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about the project

This project, Remote Ethnography of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, aims at gaining and presenting a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of contemporary developments in this Inner Asian region under Chinese control which the Chinese government call Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region but which many Uyghurs in the diaspora prefer to call East Turkistan or the Uyghur homelands (veten). Access to the region and the possibility of fieldwork have been heavily curtailed since the Chinese government’s People’s War on Terror (2014), waves of mass incarceration (2017) and the accompanying securitisation and complete surveillance of especially the region’s Turkic Muslim population. Therefore this project seeks to develop and use methods of Remote Ethnography to explore the current situation and the developments of the past turbulent decade in the region through various sources available without on-the-ground research in the region itself. 

Remote Ethnography


Remote Ethnography is a medley of methods to research a region from the outside. It is particularly suited for places with very limited access but can be productively employed also as a complement to on-the-ground research as well. The main point of our approach is to see research of any place or topic as a holistic endeavour. This is the crux of ethnography which demands immersion in a social context and a broad collection of data to be triangulated as well as a deep understanding of the context. We use government online tenders, published accounts of Chinese academics’ on-the-ground research, policy papers of different levels, social media posts, satellite imagery, online maps, local media publications, interviews with relatives abroad, interviews with people recently leaving the region, tourists posts and descriptions from the region, government leaks, OSI/OSINT of differing types, popular culture produced in the region, TV shows, films, books, NGO reports, online data bases, government statistics and other sources. We fact-check and triangulate the data, we view one set of data from the perspective of the other and regularly share our findings with each other. As we have several project members who either are from the region themselves or lived there for long periods of time, we base all of our analyses on a deep understanding of the cultural, social, linguistic, political and historical context. 

The region


The region today called Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region by the Chinese authorities in power here is also known as East Turikstn and the Uyghur Homelands. It has previously been referred to as Chinese Turkistan, Alte Sheher (the Six Cities), Xiyu, Kashgaria/Zhungaria and by other terms. The region was colonised by the Qing around 1759 and has since been a colonised territory by different Chinese regimes with the exeption of brief periods of rule by local or regional Turkic rulers. The region has historically been home to many different groups of which Uyghurs and Kazakhs have been the most important over the last centuries but which also count Kyrgyz and different Mongolian groups as well as Hui and smaller recognised and unrecognised ethnicities. Since the communist takeover in 1949, state coordinated migration of Han Chinese to the region has seen them rise from around 6% to almost 50% today. The economic competition and social conflicts that have arisen from this as well as the states often violent reaction to them have in many ways been typical of colonial contexts. The recent mass incarceration and human rights violations have unanimously been recognised as one of the main mass atrocities of the 21st century.


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