“Eating Hanness”: Uyghur Musical Tradition in a Time of Re-Education

Amy Anderson and Darren Byler, “‘Eating Hanness’: Uyghur Musical Tradition in a Time of Re-Education,” China Perspectives, 1 September 2019: 17–26.


This article shows how the PRC Government has attempted to erode Uyghur culture by first making a state-curated version that exotifies Uyghur culture, and then completely erasing it by assimilating it with Han culture.


In February 2019, two major musical performances by residents of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region were widely circulated on Chinese social media. These two performances, one a Mekit County Harvest Gala and the other a performance by a Uyghur school teacher from Qumul, featured Uyghurs dressed in Han cultural costumes performing Beijing Opera. Over the past five years, since the “People’s War on Terror” started, the space for Uyghur traditional song and dance performance has deeply diminished. Simultaneously, the space for Uyghurs performing Hanness through Chinese traditional opera and Red songs has dramatically increased. Drawing on open source Uyghur and Chinese-language media, ethnographic fieldwork, and interviews with Uyghurs in diaspora, this article analyses the changing role of music in Uyghur religious and ritual life by tracing the way state cultural ministries have dramatically increased their attempts to separate Uyghur music from its Sufi Islamic origins in order to produce a non-threatening “permitted difference” (Schein 2000). Since 2016, the re-education campaign of the Chinese government on Uyghur society has intensified this disconnection by promoting an erasure of even the state-curated “difference” of happy, exoticized Uyghurs on stage. Han traditional music is now replacing Uyghur traditional music, which shows an intensification of symbolic violence toward Uyghur traditional knowledge and aesthetics. In a time of Uyghur re-education, musical performance on stage has become a space for political rituals of loyalty to a Han nationalist vision of the Chinese state.

Keywords: Music, Re-Education, Symbolic Violence, Xinjiang, Uyghur