Reviews

Dividing the history of art and architecture of Xinjiang on the lines of political history seen from Beijing (the Qing dynasty, the Republic of China, and a ‘modern period’ since 1949), this study subtly admixes Islamic and Han components into a common entity, over the highly discussable postulate that political stability per se favours the development of manufacturing, of living standards, and of artistic creation in general (696).  Eloquently beginning with a full chapter on the development of jade carving since the second half of the nineteenth century (nothing being said neither of the ethnic identity of jade carvers, nor of that of their clients), the article continues with the modern history of architecture, stressing that “every nationality in Xinjiang has its own characteristic style (699),” and that Central Asian building traditions (of mosques and shrines in particular) have benefited a lot from the gradual integration of Chinese style (paragraph on the Confucian temple of Urumchi; full chapter on the development of Han-style painting and temple architecture in Xinjiang during the last two centuries, no word being said, though, of the destructions inflicted by the Cultural Revolution).  As to the Republican period, it is tackled exclusively through Han arts and crafts—the authors deploring that disorder created by the dissolution of central power “was particularly detrimental to the fine arts: neither modern art nor traditional Chinese silk painting had any scope for development within Xinjiang (709) . . .”  Unsurprisingly, the evocation of the “modern period” is mainly devoted to the Chinese (indeed) re-discovery of the Buddhist caves of the Tarim Basin, with a couple of paragraphs on the official painting expressing the happiness of minorities, and on the classification of traditional music by Chinese ethnomusicologists.  Orthographic and translation mistakes (mazars translated by “bases for believers” p. 704; mukamas instead of muqams p. 707, etc.) reveal both authors’ lack of an elementary familiarity with the vernacular cultures of Turkic-speaking Central Asia, the whole text of his study also proclaiming his absolute lack of interest in non-conformist modern and contemporary arts, whether Han or other.  Generally speaking, this undoubtedly official view of modern art in Xinjiang chills one’s blood:  Chanting the merits of Chinese state-sponsored artistic tradition, and elaborating on the Beijing-expected escheat of Turkic cultures and peoples of Central Asia, this text opportunely remembers the very nature of the People’s (not Peoples’) Republic regime, of its projects for Xinjiang, and of its disreputable academic production in human and social sciences.  It also casts a sad light on the UNESCO’s pathetic endorsement of every position formulated by installed powers, especially if not very commendable, and the self-limitation of this venerable institution’s role as a loudhailer for all kinds of upcoming radiant downs.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-4.4-367