Growing up Chinese in Uyghurstan

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This post was inspired by Bruce Humes' "Growing up Uyghur in Xinjiang: 'Setting Sail in a Chinese-language World'” (12/22/21):

In China’s Minority Fiction, Sabina Knight notes how China is pushing its ethnic minorities — particularly the Uyghur in Xinjiang — to master Mandarin:

“The question of cultural survival haunts Patigül’s Bloodline《百年血脉》(2015). The novel situates the narrator—who, like the author, is half-Uyghur and half-Hui—within the matrix of the Han majority’s aggressive promotion of Chinese:

As my father, he needed to demonstrate that he knew about Chinese, but . . . his knowledge was [just] bits and pieces he’d picked up from other Uyghurs in the village, and he still spoke Uyghur most of the time; I, on the other hand, went to a Chinese school and was setting sail into a Chinese-language world. (trans. Natascha Bruce)

The novel opens in Qochek, in the Kazakh autonomous prefecture of Xinjiang. Yet the protagonist soon leaves the city after a call from a voice claiming to be her older brother. Not sure it’s her brother, whose voice she hasn’t heard in five years, she nonetheless gives up her life in Xinjiang to go to Guangzhou. In this raw, wrenching, and at times brutal narrative, the protagonist’s search for her family members and their history encapsulates different possible futures for Uyghurs, especially assimilation, whether in Xinjiang or elsewhere in China.”

(To read the full excerpt from Bloodline cited above, visit here. Also recommended is Patigül’s essay on how she adapted to life on China’s east coast, Life of a Mimic. For an introduction to Patigül en français, visit Brigitte Duzan’s Patigül: Présentation. )

in the banner at the top of Humes' website, I noticed this striking quotation from the Kurdish writer,

Musa Anter (born 1920-assassinated 9/20/92):

"Ruò wǒ de mǔyǔ dòngyáole guìguó de jīshí, zhè yěxǔ yìwèizhe guìguó jiànlì zài wǒ tǔdì zhī shàng".


"If my mother tongue shakes the cornerstone of your country, it may mean that your country is built on my land".

If anyone knows the original language in which this quotation was written (presumably Kurdish), as well as where and when it appeared, I would be grateful for this information concerning it.

As for the Iranian-speaking Kurds, their very name may mean "nomad":

The exact origins of the name Kurd are unclear. The underlying toponym is recorded in Assyrian as Qardu and in Middle Bronze Age Sumerian as Kar-da. Assyrian Qardu refers to an area in the upper Tigris basin, and it is presumably reflected in corrupted form in Classical Arabic Ǧūdī, re-adopted in Kurdish as Cûdî. The name would be continued as the first element in the toponym Corduene, mentioned by Xenophon as the tribe who opposed the retreat of the Ten Thousand through the mountains north of Mesopotamia in the 4th century BC.

There are, however, dissenting views, which do not derive the name of the Kurds from Qardu and Corduene but opt for derivation from Cyrtii (Cyrtaei) instead.

Regardless of its possible roots in ancient toponymy, the ethnonym Kurd might be derived from a term kwrt- used in Middle Persian as a common noun to refer to "nomads" or "tent-dwellers," which could be applied as an attribute to any Iranian group with such a lifestyle.

The term gained the characteristic of an ethnonym following the Muslim conquest of Persia, as it was adopted into Arabic and gradually became associated with an amalgamation of Iranian and Iranianized tribes and groups in the region.

Sherefxan Bidlisi in the 16th century states that there are four division of "Kurds": Kurmanj, Lur, Kalhor and Guran, each of which speak a different dialect or language variation. Paul (2008) notes that the 16th-century usage of the term Kurd as recorded by Bidlisi, regardless of linguistic grouping, might still reflect an incipient Northwestern Iranian "Kurdish" ethnic identity uniting the Kurmanj, Kalhur, and Guran.

As for the linguistic history of the land that I refer to as East(ern) Central Asia (ECA), and is also known by various groups and governments as Uyghurstan, East Turkestan, Sinkiang, Xinjiang (New Territories), etc., the Uyghurs moved into this land in large numbers beginning in the mid-9th c. AD, but before them the region was populated by Middle Iranians (Sogdians and Khotanese), and before them it was inhabited by Tocharians, so the earliest identifiable occupants of the Tarim Basin and surrounding areas were Indo-Europeans.  Attributing linguistic characteristics to geographical space is all the more difficult when the peoples involved were nomads and / or agropastoralists.


Selected readings


  1. Y said,

    December 26, 2021 @ 11:14 pm

    The quote is apparently a misattribution:

    The supposed actual author is İbrahim Halil Baran. His comment (Google-Translated) says: "The memories of Musa Anter left a great impression on me. Years passed by; now they share my words in his name. I don't know what to think and I'm tired of fixing it now. I dedicate my words to Apê Musa. This is the best."

  2. Victor Mair said,

    December 26, 2021 @ 11:31 pm

    Many thanks, Y.

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