The “Bilingual Education” Policy in Xinjiang Revisited: New Evidence of Open Resistance and Active Support among the Uyghur Elite

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The “bilingual education” policy in Xinjiang has been one of the most contentious policies implemented in the region in recent decades. Given its negative impact on one of the most important markers of Uyghur ethnic identity, it has been a major cause of Uyghur discontent. Nevertheless, our knowledge of the genesis of this policy and the negotiations that took place around its implementation has been partial at best. Through an in-depth analysis of two essays published in the early and mid-2000s by two prominent Uyghur scholars, a large body of academic publications by other Uyghur scholars, and ethnographic data collected since the early 2000s, this article reexamines part of the conventional academic wisdom that relates to this policy, particularly the role Uyghurs have played in relation to it. The article suggests two main revisions to the existing knowledge. One has to do with the amount and form of Uyghur resistance to the policy, and the other with the role Uyghurs have played in promoting the policy. I argue that at least in its early stages, not only did not all Uyghurs resist the policy, but also, in fact, part of the Uyghur political and academic elite played an active role in promoting it. In addition, contrary to the implicit agreement in the existing scholarship that Uyghurs could resist the policy only in covert forms, in fact a considerable number of Uyghur academics have been engaged for years in persistent and overt struggle against it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)134-166
Number of pages33
JournalModern China
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I am grateful to Abduweli Ayup and several Uyghur informants who helped me with translation from Uyghur. The author received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • Abdureop Polat Teklimakani
  • Ilham Tohti
  • Uyghurs
  • Xinjiang
  • bilingual education
  • resistance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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