base for patriotic educatioD."2 On closer inspection, the crenelated wall proved to be modeled on the Great Wall. We decided to enter anyway. Paying for tickets and stepping through the portcullis , we saw immediately that not only was this the wrong site, it was. brand new. It had been built to look old. Eight- foot-tall poured concrete statues lined a stone walkway leading to a dais. at the rear of the site. The statues were of soldiers, sculpted in the style of the terra cotta warriors at Xi' an. In the center of the dais was an obelisk commemorating Ban Chao, a Han general from Shanxi who had, in 73 C.E.,.led a force of only thirty-six soldiers through the Gobi desert into the "Western Regions (XiYU)"3 to subdue the fearsome barbarian Xiongnu. He stayed on to rule the region with the full support of the local peoples, according to obelisk's inscription. We looked around us.:every detail of the site, from the memorial arch at the entrance· to the flying eaves of the central pavilion, belonged to the culture of "China proper." The sale concession to local culture had been the Uyghur translation, in tiny script above each Hne of Chinese, on the plaque mounted on the outer wall. As we took all this in, two young Han women strolled around, smiling and taking pictures of.each other in front of the statues. My companions looked about in dismay; having seen enough, they began to file out. As we leftl noticed that the dirt at the base of the walls was bare, indicating that grass had not yet had time to grow there. The driver of the car muttered to me, "they built this for a purpose." We piled back into the car and drove off, silently. We eventually found the gravesite, but my friends seemed to have lost all their enthusiasm, and we returned home soon after. Later that day I saw a Uyghur tour guide I knew in the city and told him about the place we had visited. He giggled, silently mouthing the words "patriotic education." Having been trained in the tourist trade by the local authorities, he knew all about the site and its function. Twentieth-Century China, Vol. 26, NO.2 (April, 2001): 95.... 139 96 Twentieth-Century China What was the purpose of this strange installation? Why did it make my friends so glum? What might a "base for patriotic education be?" I had an inkling, but subsequent research made it abundantly clear. It was all about claiming the past of Xinjiang for China. In the Western imagination, the "Great Game" is known as a protracted struggle for empire in Central Asia between Britain and Russia. In fact, there was another player in the game: the Manchu Qing Dynasty. Beijing's formal control over its moiety in Central Asia was as violently and nearly as recently acquired as that of Russia. Yet after 1949, communist officials claimed that the region had been part of China since ancient times. This "ancient" claim, and the claim to continuous sovereignty in Central Asia since the mid-Han dynasty (73 C.B., as indicated above), are modem inventions.4 If we carefully scrutinize the Chinese historiography on this contentious region, we can uncover patches where the grass has not yet, or only recently, begun to grow. In this article I focus on the political role history and historiography play in contentions over the control of territories and peoples. Prasenjit Duara (1995) has most...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5065
Print ISSN
1521-5385
Pages
pp. 95-139
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-25
Open Access
No
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