Past Event

Reading The Backstreets in Ürümchi: Translation as Ethnographic Method and Practice of Refusal

January 30, 2023
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
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Speaker: Darren Byler, Assistant Professor of International Studies, Simon Fraser University

Moderator: Andrew J. Nathan, Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, Columbia University

While conducting ethnographic fieldwork in Northwest China in 2014, anthropologist Darren Byler found that a Uyghur language novel, The Backstreets, helped Uyghurs to narrate their own stories. By shifting the frame of the narrative of colonial violence away from the authority of the state toward the work it takes for the colonized to live, this difficult, absurdist fable gave young Uyghurs a way to articulate experiences of dehumanization and rage. With its English-language translation and publication, it also gave the novelist, Perhat Tursun, a way of refusing his own silencing through censorship and, ultimately, imprisonment.

The Backstreets in Ürümchi is a novel by Perhat Tursun, a leading Uyghur writer, poet, and social critic from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Perhat Tursun has published many short stories and poems as well as three novels, including the controversial The Art of Suicide (1999), decried as anti-Islamic. In 2018, he was detained by the Chinese authorities and was reportedly given a sixteen-year prison sentence. Byler was a cotranslator with ‘Anonymous,’ who disappeared in 2017, and is presumed to be in the reeducation camp system in northwest China. This event would be meaningful to students and faculty in many different areas of the university including the above proposed cosponsors, and students of China and Inner Asia.

This event is sponsored by the Weatherhead East Asian Institute.

Registration: To register to attend this event online, please register HERE.

Contact Information

Julie Kwan