China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
In a contested and politically sensitive present, this panel addresses the theme of enforced silences in the making of contemporary Qinghai. It aims to explore the assumptions, norms spoken and unspoken, and asks what are the consequences of an imperfectly remembered yet violent history.
Qinghai – the name itself a political statement – provides the panel with a diverse range of silences to examine. Across the past century, groups of Hui, Salar, Tibetans, Mongolians and Han have each vied for political power, gaining and losing at different times, forming a complex ethnic and political patchwork that continues to underpin everyday interactions and experiences of ethnicity. In some cases, notions of ethnic identity have been formed by silencing uncomfortable historical realities, while in others group solidarity and ethnic identity has been enhanced by perceptions of shared suffering. Shared suffering becomes a community secret, one that cannot be spoken about openly but which every member knows and which binds the community together. Politically enforced silences contribute to a hardening of ethnic boundaries, as families remember vivid local experiences of suffering but cannot piece together a wider context to individualised recollections.
The four papers included in this panel address different silences. Some silences are a product of community members’ complicity with state interests; others are externally enforced and become a source of friction.