The author is a Tatar historian based in Urumchi, in the Chinese province of Xinjiang who also participated in the publication of a history of the Tatars in China titled Tatarlarning qisqicha tarikhi, published in Urumchi in 1988. Both the latter work and the book under review were published in Uighur language, yet provide evidence of the resurgence of local history-writing and publishing within the small, but active Tatar community in China. The large and active Tatar community in China until 1950 was largely protected from the ravages of civil war, collectivisation, cultural revolution and wwii. Much of the community, concentrated in Chawchak (Chuguchak), Ghulja, and Urumchi, was relatively prosperous, well-educated and politically and culturally active until the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. It was in the 1950s and 60s that a large proportion of China’s Tatars emigrated to the Soviet Union. In fact, the survivors of this emigration, now mainly living in Russia and Kazakhstan, have produced numerous memoirs. Several memoirs of these émigrés have been published in Russia and Kazakhstan in the past decade, most notably M. A, Usmanov’s Yabïlmagan kitap (Kazan, 1995), and Munir Erzin’s Tropoiu predkov (Almaty, 2004).
Chanishif understands the history of education among Xinjiang Tatars as an evolutionary process with secular education as the pinnacle of pedagogical achievement. As a result, he sees Islamic education as the first step in this direction, until it graduated to Jadidist “new method” education, and finally to secular education. The author documents the role of Tatars in this evolution. At the end of the book, he includes biographies and photographs of prominent Tatars graduates of institutes of higher learning in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China. Similarly, Chanishif underscores the role of Tatars in bringing about the “awakening” of their Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Uighur neighbours. Nevertheless the book is particularly welcome because it provides a wealth of information on Tatar Islamic institutions in Xinjiang, and also on the role of Tatars in providing Islamic education in Xinjiang, especially among the Kazakhs. This section covers three districts in Xinjiang; Tarbaghatay, Ili and Altai. In this regard, we can see that close educational relationship that existed between Tatars and Kazakhs under Russian rule was no less in force among China’s Kazakh subjects, among whom Tatar teachers were present as early as 1860. However, unlike in Russia, where the Soviets banned Islamic education in the 1920s, in China it continued freely until 1949. Chanishif uncovers Kazakh poetry composed by Kazakh students who wrote poems about their teachers.
The work also devotes attention to a wide range of secular and Islamic educational institutions that primarily served the Tatar communities in Chawchak, Qulja, and Urumchi, and includes many photographs. Despite its somewhat nostalgic quality, what is striking about Chanishif’s book and the other books about the Tatar community in China is how this very self-confident and prosperous community was at the same time self-sufficient because of its isolation and yet so well-connected to the world around it.