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Muslim Women at a Crossroads: Gender and Development in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China

  • Author(s): Huang, Cindy
  • Advisor(s): Ong, Aihwa
  • et al.

This dissertation is an ethnographic study of the Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwestern China. I explore how the narratives of the women I study reflect historical conditions, as well as shape their political, ethical and cultural engagement in the present. In dozens of interviews and over a year of participant observation, a persistent theme emerged: being one who is japakesh, one who perseveres through difficulty and suffers with a moral purpose. Given the shifting demands of an environment marked by rapid change and development, being japakesh entails different sacrifices and challenges for each generation. Even as the women share a concern with how to live a good life as a Muslim Uyghur woman in Xinjiang today, this project takes on a form and character particular to their historical experiences. In weaving together the gendered stories of those who came of age during different periods of China's development (socialist, reform and post-reform), I illuminate the contours and ambivalences of generational narratives, in particular vis-à-vis the rising dominance of "middle class" dreams. The stories that women shared with me, and that I contextualize and retell in this dissertation, convey a sense of how life is conceived of, and therefore how life is lived, in contemporary Xinjiang.

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