Kitsch

| 5 Comments

While scrounging the Urumqi night market near the south train station, I found these bizarre souvenirs among the doppas, knives, and mirrors that usually "represent" Uyghur culture to tourists. I first present Exhibit A, a fold-over pocketbook with the label "Xinjiang Specialty - Camel Velvet - Turkey" (新疆特产 骆驼绒 土耳其) on the inside, which has sleeves for bills and business cards. The outer skin, actually a botched Photoshop job with iron-on vinyl, depicts the "Kanas Lake Legend" (喀纳斯湖的传奇) ... or two squamous monsters drooling over a naked nymph-reptile, a scene straight from those campy paperbacks read and reenacted by every sci-fi nerd in junior high. Dungeons and Dragons, anyone?
kanasmonster.jpg
Exhibit B, a zip-up coin purse, consists of two sides, one with a busty Uyghur lass dancing to traditional Xinjiang music, and the other with a busty Navajo? Apache? Sioux? lass posing next to a water jug. Both of them are not ugly. The less-than-subtle sexualization of women shown in both exhibits clashes against the conservative reality of Xinjiang's Muslim culture. Unfortunately, these souvenirs also confirm the general stereotype which outsiders tend to revere Uyghur women-- as sex objects. By equating Uyghurs to random Native Americans, moreover, the coin purse wants to remind tourists that both groups are the indigenous people of their respective lands, though the ancestors of most Uyghurs had arrived in the Tarim Basin during the ninth century, subsuming even earlier communities. Yet, symbolically linking the two attaches immense baggage to that sort of relationship, that they follow the same historical trajectory of marginalization and genocide. It remains unclear if the manufacturers were attempting to create a subversive product, or something entirely harmless, but they ended up with a confusing and hilarious interpretation of two very distinct cultures.
Front:
dancerpurse.jpg
Back:
nativeamericanpurse.jpg

5 Comments

A random question for you based on how you put quotation marks around the word "represent", as in these items represent the Uyghur culture.

When your time here is done, what will you take back with you that you can show people (in other words, not just memories) that could "represent" this interesting place we live?

I ask this because I don't even know what I personally will take back. You?

I took back a dopa, irpan dictionary, and a few books on Uighur language, but then, actually that's just what I had in my backpack when I was kicked out. If I could do it all again I woulda brought back a camel.

Interesting comment that "these souvenirs also confirm the general stereotype which outsiders tend to revere Uyghur women-- as sex objects."

A well-known Han writer who grew up in Xinjiang, Wang Gang (王刚), recently received a lot of attention in the English-speaking world thanks to a translation of his Xinjiang-based novel, "English" (英格力士).

Readers interested in how the image of Uyghur women is used in modern Chinese fiction should take a look at this review of the book: http://www.bruce-humes.com/?p=66

Bruce Humes
Chinese Books, English Reviews
www.bruce-humes.com

Josh, you've asked me a very difficult question, ha! I couldn't answer until I came home and took stock of everything that I brought back. Being a girl (gasp! stereotypes!), I prefer cloth to knives, so I took home Kazakh and Kyrgyz embroidery (more on that in a future post), Uyghur headscarves, pashminas, and doppas.

Speaking of pashminas, most of them sold at the Urumqi Bazaar are actually imported from Turkey! You have chat up the saleswoman and dig around for the Xinjiang ones, which are less ornate and less expensive.

Unfortunately, I also developed a liking to fur, and bought a few ushankas as well. As for my efforts to find "authentic" items, I bought my embroidery at the source... I met the ladies who made my souvenirs.

I think inauthentic stuff can be telling of consumer culture in and misperceptions about Xinjiang as well, and I collected kitschy items like the above, some of them with blatant mistakes.

I truly regret not buying a dutar and some primary sources (posters, books, etc)...

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