The Sacred Routes Of Uyghur History


Author: Rian Thum
Published by Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England 2014
Like all historical works, this study is an attempt to link past and present, to make the cryptic realities of other times relevant, usable, and understandable today. In particular, it aims to tell the story of one community’s imagination of the past as it changed over time. It is a biography of Uyghur history, the history created and learned by the oasis- dwelling Turkic Muslims of what is today far western China. I use the term ‘biography’ figuratively, to emphasize the continuity and connectedness of Uyghur notions of the past across time, and because I want to imply that its story is less arcane than the word ‘historiography’ would suggest. The story of Uyghur history making is a tale of conquests and rebellions, long journeys and moving rituals, oasis markets and desert shrines, foreigner saints, handwritten newspapers, friendships made, books loaned, censors duped. Because historical practice is an engagement with time, which itself exists in time, the story of histories past, the history of a history, is always at risk of sinking into a mire of abstraction. Moreover, the on- the ground reality of history making, with its myriad associated practices, geographies, intellectual genealogies, and community dynamics, exposes the weaknesses of narrative explication. The central challenge in writing this study has been to make the biography of these accumulated embraces of the past, marching through time, seem as straightforward and natural as their reality deserves, without suppressing their complexity…


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