Uyghur Studies: A Workshop on Global Histories and Contemporary Economy

August 10, 2022

Uyghur Studies: A Workshop on Global Histories and Contemporary Economy with Rian Thum and Laura Murphy

Session 1: "Where is 'East Turkistan'?: the global origins of an Uyghur nationalist geography"

Dr. Rian Thum

The Chinese state today claims that the geographical term "East Turkistan" is inextricably linked to "extremism." Many Uyghurs abroad insist that East Turkistan is the "original" name for their home region. Both parties agree that a briefly independent state in Kashgar called itself by this name. Where did this name come from? If we look to the manuscripts that dominated the local literary sphere in the region into the 20th century, the term "East Turkistan" is nowhere to be found. Foreign scholars have suggested that Uyghur nationalists borrowed it from Russian, but where did the Russians get it, and what roots, if any, does the term have in the indigenous traditions of the Tarim Basin? This talk traces the movement of the term "East Turkistan" around the globe and offers a draft history of its origins, arguing that the idea emerged from 11th-century Qarakhanid politics, subsequently shaped by the European Enlightenment, Russian trade, and eventually pan-Turkic nationalism.

Session 2: “State-Sponsored Forced Labor in the Uyghur Region”

Dr. Laura T. Murphy

Since at least 2018, the government of the People's Republic of China has created a system of state-sponsored and -facilitated forced labor aimed at disciplining and exploiting Uyghur and other minoritized people of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. This presentation will suggest that the PRC government deliberately manufactures vulnerability among minoritized citizens of the region to subject them to forced labor and how the government's coercion extends as well to the very companies that benefit from the campaign. Murphy will discuss the scope of the industries affected, the way the resulting forced labor made goods enter into North American supply chains, and the refusal on the part of industry to address these abuses. Throughout, Murphy will explore methods for researching labor rights abuses when worker's voices are silenced and researchers cannot gain on-the-ground access.


Rian Thum is Senior Lecturer in East Asian History at the University of Manchester. He is the author of The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History (Harvard University Press). His research and teaching are generally concerned with the interpenetration of China and the Muslim World.

Laura Murphy is Professor of Human Rights and Contemporary Slavery at the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University (UK). She is the author of The New Slave Narrative: The Battle over Representations of Contemporary Slavery (Columbia University Press, 2019), editor of Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives (Columbia University Press, 2014), and author of Metaphor and the Slave Trade in West African Literature (Ohio University Press, 2012). Professor Murphy’s research is broadly interested in forced labour globally, with a particular interest in survivor narratives and first-person testimony. She is currently working on several research projects about the Chinese government’s intertwined systems of internment and forced labour that have been inflicted on the people of the Uyghur Region.

August 10th, 2022

SFU Harbour Centre, Room 2270, 515 W Hastings St, Vancouver