This past spring semester the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center was proud to partner with the Islamic Studies Program and the East Asian Studies Center to present a lecture by Joshua Freeman (Princeton) entitled “Uyghur Intellectuals under High Maoism.” Dr. Freeman’s talk shone particular light on a time period and geographic area that are not much talked about in combination: the territory now called the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region during the Cultural Revolution. In highlighting how the Uyghur intellectual elite navigated the morass of political and social uncertainty of this time period, Freeman told a compelling story of an important part of Uyghur history during which intellectuals and literature played a crucial role. Denise Ho (Yale University) served as respondent and provided insightful analysis and feedback.
The Uyghurs are a Turkic-speaking, mostly-Muslim ethnic group (one of 56 “official” ethnic groups in the People’s Republic of China) with a long literary and intellectual tradition of which Freeman is an accomplished scholar. His work has been, unfortunately, rendered more important and urgent of late due to the ongoing situation in the Uyghur region. In brief, the central government of the PRC has erected and filled mass detention facilities with mostly ethnic Uyghurs in a heavy-handed attempt to exterminate a culture that it sees as providing an existential threat to the authority of the Chinese Communist Party. The Chinese government has long had a contentious relationship with the Turkic inhabitants of its far northwest, and throughout that relationship, Uyghur writers and intellectuals have resisted with their words. Freeman, who moonlights as a translator of Uyghur poetry, has written a thoughtful opinion piece on the power of the written word in the present here.
As might be expected, the event was extremely well-attended. Due to the digital format, people from all over the country and world were able to be present.
As always, the IAUNRC hopes to be able to continue to sponsor content of such high caliber.