Bulldozed Away
March 24, 2009 9:50 AM   Subscribe

In the 1860’s, while the US was busy crushing its agrarian revolution, the Russians were busy expanding their empire towards Afghanistan and cleansing the Caucuses of those pesky Circassians, Chechens, and Tartars (to name a few) in a little known places like Abkhazia, the British were busy expanding their empire towards Afghanistan and extinguishing the last outposts of “mutineers,” and the Qing Dynasty of China was losing its grip on its Empire due to a cult of longhaired Christians lead by Jesus’s Chinese little brother. Alimkul, the de facto Khan of Khotan took advantage of the chaos by sending his greatest general, Yakub Beg, to Kashgar...

The indigenous population there was overthrowing and slaughtering their Chinese overlords. Yakub Beg quickly seized Kashgar and Yarkand and established Kashgaria for the Khanate. He sent a caravan full of riches for his warlord, but alas, it arrived too late; Alimkul was killed trying in vain to fend the Russians off in Tashkent. Now independent of his master, Yakub Beg declared himself Amir of Eastern Turkestan set about liberating the cities surrounding the barren Tarim basin. Eventually Eastern Turkestan would encompass most of what is now Xinjiang.

Yakub Beg would become a brief lived but major player in the Great Game, positioning the British and Russians off of each other in order to hold off the inevitable reconquest by the Qing. He held out for over ten years before the Chinese conspired with a local hakim and he was poisoned. Considered a great ruler of the Uyghur people (though he was ethnically Uzbek, or was he Tajik?) Yakub Beg was buried near the great mausoleum of Afak Khoja, the Afaki, and the empty tomb of the Fragrant Concubine.

That is until 1978, when the People’s Republic of China began an extensive tourist renovation of the site of the Afaki tombs and bulldozed Yakub Beg’s grave (and record of it) into the Taklimakan dust. Today in the “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region”, Han Chinese make up nearly the same percentage of the population as Uyghur. Hanzu make up the majority in nearly all prefectures except for in the extreme West and North. Fearing renewed Uyghur nationalism despite the decades of displacement by Hanzu migrants, the Chinese have commenced a “modernization” effort in the old city of Kashgar.
posted by Pollomacho (31 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Gee guys, never start a land war in Asia.

(nice post, I look forwards to digesting it properly)
posted by Artw at 10:00 AM on March 24, 2009

Southern slaveholders were "agrarian revolutionaries"?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 10:10 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Southern slaveholders were "agrarian revolutionaries"?

I was going to ask the same question, but didn't, because I thought I might be missing something.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:13 AM on March 24, 2009

Sure-- they were agrarian revolutionaries from a peaceful, pastoral society that was brutally crushed during the War of Northern Aggression. Just ask any (white) southerner.
posted by dersins at 10:17 AM on March 24, 2009

Ok, not ANY white southerner. Probably not even most. But a surprising number appear to believe this.
posted by dersins at 10:18 AM on March 24, 2009

nice post! favorited for later
posted by rosswald at 10:24 AM on March 24, 2009

I also am curious about the alleged "agrarian revolution" esp. as this post seems to be about ethnically-based repression.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:27 AM on March 24, 2009

mmmm great post! it's posing a terrible temptation right now but I must save it for later....
posted by supermedusa at 10:31 AM on March 24, 2009

Goog 1st hit
posted by goethean at 10:34 AM on March 24, 2009

Kinda derailed his own post there.
posted by marxchivist at 10:37 AM on March 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

What a fascinating period in history. And yeah, seconding Artw, if Risk (or Civ, for that matter) has taught me anything, it's that no one can hold Asia for longer than a turn or too.
posted by Acey at 10:37 AM on March 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

neat stuff, ground into dust...

Chinese authorities are often criticized for not being sensitive to groups outside their own majority ethnic Han culture. During the Olympic Games, for example, officials could not understand objections to their use of Han Chinese models and actors to stand in for members of China's minority tribes.

that would be eastern nationalism...

also btw, fwiw, katherine paterson's Rebels Of the Heavenly Kingdom is a great story about the taiping rebellion!

oh and another neat footnote in the history of central asia :P
Later in the day I visit Samarkand's most photographed landmark, the Registan, a broad plaza fronted by the towering edifices of three madrassas (Islamic schools). Considered the pinnacle of Timurid architecture, the Registan was actually finished after Tamerlane's death as his dynasty staggered on, ruled by his sons. Two of the madrassas face each other in mirrored reflection. The turquoise domes, the sand-coloured, wickedly leaning minarets, are sublime. But it's all a little too perfect, argues historian Justin Marozzi in his enthralling biography, Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World. Marozzi claims that Soviet restorers have created an "Islamic Disneyworld".

More to my liking is the Gur-Emir Mausoleum, set in a tranquil courtyard of roses and marigolds. Inside an opulent interior of hexagonal onyx tiles is Tamerlane's final resting place. He died rather tamely of old age in 1405, on the verge of an ambitious campaign to conquer China's Ming dynasty. He went to his grave without remorse or humility, as his cenotaph, a brooding slab of dark nephrite jade, boasts: "When I rise from the dead, the world shall tremble." Vain words, perhaps, but when a Soviet scientist exhumed Tamerlane's remains in 1941, it is said that a further inscription inside his casket read: "Whomsoever opens my tomb shall unleash an invader more terrible than I." Two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union.
scythian empires...
posted by kliuless at 10:40 AM on March 24, 2009

The American Civil War (1861-1865) was not only a war to end slavery. It mirrored the rising industrial wave in the north conflicting with the slave-based agrarian power of the south - the economic collision of increasing tariffs and cheap labour. In Japan, the revolution was less bloody. Yet it concerned the samurai feudal elite conflicting with the rifles of the emperor - a first versus second-wave conflict. Today, many conflicts close to us can be analyzed with wave analysis. Take Sarajevo, where the traditional religious folk are pitted against the modern thinking of the city - again a first/second wave conflict, albeit with other things happening at the same time. In Northern Iraq, where there is a large Kurd population, we find another example of first/second wave conflict as the city-based parties fight tribal interests. Similar conflicts may be seen in Turkey, China and South Africa. In South Africa, the city-based ANC conflicts with the rural Inkatha. In the Ukraine, the agriculturally dependent west conflicts with the industrialized east. First and second waves are still playing themselves out as conflicts arise between the elites of different systems.

Countries moving from the first to the second wave became very nationalist. Those moving from the second to the third wave have a looser perception of sovereignty.

This analysis is very wishy-washy and too general.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:52 AM on March 24, 2009

Great post, though.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:11 AM on March 24, 2009

Sorry to drive this train any further off the rails, but I don't understand why "agrarian revolution" and "slaveholders defending slavery" are mutually exclusive descriptions of the American Civil War, especially when the vile institution was central to the practice of agriculture in the South.
posted by dreadpiratesully at 11:32 AM on March 24, 2009

"slaveholders defending slavery" isn't a revolutionary act. Revolutions involve change.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 11:44 AM on March 24, 2009

Also, sorry for the derail Pollomacho. But I wish you could clear up this itchy language for me.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 11:47 AM on March 24, 2009

Also, sorry for the derail Pollomacho. But I wish you could clear up this itchy language for me.

Sorry, I suppose I shouldn't have put the throw-away right up front like that. I was simply trying to play on the agrarian vs. industrial nature of the US Civil War. I hadn't really intended the comment to be a major focus of the thread and rather a sort of lead in, but since I'm showing all my cards, I thought myself clever to juxtapose the rural rebels (and failed political revolution) in 1860's US, with other concurrent failed break aways as a segue into the rebellion of the Uyghurs and how that rebellion is still viewed as threatening even today to the massive Red Chinese Empire. In all honesty I've wanted to do a post about Eastern Turkestan and their largely forgotten cause for a while and when I saw the truly, truly tragic news of the demise of beautiful, Old Kashgar, I thought I could (try to) tie them together to do a little bit more than a newsfilter post.

When you travel around Central Asia, you come upon ruin after ruin on top of ruin of ancient, forgotten civilizations, so it should be no surprize that the Uyghurs would be sadly, quietly disappearing into the dunes with the others. Though you are farther there than anywhere on Earth from the oceans, the tidal ebb and flow of Empires is often literally etched into the face of the landscape and it has been so since Homo first wandered out into those plains.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:12 PM on March 24, 2009

i can see the point of using commercially available slave labor to clear undeveloped land in the scope of the american south as revolutionary. importing slave labor was pretty radical for it's time, especially done to the extent that the southerners did. the war did mark the end of this era, but the resulting forcefully immigrated population did allow for continued agricultural development.
posted by lester at 12:19 PM on March 24, 2009

"slaveholders defending slavery" isn't a revolutionary act. Revolutions involve change.

True. It would be so much easier if we simply renamed the Civil War to "The Slave Owner's Rebellion". That boils the situation down to its most accurate essentials, while avoiding the vague term "civil war".

As for the agricultural revolution involved, there was one revolutionary invention involved, which expanded the usefulness (and area of use) of slavery. However that agricultural revolution took place decades before the 1860s, and so facilitated, but wasn't directly involved in The Slaveowner's Rebellion.
posted by happyroach at 12:31 PM on March 24, 2009

i think it does.
posted by onya at 1:07 PM on March 24, 2009

You lot are all angerarians.
posted by Artw at 1:08 PM on March 24, 2009

I was thinking this thread needed to get further off track; a definitions debate is just what the doctor ordered!
posted by happyroach at 1:39 PM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Great post. Thanks, Pollomacho.
posted by homunculus at 2:22 PM on March 24, 2009

Hmm, I'd just been looking up the Taiping Rebellion because of the connection to Cantonese Opera. The Red Boats, opera troupes who travelled on the rivers and canals, could be traced back to the 1500's. But they sealed their place in history as carriers of rebellion against the Qing Dynasty. Many suggest a connection to the Shaolin Temple. They were also banned for over a decade after the Taiping Rebellion.
posted by dragonsi55 at 2:52 PM on March 24, 2009

A good book about the great game, which covers Yakub Beg, is the aptly named The Great Game, by Peter Hopkirk . It was very scary to see the parallels between the British experience in Afghanistan and the current American adventure there. Not to reassuring either since the British eventually lost.

I also definitely get where you are going with comparing the civil war with other rebellions of the same time. There are a lot of parallels between the three modern land based empires China, (Ming and Qing dynasty), Russia and the U.S.A. that don't get talked about a lot. Maybe it is because ] they all owe most, (all in the case of the U.S.) of their land mass to displaced indigenous populations, and talking about that too much interferes with national myths.
posted by afu at 5:17 PM on March 24, 2009

Was in Suzhou last week for a conference and looked round the impressive new museum which abuts the palace of one of the Taiping generals. Easy to forget not just how sustained the rebellion was but also that it occupied much of the wealthiest part of the empire. I understand the Western powers were seriously considering recognising the Taiping as the legitimate regime until they discovered that their Christianity was not quite what they knew of it.
Enjoyed your post Pollomacho (the margins of empire are always where the fun is, even if they're geographically internal) though my nit-pick would be the way you use "Hanzu" - it's a categorisation which to my understanding was almost as constructed under the Stalinist nationality categories as any other and a further example of the problems attendant on importing "modern" concepts into a pre-modern regime with a whole socio-historical framework of its own.
Hey, at least I left the US civil war out of it :p
posted by Abiezer at 8:35 PM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Hanzu" - it's a categorisation which to my understanding was almost as constructed under the Stalinist nationality categories

That gels with my understanding as well, but it is the term that is used in Kashgar by both the Uyghur and those people that fall under the Stalinist nationality category of "Han" and have generally moved into the region more recently. I agree that it's not the best term, but I'm not sure there is a good alternative. Perhaps "Chinese" but that implies that Xinjiang is not part of the People's Republic, which gets you into trouble too. Maybe I should call them "Eastern Chinese" that way we ensure the Harmonious Union of the People's Republic, while at the same time distinguishing the ethnic and regional groups we're talking about?

Incidentally, aren't the Hui considered both "Hanzu" and a minority group under the twisted logic of the nationalities system?
posted by Pollomacho at 5:14 AM on March 25, 2009

The Hui are officially non-Han AFAIK. My own sense was that the Hui included both non-Han people from beyond China proper (and this was the view I got from Chinese friends who were pretty much adamant it was an ethnic rather than religious distinction) and also Han converts to Islam, which combined with intermarriage made any "ethnic" distinction a bit spurious for my money. Here's something by someone who knows what they're writing about who disagrees and imagines the Hui are largely descended from immigrants:
In an attempt to win the support, or at least the neutrality, of its Muslim neighbours, the Chinese Soviet government released a document entitled "Manifesto of the Chinese Central Soviet to the Hui people" that promised the Hui people (Huizu renmin) political autonomy, religious freedom and the right to bear arms. It was a strategy that was in keeping with the spirit of the Chinese Communist Party's United Front policy. This manifesto did not, however, specify exactly what was meant by the ethnonym Hui.

In 1941, this was clarified by a Communist Party committee comprising ethnic policy researchers in a treatise entitled On the question of Huihui Ethnicity (Huihui minzu wenti). This treatise defined the characteristics of the Hui nationality as follows: the Hui or Huihui constitute an ethnic group associated with, but not defined by, the Islamic religion and they are descended primarily from Muslims who migrated to China during the Mongol-Yuan dynasty (1206-1368), as distinct from the Uyghur and other Turkic-speaking ethnic groups in Xinjiang.[2] The Nationalist government had recognised all Muslims as one of "the five peoples"—alongside the Manchus, Mongols, Tibetans and Han Chinese—that constituted the Republic of China. The new Communist interpretation of Chinese Muslim ethnicity marked a clear departure from the ethno-religious policies of the Nationalists, and had emerged as a result of the pragmatic application of Stalinist ethnic theory to the conditions of the Chinese revolution.
posted by Abiezer at 9:05 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

And reading about the Panthay Rebellion in Yunnan which was contemporary with Yakub Beg's uprising, the slogans mae explicit reference to unity between Han and Hui but opposition to the Imperial power, so if people were self-defining as such kind of blows my amateur theories out the water. :(
posted by Abiezer at 9:16 PM on March 25, 2009

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