Tokhta

Here is the first post on the new website of Eric T. Schluessel, historian of China, Xinjiang, miscommunication, and confusion.

Why Tokhta?

I have spent most of the past few years immersed in the local archives of Xinjiang in the late Qing and the early Republic (1877-1933), both in Chinese and in Turki (pre-modern Uyghur). I have come to a conclusion: the majority of men at the time were named either Tokhta or Rozi.

Tokhta (or Tokhti) is written توخته or توختی in Turki, or some variation on 托乎大 in Chinese, while Rozi (or Roza) is روزی 肉則. The next most common name seems to be Baqi (باقی 八亥). Turki, or course, (or Turkic Muslims, or Uyghurs, if you prefer) did not have surnames at that time, so men in these documents are usually only identified by their given name. Tokhta is everywhere — and in my mind, Tokhta has come to represent the Turkic Muslim Everyman circa 1900.

This blog is for Tokhta, and so in part is the work I do. It’s also for Rahila, the beggar who died one night in front of a mosque in Yengisar, and for the unnamed “Woman,” raised by Turki, who went before the Turpan magistrate and said she wanted to be Chinese. It’s part of an engagement with the great silences in history and an attempt to write subaltern history in western China.

My dissertation, “The Muslim Emperor of China,” is the first thoroughgoing treatment of colonial-like processes in the region in the late Qing and early Republic. For a very long time, I refused to use the word “colonial,” given its overly broad definition and highly politicized connotation, but years of empirical research have pushed me to engage in the comparison. I still would not say, “Xinjiang was a colony,” because it’s not precisely true, and because typological statements are not sufficient conclusions, only aids to posing genuinely interesting questions. At the same time, postcolonial engagement both with the problems of historical research and with changes in Muslim historical and geographical consciousness during this period are fruitful both methodologically and analytically.

Over the next several months, I will document some of my progress here. This page will also serve as a portal for the resources that my research produces, incidentally or intentionally, and for teaching materials I’ve developed. It’s transparently a site for self-promotion, but if you’d like to keep up, please do.

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