With so much attention on the violence emanating from Xinjiang, many of you may have missed the parade of Uyghur dancers who have recently taken the stage on the Chinese version of So You Think You Can Dance (Zhongguo Hao Wudao). Not only do we have the child-star-turned-adult-tap-dancer Yusupjan, the nine-year-old break-dancer Surat Taxpolat (who goes by the stage name “Little Meatball”), and the teenage break dancer Umid Tursun, but we also have the model family of Gulmira Memet, a young dance instructor from the Xinjiang Art Institute in Ürümchi.
As in other reality TV shows featuring minority performers – such as the Kazakh performer Tasken on The Voice of China – celebrity judges use the competition stage as a platform from which to model minor-to-minor connections and demonstrate how the diversity of the Chinese population can be an asset rather than a sign of lack.
It is perhaps with this in mind that Gulmira selected Jin Xing – the Korean-Chinese ballet dancer who is famously transgender – to act as her coach in the contest. But unlike Tasken and A-Mei, Gulmira and Jin Xing’s relationship seems a bit predetermined. Perhaps it was the way the relationship was announced.
Jin Xing said, “I hope we can create a relationship of grand ethnic harmony” (1:14). And thus a Uyghur dancer and a transgender Korean instructor demonstrated minzu datuanjie for a cheering audience.
As the narrative of the short clip above shows us, Gulmira also has a model husband and daughter. The imagery shows us that people in Ürümchi are happy and safe (3:00-4:30); that little Uyghur girls are learning Chinese (4:35); and that Uyghur families can dance (5:40).
Some Uyghur viewers of these performances say they think portrayals such as these might reinforce the stereotype that all ethnic minorities do is sing and dance. They feel as though these performers are not necessarily talented, but instead somehow otherwise meet the standards of the show’s producers.
But despite these reservations, many Uyghurs also seem quite proud to see people from their social position displayed in such a flattering way.
They were the most proud to see — as this clip of her entire performance shows — the way Gulmira greeted the audience by first speaking to them using the pan-Islamic Arabic greeting Assalam Alaykum before switching to Chinese. And they loved the way she spoke to her daughter in Uyghur and how little four-year-old Gulnaz won over the crowd with cuteness.
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.