Joshua L. Freeman

Inner Asian and Altaic StudiesHarvard University

Award Information

2016 IDRF Program

Inner Asian and Altaic StudiesHarvard University

Print Communism: Uyghur Literary Canon between China and the USSR

My dissertation will demonstrate that Uyghur literature, from the 1920s to the present, has played a central role in developing an autonomous Uyghur narrative of history and identity. By comparatively examining the cross-border Uyghur community in China and the USSR, I will show how Uyghur writers in the two largest socialist states achieved remarkable cultural power and autonomy through mobilizing socialist policy and bureaucracy. My study will begin by analyzing the complex and little-understood patronage relationships between Party patrons and minority writers in the USSR and China. I will then trace the complex negotiations and conflicts between Uyghur literary factions, each of which hoped to gain access to the state patronage system—and the state monopoly printing presses—in order to promote its own favored works, authors, ideology, or hometown. While prevailing theories have long acknowledged the role of print culture in nation formation, these models have been built primarily around case studies of the Western world and its (former) colonies. The processes of nation formation differed substantially for minority groups in Eurasian socialist states, where mass literacy programs and a highly centralized system conferred tremendous power and prestige on small groups of minority writers. My dissertation will explore the remarkable autonomy that these writers were sometimes able to achieve, as they shaped a national literary canon that reflected their ideas and hopes for their nations. I will focus in particular on the emergence of the national poet, an obligatory figure in nationalist mythologies from Eastern Europe to Central Asia. For most Uyghurs, the poet Lutpulla Mutellip (1922-45) embodies national ideals and symbolizes modern Uyghur culture. By reconstructing Lutpulla's career, personal networks, and posthumous reputation, I will demonstrate how the creation of Uyghur literary canon has been a central site for the definition of the Uyghur nation itself.