Decolonizing Chinese Historiography—with special attention to Xinjiang
The Cornell Contemporary China Initiative welcomes Professor James Millward, Georgetown University.
Abstract: The current atrocities in Xinjiang, while marking a stark reversal of PRC diversity regime from the more pluralist approach of its earlier decades, are nonetheless also a continuation of the colonialist trajectory embarked upon by the Chinese Communist Party-state following its occupation of the region in 1949.CCP / PRC colonialism in Xinjiang is, moreover, in many ways a realization of the colonial project openly planned for Xinjiang by Guomindang ideologues, including Sun Yat-sen, who in his key writings advertised the Han dominated Republic's ambitious goals of railway infrastructure, resource extraction and massive Han colonial settlement in the Central Asian corner of the former Qing empire.Unlike Sun Yat-sen, the PRC does not refer to its presence in the former East Turkestan as colonialsm; rather, in white papers, official statements and state media it highlights economic development, on the one hand, and coopts the history of former empires, on the other, as justifications for its imposition of heteronomous rule over non-Han Central Asian peoples. This talk focuses on that use of history, and, more broadly, examines how common concepts and vocabulary used by nearly all China scholars teaching and writing in English not only mischaracterize the past of states and peoples on the East Asian mainland, but reinforce PRC justifications for its colonialism, now egregiously oppressive and verging on genocidal. The problematic terminology we all use includes the idea of "dynasties," "borderlands," "minorities," and even, as it is often employed, the word "China" itself.