Journal article

Building Shanghai in the borderlands: a visual approach to the restructuring of the Uyghur City in Xinjiang


  • 04.05.2023
Published in:
  • Visual Studies. - Informa UK Limited. - 2023, p. 1-12
English Buildings and material infrastructure in cities are not just there; rather, they are embedded in complex political and social planning and construction contexts. In China, spatial transformations and urbanisation in its eastern and coastal regions have received a great deal of attention. This article investigates the relatively little explored urban development in China’s Northwestern Uyghur homeland of XUAR (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region). Based on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork between 2010 and 2017, the article outlines the ways in which Sinicization, modernisation and globalisation have simultaneously changed the morphology of XUAR’s cities. The restructuring of material urban infrastructure has also challenged local ethnic place-making. Until the opening-up reforms in the 1980s, Uyghur ethnic belonging used to manifest visually in urban spaces through mosques, Muslim cemeteries or low-rise mud-brick buildings. In recent decades, such structures have been gradually demolished and replaced with Chinese-style urban landscapes such as high-rise residential compounds, riverside promenades or large central squares. This leaves a void for ethnic self-identification through forms of the built environment. Uyghur urban middle-class citizens critically engage with urban restructuring in their native places. The article highlights the ways in which they negotiate ethnicity, social status or the relation to the state through reflecting on the construction and perception of architecture.
Faculté des lettres et des sciences humaines
Département des sciences sociales
  • English
Social sciences
Open access status
Persistent URL

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