Tom Cliff is an ARC Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Culture, History, and Language at the Australian National University. Tom is currently investigating the role of the informal institutions of family and enterprise in responding to economic uncertainty and the ageing population in China. He has conducted long-term fieldwork in Xinjiang, and his book Oil and Water: Being Han in Xinjiang has been published by Chicago University Press in June 2016.

Oil and Water

Most Han in Xinjiang, Western China, have settled—or been settled by state decree—in the region since the Chinese Communist Party won the Civil War and took control of China in 1949. Since that time, the proportion of Han in the population has risen from 4 percent to at least 42 percent, and is now roughly […]

Xinjiang Today: Wang Zhen Rides Again?

Nostalgia for the boyishly-brutal Wang Zhen flooded across Han Xinjiang in the days, weeks, and months following the intra-communal violence of early July 2009 in Urumqi. Many Han invoked Wang Zhen’s notorious approach to management of Xinjiang’s non-Han (and in particular, Uyghur) population as the solution to what they termed the ‘ethnic problem’ (minzu wenti). […]

Nostalgia for the boyishly-brutal Wang Zhen flooded across Han Xinjiang in the days, weeks, and months following the intra-communal violence of early July 2009 in Urumqi. Many Han invoked Wang Zhen’s notorious approach to management of Xinjiang’s non-Han (and in particular, Uyghur) population as the solution to what they termed the ‘ethnic problem’ (minzu wenti).

One legend—with a number of variations, as all good legends must have—venerates disproportionate response. According to this story, in 1950, as Wang Zhen’s forces were spreading down into Southern Xinjiang, a Han man had unthinkingly or insensitively prepared a meal of pork in a Uyghur village, and was killed or badly beaten for the transgression. Upon hearing about this, Wang Zhen had his troops surround the village so no one could escape. He then forced the villagers to hand over the perpetrators and publicly executed them in the village square. Next he had his troops slaughter two or three pigs and boil them up in a large cauldron; at bayonet point, the troops then forced each and every remaining resident of the village to eat a bowl of boiled pork. Given the shortage of meat to feed his own soldiers, this was surely a high-cost exercise.

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