In the wake of the horrific violence in Kunming, Uyghurs around the country have taken to Chinese-language social media to create distance between themselves and the killing of the innocent. The celebrity of Uyghur-Han ethnic friendship, the Guizhou kebab-seller-turned-philanthropist Alimjan (A-li-mu-jiang), put it best. Echoing the massively popular Indian-American film My Name is Khan, Alimjan said, “My name is Jiang and I am not a terrorist.” Many people also expressed empathy with those who experienced personal loss and pain on March 1 by writing on their WeChat accounts, “We are all Kunming people today.”
Posted just last week to Vimeo (password duihua), The Dialogue is a film by Wang Wo that looks at the Chinese government’s increasingly restrictive policies toward non-governmental contact between minority groups (specifically Tibetan and Uyghur) and Han Chinese. The film centers on an attempt by Chinese intellectuals and human rights lawyers to make contact with the Dalai Lama.
If you only gave Yang Shufeng’s engraving prints a short glance, his work would come off as a confused mess.
The chaotic lines and objects seem to purposefully confound whatever message Yang hopes to send. But in that confusion lies the real message: one of depression, anger, disappointment, and rebellion.
The definition of irony has always been difficult to pin down, even for the most seasoned of wordsmiths, but here’s an attempt through example: an artist who achieved fame by defacing or destroying other artists’ work sees one of his defaced works defaced by another artist.
The famous artist is Ai Weiwei, whose 1995 photographic triptych Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn is undoubtedly one of the pieces that propelled him to international art world fame and fortune.
About a month ago Douban, as part of its ongoing "Beyond the Billboard" event series, invited two bands from Chengdu to perform at Café XP in Beijing - Sound and Fury and Hiperson. I got to interview both bands for the show before the concert. The band featured here is the former, which plays shoegaze, a style that seems to have become very prominent with Chinese indie types late last year.
I’ve asked many people why Abdulla “Aka” (Older Brother) Abdurehim is the undisputed King of Uyghur music. It’s not that he has the gravitas of a young Elvis Presley, the steely resolve of Johnny Cash, the working-class poetics of Bruce Springsteen, or the song and dance routine of the trickster Bob Dylan. People talk about the catchiness of his melodies, the way the best song writers flock to him like pigeons to a master, and women flutter around him like moths to a flame. Yet these explanations always leave me unsatisfied. Abdulla is, after all, an average-looking middle-aged man from Kashgar. He’s average height. He has a moustache.
Within the marriage market of the urban Uyghur community it has almost become a cliché to discuss the moral aptitude of young men in terms of their frequency of prayer. When introducing a potential boyfriend, the line given is “he prays five times a day." Although this description often overlooks other moral failures such as drinking, smoking, and general carousing, the overall connotation conveyed is “this is a good, responsible guy.” In the short film With Me, Hezriti Ali, another self-made migrant actor-muscian from the southwest edge of the Taklamakan Desert, tackles this problem in an unusually subtle and implicit way.
The temptation, when evaluating a poet gunned down by his government, is to start there, with the politics that led to his murder. But Wen Yiduo (1899-1946) was much too complex and heterodox to comfortably wear the martyr's robe, his works too nuanced and unsettled to be a paragon of any revolution. His poems explore religion and rickshaws, contain the chrysanthemums of Chinese folklore and the mud of contemporary times, and dare readers to challenge prevailing conceptions, even to render their own cynicism as hope.
Music envelops the tight confines of nightclubs in Xinjiang's urban centers, where the pageantry of movement brings friends and strangers to life. Uyghurs can dance. And since his very first cassette tape released in 1999, the singer Möminjan has been popular with Xinjiang's youth precisely because his songs are eminently danceable.
PBS has done all of us a favor by offering free streaming of the award-winning documentary Last Train Home on its website until February 11. You have to be located in the US, so fire up those VPNs and get watching.
Of all the performers in the upper echelon of Uyghur pop music, Möminjan is perhaps the most widely traveled independent artist. Möminjan and his brother, the famous composer Ablet Ablikim, grew up in the shadow of their famous uncle Abdulla, the King of Uyghur pop. He and his brother have been following in their uncle’s footsteps for more than a decade; they even recorded a song together called “We Brothers” (Qerindash Biz), which sounds a bit like a Uyghur version of the Everly Brothers.
This video begins with the text: "After his video 'Donnie Does Marriage Market' went viral in China, Donald Mahoney was invited to Beijing to be a guest on the popular Chinese TV show: My Oscar."
That's quite the set-up. But Donnie struggles, privately, with a crisis of confidence -- before finding himself amidst firecracker smoke. At the 10-minute mark, he goes on stage. It gets awkward real fast.
Ablajan Awut Ayup, the Uyghur Justin Bieber, is trending again in Uyghur cyberspace. Uyghur Weixin and popular social media sites like Misranim have amped up Ablajan’s meteoric rise in Uyghur pop culture, but this time it’s not just his highly orchestrated K-pop-style dance-ensemble performances, his catchy rhymes and bad-boy persona. Ablajan is crossing over. China, meet A-bo-la-jiang.
Xu Xin’s monumental 2010 film, Karamay (below, with English subtitles), is a meditation on the relationship humans have to failures within Modernist political projects in our current historical moment. Using long-takes and repetitive framing, Xu Xin draws out the long duration of trauma and feelings of injustice following a horrific fire that killed hundreds of children in 1994. With the exception of a minority of Uyghurs and Kazakhs, the majority of Mandarin speakers featured in this award-winning 356-minute film came from elsewhere.