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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Finding Kazakh women in the Chinese state : embodiment and the politics of memory Gulidana, Shalimujiang

Abstract

This thesis examines embodied experiences of socialist collectivization and post pastoral reform among Kazakh people in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, People’s Republic of China. Through (auto)ethnography, oral history, material culture and performance, I explore how the structural processes of Chinese development shape ordinary Kazakh lifeworlds, subjectivities, and memory-scapes. This work traces Kazakh epistemologies pertaining to land, language, and relationships expressed through oral poetry, creative writing, life-cycle rituals, and storytelling. After the introduction and context chapter, five chapters address distinct historical and cultural aspects of Kazakh women’s experiences in Xinjiang. First, I trace the history of family and community through women’s memories about the Altay state ranch during Mao’s China. Secondly, I analyze the 1962 Yi-Ta incident from the perspective of generational displacement. The Yi-Ta incident rendered the Kazakh borderlands a veritable military colony and separated generations of Kazakh families across the Sino-Soviet split. Third, I discuss elderly Kazakh women’s laments and acts of ritualized mourning as a way to make and maintain meaning within the post-socialist secularized landscape. I argue that these practices make otherwise taboo social and political traumas “sayable” in an environment of restricted expression. Fourth, I show how a recent Kazakh author uses notions of traditional knowledge about human-nature relationships and ecology to interpret the changeable politics of Kazakh life and society in 20th century Xinjiang. Fifth, I analyze a contemporary Kazakh improvisational oral poetry debate to illustrate the interplay of gender, nationalism, and folklore practice in the contemporary trans-national Kazakh community. Despite being far away from the state center, Kazakh women in China’s northwestern frontier rework the state’s template in telling a gendered history of their lives, their experiences, and their society. Their memories and experiences reveal sensory notions of place and time that challenge the state’s discourse of ecological civilization. They respond to social transformations as well as gendered and generational injustices through “veiled sentiments” of poetry. Showcasing entanglements of agency and affect as well as contentious acts of place-making and history-making in contemporary Xinjiang, this project illustrates complex internal dynamics and subjectivities among Kazakhs. Despite being far away from the state center, Kazakh women in China’s northwestern frontier rework the state’s template in telling a gendered history of their lives, their experiences, and their society. Their memories and experiences reveal sensory notions of place and time that challenge the state’s discourse of ecological civilization. They respond to social transformations as well as gendered and generational injustices through “veiled sentiments” of poetry. Showcasing entanglements of agency and affect as well as contentious acts of place-making and history-making in contemporary Xinjiang, this project illustrates complex internal dynamics and subjectivities among Kazakhs.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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