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Abstract

Concerns over the treatment of China’s Uyghurs population in Xinjiang sit at the center of furious contemporary debate in both academia and politics. The justifications for this attention are numerous, from Xinjiang’s deep implication in the global economy to evolving discussions of technology’s role in enabling totalitarian regimes. Amidst the feverish attention, however, the current discourse has lost sight of an essential truth: The situation in Xinjiang is not monolithically a problem of the modern PRC. Rather, a careful investigation of the relationship between the practice of ethnography and the Chinese State reveals that the control of Xinjiang’s Muslims has long been a cooperative practice achieved between Empires in Central Asia. This was intended to demonstrate the historical roots of state-sponsored ethnographic work mobilized as a tool of biopower in China since the late Qing empire (1860). In tracing this history, it becomes clear that the State's process of formulating Muslim identity has consistently demonstrated an underlying framework of necessary international and inter-imperial collaboration incentivized by the mutual promise of economic benefit. With this history traced, the paper will then proceed to demonstrate a throughline to the modern origins of Uyghur suppression as a demonstration of the path for future scholarship on international ethnographic biopower.

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