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Interpreters, arbiters or outsiders: The role of the Min kao Han in Xinjiang society 1

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This paper attempts to identify the variables that define the political and social boundaries within Xinjiang's multi-ethnic society. Traditionally, ethnicity has been the point from which scholars examine political and social loyalties in Xinjiang. It is proposed here that, while ethnicity is a crucial component in defining the divisions in Xinjiang society, it is also important to consider the role of language. This latter trait cuts across ethnic lines and is responsible for creating important subgroups within established communities. The paper will demonstrate that while the Uighur Min kao Han are ethnically Uighur, they culturally and linguistically have taken on many ethnic Chinese characteristics. They are favoured for admission into Chinese society and receive political and employment advantages over their co-ethnics who remain linguistically/culturally Uighur. However, these advantages do not always materialize and the social costs are high. The Min kao Han are generally excluded from the Uighur community, while simultaneously enduring discrimination from the Han. It is argued here that the history of the Min kao Han , as well as the trends in Chinese politics and society affecting this group's future development, are key to understanding what their current role is and will be in the future. It is clear that the psychological condition of the Min kao Han is largely the result of their isolated position in Xinjiang society, and of their experience as children in Han classrooms. It will be shown that there is potential for this group to lead the Uighur population into conflict with the Han, but also, and more importantly, for them to help facilitate reconciliation.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2006

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