Ildiko Beller-Hann: Community Matters in Xinjiang 1880-1949. Towards a Historical Anthropology of the Uyghur. Brill, Leiden, Boston 2008 (China Studies 17). 476 S.
The mid-19th century is characterized by transformations in Eastern Turkestan that contained the option of an independent Kashgaria as envisaged by Yaqub Beg and inally ended up with what is Xinjiang, the New Territory, in the far West of the Chinese Empire. The downfall of Kashgaria and the formation of Mao Zedong’s PR of China mark the period which is covered in this valuable contribution to Xinjiang studies.
ILDIKÓ BELLÉR-HANN presents us with a title that can be read in at least two meanings. “Community matters” are introduced as “… social relations and local understandings of sources belonging in speciic historical contexts” as well as the “… emic emphasis on the importance of being social, i.e., of belonging” (p. 19). The dual approach puts community and reciprocity into the core of the study, which aims at a contribution “towards a historical anthropology of the Uyghur”. The book provides much more. With caution and care the author relects the state of the art in Xinjiang studies, negotiates ways and methods how to understand the multiplicity in views and perceptions of the North-Western periphery, and identiies an important niche that needs proper scholarly attention. Making use of a host of contemporary sources ive chapters are presented that are structured to look at place and people, to comprehend economic and social organization, to investigate social relations and the force of custom, to describe a person’s life cycle, and to address religion, Islamic institutions and activities. Despite the categorization of chapters the overall theme and their contribution to an understanding, which does not provide a container full of “culture”, remains central and provides a leitmotif for the reader. The vast experience of the author from extended ieldwork in Xinjiang creates the necessary background for a context-based reading of the historical material and interpreting it from then to now. Thus, “community matters in Xinjiang” introduce a more diversiied perspective on Uyghur social embeddedness, economic relations and participation in customary and religious practices. ILDIKÓ BELLÉR-HANN has made a major contribution to and cornerstone for the house of Xinjiang studies.