Last month Adil Hushor (Ch: Adili Wuxor) pulled off his latest feat – walking over the Pearl River on a wire suspended 116 meters in the air. Over the past decades he has walked between skyscrapers, over China’s most iconic valleys, canyons, stadiums, lakes, and rivers. He’s broken multiple world records by doing it faster and longer, higher and weirder. As a 19-year-old he broke 12 bones when a rotten rope broke in Shanghai and he fell 15 meters. But the everyday trauma of risking his life has not stopped him from tackling bigger and more dangerous feats.
Below is Adil’s biography as shown on CCTV-9:
Adil brings the Uyghur tradition of dawaz-style tightrope walking forward into the global spotlight of Asian cities. According to the Uyghur oral tradition, dawaz – a kind of dashing, court-performance, dance-style of tightrope walking – has played a role in Uyghur society for 2,000 years. It was first noted as a Uyghur cultural feature in Mahmud Kashgari’s authoritative dictionary of Turkic languages in Kashgar in the 1070s. Adil places himself in this long tradition of nobility and valor. He himself is a member of the sixth generation of performers in his family to take to the tightrope.
Yet being the prince of the sky does not place Adil above the fray of being a minor figure in a Chinese world. Like Uyghurs everywhere, Adil is pulled in multiple directions: when he’s off the wire, his speech and actions are noted by the Chinese media, his corporate sponsors and the Uyghur public.
1. Adil in the Chinese Media
According to many Chinese-language media accounts, Adil is the pride of China. He carried the Olympic torch in 2008. After nearly every performance Adil feeds this sentiment by speaking toward the glory of China, the future of harmony in Xinjiang, and the ethnic friendship he is modeling. The party-secretary of the cultural ministry of Xinjiang — that is, the Chinese state’s top authority on Xinjiang culture, a heavy-set man from Henan named Han Ziyang — has gone as far as to say that Adil was trained by Han masters (shifu). To his thinking, Adil seems to be a model of the way Uyghurs can learn from Han civilization.
2. Adil in the Urban Business World
Many Uyghurs have never seen Adil perform. He is a celebrity as seen on TV. In the early 2000s he became known as “Adil Shohla” or “Adil the Tomato” because he was featured in so many ads for a Xinjiang-based tomato company. Nicknames are a common way for Uyghurs to address difference and perceived weaknesses in others. Although these nicknames usually have derogatory connotations, they are often voiced with affection. For example, if a city Uyghur like Adil were slightly overweight, then he might be called Adil Pangza (Pàngzi); if he wore glasses, he might be called Adil Jinsian (Uyghur pronunciation of jìnshìyǎn, near-sighted; people who have some type of disability are always given pretty mean nicknames). As one young Uyghur man put it after discussing Uyghur name-calling: “I am ashamed to admit this side of Uyghur culture, but sometimes we are not very tolerant towards people who are slightly different from the majority.” In any case, Adil became so fed-up with the name-calling that he publicly defended his moral character by describing the way he refused to become a spokesperson for Tsingtao Beer when he walked over the Yangtze River: Alcohol should not be supported by Muslims, he said.
Some Ürümchi inhabitants glimpsed Adil when he performed in front of his namesake shopping center in the south of the city. But that complex, called “The Diplomat” in English and “Adil Soda Sariyi” in Uyghur (Ādílì dàshà in Chinese), is only partly owned by him.
Young urban Uyghur youth talk instead about his legacy of salacious entanglement with Uzbek nightclub singers, women from the former Soviet Union who traffic in booze and scandal. In the mid-2000s, the urbane Uyghurs were quite taken with these singers, particularly one group called Shahrizoda. The international suave of Uyghur folk songs, sung with Uzbek accents, is said to have captured Adil’s attention.
At the heart of this Uyghur cosmopolitan scene was the popular nightclub in Ürümchi called MIX, which Adil frequented with great regularity, flashing wealth and success. The club, which was the site of the video below, was always packed:
In the late 2000s, it went bankrupt and closed.
3. Adil in the Uyghur Imaginary
In Adil’s hometown of Yengisar (just outside of Kashgar), he has started a craze among young Uyghurs who want to emulate his success on the tightrope. In order to meet this demand in 2011 he began building a dawaz complex in Kashgar. As he said in an interview: “I will invest 8 million yuan (US$1.26 million) and spend three to five years completing the entire school. Besides the training area, my future school will have a dormitory building, canteen, teaching school, grandstand and a dawaz museum. Students ages 10 to 12 will be trained for six years. The tuition will be free, but I will strictly select those who can enter my school. The students will have two hours of study for English and computers every night at the school, this will ensure at least that they can find jobs after graduation. The students also can stay on after graduation and become staff members at the school. The monthly salary will be about 1,800 yuan, which is not low in Kashgar.”
Below is an excellent short from the Shanghai-based videographer Seth Coleman that examines the experiences of Adil’s students in the new school and Adil’s vision of the future.
Next week I will examine the deeper implications of Adil’s influence in Southern Xinjiang through a discussion of the documentary film On a Tightrope.
For more of Seth Colman’s documentaries and photography in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China, visit his website.
Beige Wind runs the website The Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia, which attempts to recognize and create dialogue around the ways minority people create a durable existence, and, in turn, how these voices from the margins implicate all of us in simultaneously distinctive and connected ways.