Between Homogenization and Fragmentation – University of Copenhagen

Between Homogenization and Fragmentation

Textual Practices as Strategies of Integration and Identity Maintenance among the Uyghurs of Xinjiang, China (20th‒21st centuries)

Using the concepts of homogenization and fragmentation, this interdisciplinary project explores textual strategies employed by Turkic speaking Muslims (nowadays known as the Uyghur) to demarcate and sustain their ethno-religious group identity and negotiate their subjecthood within the Chinese polity in the 20th and early 21st centuries. It emphasizes multiple, cross-cutting loyalties and senses of belonging, indigenous subjectivity, local practice and agency.

Three of the four distinct text corpora to be studied were produced in the post-reform era (1980–2010s). These represent fiction, local history and native ethnography. The fourth explores a large corpus of legal manuscripts produced by Islamic courts during the republican era (1911–1949).

Project description and subprojects

This interdisciplinary project focuses on strategies of knowledge production among the Uyghur, a 10 million strong Turkic-speaking Muslim minority concentrated in China's far northwest. Narratives pertaining to regional history and to group-specific social practices are enabled by affirmative policies associated with ethnic recognition.

These allow collective identity to be asserted and perpetuated, while making sure that it remains within the interpretive framework of national scholarship. Local authors accommodate to the main tenets of the latter and respect the prescribed boundaries.

Using the concepts of homogenization and fragmentation, the project explores the narrative strategies used by local elites in distinct historical periods to produce knowledge and construct group identity in the realms of history, literature, ethnography and law.


Historical knowledge production on the margins: history-making among the Uyghur of Xinjiang in post-reform China (1985‒2015)
Ildikó Bellér-Hann  (Principal investigator)

Uyghur historical novels as social commentary (1985‒2015)
Anna-Luise Kraayvanger (PhD fellow)

Legal pluralism and communal identity: a multi-disciplinary study of legal documents from the oases of Khotan, Kashgar and Kucha, southern Xinjiang (1911–1949)
Aysima Mirsultan (Post-doctoral fellow)

Reclaiming the oasis. The localization of customs in Xinjiang (1985‒2015)
Rune Steenberg (Post-doctoral fellow)


Bellér-Hann, Ildikó 2016. "Oasis history in Eastern Xinjiang: a contested field?”. In: S. Jacquesson (ed.) History making in Central and Northern Eurasia: contemporary actors and practices. Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 79–99.

Bellér-Hann, Ildikó 2016. "Hapiz Niyaz: Cadre, Muslim, Historian. A local intellectual in Eastern Xinjiang". Études orientales 27–28, 87–115.

Bellér-Hann, Ildikó, Birgit Schlyter and Jun Sugawara (eds) 2017. "Kashgar Revisited. Uyghur Studies in memory of Ambassador Gunnar Jarring". Leiden: Brill.

Bellér-Hann, Ildikó 2017. “Xinjiang Close-Up” (Review article). The Journal of Asian Studies76(44), 1092–1100.

Steenberg Reyhé, Rune 2018. “Qing Policies and Close Marriage: Transforming Kinship in Kashgar”. In: D. Brophy and T. Onuma (eds.) Xinjiang in the Context of Central Eurasian Transformations. Tokyo: Toyo Bunko, 3-28.

Steenberg Reyhé, Rune 2018. “Accumulating Trust. Uyghur traders in the Sino–Kyrgyz border trade after 1991”. In: A. Horstmann, A. Rippa and R. Bolding Bennike (eds.) Routledge Handbook on Asian borderlands. London and New York: Routledge, 294-303.


Internal (ToRS, University of Copenhagen)


  • Ingeborg Baldauf (Zentralasienseminar, Humboldt University, Berlin)
  • Ondřej Klimeš (Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague)
  • Eric Schluessel (Department of History, University of Montana)
  • Joanne Smith Finley (School of Modern Languages, New Castle University, New Castle)
  • Jun Sugawara (Centre for the Studies on Ethnic Minorities in Northwest China, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou)


Beller-Hann, IldikoAssociate professor +45 51 30 24 62E-mail
Kraayvanger, Anna-LuisePhD Fellow +4917672839130E-mail
Mirsultan, AysimaPostdoc  E-mail
Steenberg, RunePostdoc  E-mail