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Rune Reyhé (Alumnus BGSMCS)


Marriage and Social Interaction in a Semi-rural Uyghur Community of Kashgar

Marriage and Social Interaction in a Semi-rural Uyghur Community of Kashgar


People called and referred to themselves as Uyghurs number 8 to10 million. Since the late 19th century most of them have lived in Xinjiang, the north-western province of China. Sedentary agriculturalists and traders, they are mainly Sunni Muslims, and speak eastern Turkic dialects that can be summarized as ‘new Uyghur’. The region has a long history of being at a crossroads of trade and conquests. As a result this region is very heterogeneous, as are the people referred to as ‘Uyghurs’. Initially, this term designated nomads and Buddhists between the 7th and 15th centuries, then went out of use for five hundred years before it was revived as a category in the processes of construction of ethnic minorities in the Soviet Union and China in the 20th century. It is an important political category in Xinjiang today, though is not likely to make much sense as an analytical category for societal and cultural inquiries. Ethnicity may well be the field of struggle of and against the state, but it is not necessarily the field most relevant to the life of most people.


What are, then, the relevant social fault lines in southern Xinjiang? Which are the central social entities that make up communities and networks, and what are the basic premises upon which they are built? What are the important categorizations and concepts through which a sense of sociability is grasped and felt in local community and that make up an integrated part of lived practice? An anonymous state and an anonymous market are either non-existent or very limited in importance outside of city centres. Security, subsistence, political organization and many other aspects of life are networked locally through social relations. These relations are very often phrased in terms of kinship: what it means to be a relative and what kinds of relatives are recognized are thus important questions to pose. This can be done not in respect to biological links, but rather to social recognition.


Social relations are created and expressed in social interaction. This interaction consists of calling one another something, exchanging things of various kinds, and of many other spatial and bodily practices. These refer to and thus render accessible basic cultural categorizations. Marriage is one very complex and important element in creating and expressing social relations. Through marriage food, clothes, money, courtesies, and even people are exchanged. In this respect marriage is much more than the event of a wedding, whereby the entire process of planning and preparation are just as significant. Most marriages among rural Uyghurs are in one way or another mediated marriages. This does not mean that personal consent and love play no role, but rather that marriages are the concern of the broader social group and less so of individual choice.


Erstgutachter: Prof. Dr. Herrmann Kreutzmann

Zweitgutachterin: Prof. Dr. Ingeborg Baldauf

Drittgutachter: Prof. Dr. Toni Huber