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Du Wenxiu and the Politics of the Muslim Past by Beth E. Notar "Our community has never recovered." This is what Muslims in the town of Dati, located in China's southwestern Yunnan province, would often say when I asked them to tell me about their past. This statement referred not to the Cultural Revolution, when Red Guards destroyed mosques, beat and imprisoned religious teachers, and force-fed pork to Muslim elders; instead, it referred to an even more devastating period for Dali's Muslims, the 1873 massacre and subsequent imperial state suppression. 1 In 1856, Muslim leader Du Wenxiu had declared independence from the Qing empire and established the Pingnan ("Pacified Southern") Kingdom based in Dali.2 Located in the Himalayan foothills, Dali was an important frontier town on the Tibetan and Burmese caravan routes, routes that were dominated by Muslim traders. Du' s claim of independence had followed nearly two decades of Muslim and non-Muslim conflict throughout the region, and his vows to overthrow the Qing Dynasty led to nearly two more decades of warfare. In 1873, as Qing troops neared Dali, Du drank poison, and in a desperate attempt to convince the Qing general Yang Yuke to spare the people of DaH, surrendered himself . General Yang Yuke ignored Du's plea, sliced off the rebel leader's head, and attacked the town. After a siege of several days, the rebels surrendered and imperial troops occupied Dali. The uneasy, occupied peace lasted only until the provincial governor Cen Yuying ordered General Yang and his troops to massacre the tens of thousands of Dali' s surrendered, unarmed population. As proof of the victory, General Yang sent to the provincial capital twelve mules, loaded with twenty-four baskets of human ears stitched together in pairs, along with seventeen rebel heads.3 What has come to be called in English the "Panthay"4 or "Yunnan Muslim Rebellion," was one of several mid-nineteenth century uprisings-along with the Taipings, Boxers, Nian, Northwest Muslims and Miao-all of which were eventually brutally suppressed by the state.5 While historians have. written at length about the others, especially the Taipings, they have produced scant secondary English language literature on the Yunnan rebellion.6 This historical silence is surprising considering that, as historian T'ien Ju-k' ang (Tian Rukang) has noted, it was "one of the most protracted and brutal rebellions, not only in Twentieth-Century China, Vol. 26, NO.2 (April, 2001): 63-94 64 Twentieth-Century China nineteenth century China, but in the whole of Chinese history."? Even more surprising than the absence of English language research on the rebellion, however , is the silencing of the history of the rebellion in the Chinese language sources during the Cultural Revolution (1965-1976), a time when other nineteenth century groups who were not self-proclaimed rebels, such as the Boxers, were celebrated as proto-Communist revolutionaries. 8 This essay undertakes an archaeology of representation of the Yunnan rebellion and rebel leader Du Wenxiu. I first situate the essay within a field of discussion of the politics of the past and subaltern history. Then, using elite Chinese and official sources, published gazetteers, histories, folk tales, and finally , a museum exhibit, I examine the ways in which Du Wenxiu and the rebellion have been represented over time. A comparison over four time periodslate imperial, Republican, Maoist, and the current reform era-reveals that the same historical figures and events may be demonized, glorified, or silenced depending on the shifting terrain of social, economic, and political power. While interesting comparisons could be made with late nineteenth century British and French sources, or current popular Muslim sources, a focus on elite and official sources allows for a sharper analysis of the connections between shifts in ideology , policy, and representation. While a text may clearly reflect the political and economic struggles of its time, it is more difficult to ascertain why an individual author chose to write and publish what and when he did. For this latter task, I refrain from much speculation and leave the matter open to further investigation . What becomes clear, however, is that historical representations start to take on lives of their own...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5065
Print ISSN
1521-5385
Pages
pp. 63-94
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-25
Open Access
No
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