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Revisiting China’s Modernity

Ethnicity, Religion, and Nation

Jiang Sun

Investigating the nature of Chinese modernity from the perspectives of social and intellectual history and inspired by Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, this book reveals the ambiguity of nation as a modern concept and opens up a new possibility for the turn of China’s national narratives. The definitions of nation as either an imagined community or an entity with a substantive cultural origin are both partially wrong in the Chinese context, since China had its distinctive socio-cultural system in pre-modern times and the binary mode of nationality is inadequate to interpret the complexity of Chinese society. In light of this complexity, this work explores the relationship between the Manchus and the Han Chinese throughout the Qing dynasty, examines the transmission and reproduction of modern knowledge, particularly that of race and nation, on the ground of China’s reactions to the Western influence, and discusses how the supra-nationalist discourse of various religions succumbed to the homogenizing nature of nation state in modern China. To depict a general picture of "Chinese modernity" and avoid the risk of oversimplification, the author combines the methodology of social history with that of intellectual history, abandoning the East-West binary opposition and grouping all ten chapters into three parts that respectively approach Chinese modernity from a specific perspective. On this basis, it can be concluded that Chinese modernity, as a form of new knowledge, is produced out of the combination of a forward-thinking viewpoint and a fantasy about the modern age, which constitutes an inevitable path to China’s "national liberation" from the entanglement of ethnicity and cultural traditions.

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6 Return of the Rebels: Muḥammad Ᾱmīn Bughra’s Submission to the Nationalist Government during the Sino-Japanese War



The Republic of China, like other modern sovereign states, always struggled to maintain uniformity in a fragmented society (Anderson 2006, pp. 5–6). In Western China, Yang Zengxin (杨增新) claimed to control Xinjiang while various warlords also established independent regimes by force since 1912. After an assassination against Yang in 1928, Jin Shuren (金树仁) took over as the chairman of the Xinjiang Provincial Government which then incorporated the newly-founded Nanking regime in Xinjiang. The rebellion of Hami in February 1931, however, brought Xinjiang into chaos.

The leader of this rebellion was Khoja Niyās Hājjī, who had participated in an uprising in Xinjiang in 1912 and had been on the run ever since. His 1931 rebellion triggered revolts all across Xinjiang. After suffering many military defeats, he turned his attention to the east, seeking aid from Chinese Muslim troops of Ma Zhongying (马仲英), who had previously fled Xinjiang after losing to another warlord Ma Bufang (马步芳). However, Jin Shuren and Sheng Shicai defeated Ma Zhongying’s army, which was once formidable, in a short time, and with the support from the Soviet Union, Sheng Shicai gradually gained the control of Xinjiang.

The Hami Rebellion and the battles among warlords gave fuel to uprisings in Southern Xinjiang, which were led by several powerful rebel leaders in this region: Kashgar-based Temūr, Uthmān ‘Ali, and Mahamūd Muhītī; Hotan-based Muḥammad Āmīn Bughra and his brothers and Sabit Dāmullāh; and Ma Zhancang (马占仓), who alone...

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