China Post publishes an array of pre-stamped postcards in Xinjiang, including one set specifically for international mail, "Elaborate works of paintings by famous modern painters in Xinjiang." Out of the eight-piece collection, however, only one showcases the work of a Uyghur artist, Abdikerim Nasirdin (above), the rest being produced by Han painters (below). Currently priced at five kuai each, these postcards represent how the state portrays the region to the outside world: exotic women and men in vibrant costumes, with rudimentary tools and traditional instruments. The lack of self-representation by ethnic minorities in state-sponsored art, obviously remains a troubling issue in China, most recently exemplified by the song "The Party's Policies are Yakexi [Good]," performed by Uyghurs on national television last month during Spring Festival. Even back in 1987, anthropologist Dru Gladney witnessed Uyghur artists protesting in Urumqi over an exhibition at the Overseas Chinese Hotel. The gallery had displayed Han paintings of Uyghurs singing, dancing, riding donkeys, and balancing watermelons on their heads. Particularly offensive to many conservative Muslims was Ting Shaokuang's Silk Road, which depicted a woman bare-breasted with a desert caravan. As he analyzes in "Representing Nationality in China: Refiguring Majority/Minority Identities," from The Journal of Asian Studies (February 1994):
The eroticization of minorities essentializes the imagined identity of the Han and reaffirms Han feelings of superiority. Public, state-sponsored minority representation as both more sensual and more primitive than the Han supports the state's agenda. With the proper educational and economic progress they will eventually attain the modernity that the Han have attained and enter into the same civilized restrictions under the authority of the state as vanguard. (116)
(Click to enlarge postcards.)Erotic images, like those described by Gladney, do not appear amongst these postcards, primarily because they pass through so many hands in the public process of mail and delivery, unlike the more private space of a gallery. While the postcards continue to confirm Gladney's observations twenty years after the fact, they also point to an alignment of the arts along ethnic lines. Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang sing and dance, and thus reinforce the stereotypes to be demonstrative, loud, and sensual, whereas Han Chinese paint, and indicate supposed tendencies towards introspection and passivity. The canvas, likewise, acts as a medium between Han and audience, often obscuring the ethnic identity of the artist, in favor of the painted minority subject. For Uyghur performers, though, their bodies epitomize the art form, so state sponsorship also implies an extension of its power onto people themselves, unshielded as they are by canvas. This phenomenon, moreover, is not limited to only Xinjiang either. In Rome this past October, Xinhua reported on an exhibition of "Tibetan" art. Han artists were responsible for all but a few of the forty paintings featured on the Xinhua news site. (Although in the interest of fairness, this article profiles the sole Tibetan woman at the show.) At least half of the paintings depicted only women, including this piece below.