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Tom Cliff is an ARC DECRA Research Fellow in the School of Culture, History, and Language at the Australian National University. Tom is currently investigating non-state welfare and public goods provision in rural China. The research is centrally concerned with charity 'model' innovation, model dissemination and the spread of ideas, and state charity mobilisation. In 2018, Tom's first book Oil and Water: Being Han in Xinjiang (Chicago University Press 2016) won the Association for Asian Studies' prestigious E Gene Smith prize for Best Book on Inner Asia.

Living Politics: An Exhibition

This Exhibition was part of the Australian Research Council Laureate Project ‘Informal Life Politics in the Remaking of Northeast Asia: From Cold War to Post-Cold War’. As major political changes reshape East Asia, groups of ordinary people across the region have been developing alternative, self-help ways to address the profound social, economic, and environmental challenges […]

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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