The Travelling Minzu: Uyghur migration and the negotiation of identities in China and Australia

by Mei Ding

Institution: University of Otago
Year: 0
Keywords: Ethnicity; Xinjiang; China; Uyghur; multiculturalism; migration; Australia; minzu
Record ID: 1317417
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10523/5411


The concept of minzu (民族) operates at the juncture between nationality and ethnicity. From the 1950s to 1980s, 56 minzu groups were officially identified and recognised by the state (nationality). This was part of the minzu identification project, within which Uyghur became one of China’s largest non-Han or shaoshu minzu groups located in its northwest border. This thesis demonstrates that although minzu is a contexualised Chinese concept, it has been internalised and filled with local meanings by people and has subsequently travelled across geopolitical borders and among various cultures. On the institutional levels, the concept of minzu was introduced to China at the end of the 19th century through Meiji Japan to support the formation of the Chinese nation. During the wars against the Qing Empire and the establishment of the Republic of China, Sun Yat-sen (also known in Chinese as Sun Zhongshan) extended the notion of minzu from Han to include Mongolians, Tibetans, Manchu and Hui (Muslim in a broader sense). Given the Soviet experience, the Chinese Communist Party promised national equality to all groups within the nation to unite the country against imperialism, Japanese invasion, and promote proletarian revolution. The notion of minzu also conveys ethnic identity. It has been transformed from an abstractive and official-imposed identity to the level of Uyghur individuals, filled with meanings and practised in everyday lives. This thesis examines Uyghur in small and medium-sized entreprises in both China and Australia, as significant sites of reinterpreting and negotiating the meanings of minzu identity in the context of transnational migration. The notion of minzu is intuitively invoked by Uyghur migrants in terms of access to employment, business and education opportunities in both countries. This notion of minzu has been reconstructed as a new form of ethnic and diasporic identity for Uyhgur in multicultural Australia, especially in relation to their shaoshu minzu status in China. The concept of minzu not only travels with Uyghur migrants but it was also prevalent in fieldwork relationships, which actively involved the researcher’s own minzu identity. My own transnational fieldwork and migration experiences provide a parallel and embodied experience of the travelling concept of minzu, and a wider model for ‘Chinese overseas’ studies.