The Xinjiang Data Project

Explainers

Transforming Uyghur domestic space

China’s "Three News" housing campaign in Xinjiang

Dr Tim Grose

The home is an intimate and deeply private place, and for the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) the home is an important carrier of culture, community and identity. Through its 2018 “Three News” Campaign, the Chinese government is seeking a fundamental remake of Uyghur domestic space, with the aim of “civilizing” Uyghur homes and transforming the thoughts and behaviour of its residents.
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    Original Report
     
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    Ethnic and Racial Studies
    July 2020
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    Uyghur homes in rural southern Xinjiang are similar to those of Muslims in the Fergana Valley in Central Asia.

    Typically constructed of mud-brick and timber, the home includes a courtyard and outdoor pavilion with trellises of lush vegetation. The house’s interior is commonly divided into a formal entertaining room, common rooms, bedrooms, and kitchen.

    • Out with the old, in with the new: transforming Uyghur domestic space

      Familial bonds: in a supa desk, or a lamp! -- dairy by Xinjiang Communist Youth League cadres during the week of "becoming relatives with Uyghurs", Xinjiang Communist Youth League (亲情:就在一张炕桌、一盏台灯!——自治区团委干部结亲周侧记,新疆共青团)
      SOURCE
    • Out with the old, in with the new: transforming Uyghur domestic space

      Focus our efforts and be proactive, going all out to help alleviate poverty and solve the toughest problems, Shule local news, Sohu (凝心聚力主动作为 全力助推脱贫攻坚, 疏勒零距离, 搜狐)
      SOURCE

    The Chinese government has been seeking to “civilize” Uyghur homes and communities for decades – with the destruction and reordering of Kashgar’s fabled “old town” attracting global attention.

    As thousands of Uyghurs were being sent off to “transformation through re-education centres,” Party officials redoubled their efforts to transform Uyghur domestic space in the name of President Xi Jinping’s “beautiful China” initiative.

    Typical rural Uyghur courtyard
    Supplied by Xinjiang Procuratorate Baicheng County Sailimu Township Yingmaili Village branch -- Putting up plague for "beautiful courtyards", speding up the construction of "beautiful countryside", xjmsw.cn(自治区检察院驻拜城县赛里木镇英买里村工作队供稿——为“美丽庭院”挂牌 助力“美丽乡村”建设, 新疆民生网)
    SOURCE
    A mehrab inside a Uyghur home near Turpan
    Timothy A. Grose
    SOURCE

    The supa, or raised earthen platform, sits at the centre of Uyghur domestic life and hospitality and marks the house’s place of honour. It is decorated with long rectangular cushions and cylinder-shaped pillows.

    In some houses, a niche (Uyghur mehrab) is carved in the wall facing the direction of Mecca and with special religious items like the Qur’an placed inside.

    Beginning in early 2018, party officials announced the “Three News” campaign (三新活动), with detailed instructions on how to advocate for a “new lifestyle,” establish a “new atmosphere,” and construct a “new order” in rural villages across southern Xinjiang.

    Nearly four hundred thousand “impoverished families” were slated to have their homes transformed and “beautified”.

    Newly renovated and beautified living room
    Our countryside has been transformed, "showing off" our happy life, zgkashi.com (咱们农村大变样 幸福生活“秀”出来,中国喀什网)
    SOURCE
    Cleaning up the courtyard
    New civilized family "model home", many villagers are inspecting with interest, Shufu local news, WeChat (文明家庭“样板间”新鲜出炉 引村民围观, 疏附零距离, 微信)
    SOURCE
    “In the past, the situation of rural households was relatively poor: they didn’t cultivate good living habits, most houses lacked beds, not to mention any other furniture. Families just slept on the floors or on mats on their supa; some didn’t even wash them regularly. These habits are unhygienic, unhealthy, and contrary to a modern civilized lifestyle.”
    Liang Bin, local party secretary
    Qaghiliq county, Kashgar
    Han official sitting with a Uyghur family on their supa, teaching law to Uyghur family
    Familial bonds: in a supa desk, or a lamp! -- dairy by Xinjiang Communist Youth League cadres during the week of "becoming relatives with Uyghurs", Xinjiang Communist Youth League (亲情:就在一张炕桌、一盏台灯!——自治区团委干部结亲周侧记,新疆共青团)
    SOURCE

    The new architectural blueprint for Uyghur homes is government-built housing in rural Han-majority villages in eastern and central China.

    The floor plan has three clearly demarcated spaces for living, rearing and growing.

    Yet the transformation of the internal living area required demolishing the supa and filling in sacred mehrab.

    These were replaced by new tables, sofas, desks, beds, and other furniture often donated by Party cadres and other government minders.

    Thumbs up for this newly renovated living area
    New civilized family "model home", many villagers are inspecting with interest, Shufu local news, WeChat (文明家庭“样板间”新鲜出炉 引村民围观, 疏附零距离, 微信)
    SOURCE

    The standardising and ordering of Uyghur domestic space is not purely aesthetic in nature but also intended to alter Uyghur behaviour, even thoughts. Newly arranged spaces and pieces of furniture constantly and subconsciously condition Uyghurs.

    Over time, they seek to fundamentally alter Uyghur concepts of space, the home, and social order.

    This strategy replicates similar colonial programmes in Europe, Australia and the United States, where new standards of living are used to acculturate and assimilate ethnic minority populations.

    Yet in Xinjiang the demand for change is backed up with a constant threat of state violence, including detention in the region’s vast network of extrajudicial concentration camps.

    Han officials and Uyghur family showing off their new living room
    New civilized family "model home", many villagers are inspecting with interest, Shufu local news, WeChat (文明家庭“样板间”新鲜出炉 引村民围观, 疏附零距离, 微信)
    SOURCE
    Uyghur residents showing off their official “Beautiful courtyard” placard besides a Han official
    Supplied by Xinjiang Procuratorate Baicheng County Sailimu Township Yingmaili Village branch -- Putting up plague for "beautiful courtyards", speding up the construction of "beautiful countryside", xjmsw.cn(自治区检察院驻拜城县赛里木镇英买里村工作队供稿——为“美丽庭院”挂牌 助力“美丽乡村”建设, 新疆民生网)
    SOURCE

    This threat of state violence leads to what Grose labels “authoritarian reflectiveness”, a fatalist acceptance of the need to transform, and compels most Uyghur residents to conform with state demands, with those few who dare to resist facing public shame and ostracisation.

    Timothy A. Grose’s article “If you don’t know how, just learn: Chinese housing and the transformation of Uyghur domestic space” was published in the journal Ethnic and Racial Studies on 6 July 2020.

    Download full report
    Research Report
    If you don’t know how, just learn: Chinese housing and the transformation of Uyghur domestic space
    by Timothy Grose
    Jul 6, 2020
    Re-educationResidential DemolitionCulture+1
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