At some point soon I hope to write up some notes from my experience looking around for photographs for my forthcoming book. Along the way I came across quite a few interesting bits and pieces, things that won’t make it into the book but seemed worth noting here at least. It turns out that the archive of the Royal Geographical Society in London has an excellent collection of photos from Xinjiang, and particularly from the Ili Valley region (catalogue here). These consist mostly of E. Delmar Morgan‘s photos from his trip in 1880, but include some later shots, which I would tentatively attribute to the British journalist and Labour politician M. Philips Price, who detoured into Xinjiang on his first trip through Russia.
In 1880, E. Delmar Morgan was travelling through Ili in the midst of the negotiations between the Qing and Russian Empires for the restitution of territory occupied by Russia in 1871. His photos depict Ili as a desolate region, showing that it still hadn’t recovered from the violence of the anti-Qing rebellion of the 1860s. One of the towns he visited was Samar, or Zharkent as it’s now known, which lies on the right bank of the Ili river. Samar was originally a Qing garrison town, and was more or less razed to the ground during the rebellion. It ended up in Russian territory after the Treaty of Saint Petersburg in 1881, and is now the centre of the Uyghur community of Kazakhstan.
While passing through, Morgan snapped a couple of interesting grave steles, commemorating Qing soldiers (known as bannermen because they were organised into “banners”) who lost their lives during Jahangir Khoja‘s assault on Kashgar in 1826. Both of these bannermen belonged to the Manchu-speaking Sibe, a people who hail from from the north of Manchuria. The transplantation of the Sibe to the Ili valley took place in the 1760s, meaning that these men were probably third or fourth generation migrants. So, the steles commemorate Manchurian colonists, who fought and died to defend Qing-held Kashgar from Muslim rebels, and were buried in what’s now south-east Kazakhstan. They’re an interesting reminder of the scope of Qing imperium, from a part of the world where most such reminders have long been erased. Continue reading
Translated by Anthony Garnaut
The Jahriyya Sufi order (Zheherenye menhuan 哲赫忍耶门宦), often referred to by outsiders as the New Sect (xin jiao 新教) was an object of fascination for many metropolitan Chinese and foreign visitors to northwest China in the early twentieth century. In the 1990s, the Beijing-based Muslim novelist and essayist Zhang Chengzhi wrote a historical novel titled The History of the Soul (Xinling shi 心灵史). This drew upon a rich oral and written tradition of remembering the lives of the Jahriyya shaykhs. Mawlana Siddiq Allah Ma Yuanzhang 马元章 was the leading shaykh of the Jahriyya tradition in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Continue reading
Translated and introduced by Joshua L. Freeman
Exmetjan Osman (b. 1964) is widely acknowledged as the founder of the gungga (“hazy”) movement in Uyghur poetry, a modernist school which blossomed after Exmetjan’s first Uyghur-language abstract poems were published in Xinjiang’s Tengri Tagh journal in 1986. As a teenager in Ürümqi during the early days of China’s reform period, Exmetjan developed a strong interest in international literary trends, and in 1982 joined one of the first cohorts of Xinjiang Uyghurs to study abroad after the Cultural Revolution. Completing first a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s degree in Arabic literature at Damascus University, Exmetjan acquired Arabic with such fluency that in 1988 he was able to publish his first Arabic-language poetry collection, The Second Stumble. His first Uyghur-language collection followed three years later, and the years since have seen the publication of six more volumes in Arabic and Uyghur, to great acclaim in both the Syrian and the Uyghur literary worlds. Continue reading
Translated by David Brophy
Mahmud Churas’ untitled chronicle ranks as the most important historical composition from seventeenth century Xinjiang, a period for which we are relatively poorly served by local literature. Only one manuscript version of the text survives. At the beginning of the twentieth century this manuscript was in the possession of a wealthy Tashkent man, Baqi Jan Bay. The Russian Orientalist Bartold met Baqi during his trip to Turkistan in 1916, and obtained permission to remove the text to Saint Petersburg for copying. The Russian Revolution intervened and cut Turkistan off from the rest of Russia, and evidently the book was never returned to its owner. Instead it ended up in a library in Moscow. There it remained, largely unnoticed by scholars, until Oleg Akimushkin published an edition of the text, with Russian translation and extensive commentary, in 1976. Continue reading