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


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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