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Chinese colonialism in translation:


by  AZIZ ISA   (Independent scholar)

In this paper I focus on the historical and contemporary context and conception of Uyghur names and places in translation under the Manchu Qing dynasty, Chinese Nationalists and Chinese communist rulers of the region in the last two centuries. More recently this has combined with the current so called ''Bilingual education'' policies that have unofficially abandonned Uyghur language instruction in Uyghur education to produce a real threat to Uyghur identity and sense of ownership over this territory.

It is useful to remind ourselves that similar procedures and methods were applied by the British and Russian empires during their vast colonial exapnsion over the last three centuries, and it is now aggressively copied and implemented by China in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

I ask whether the Chinese state can ultimately achieve its Sinification of Uyghur geographical place names, or whether Uyghurs will be able to preserve the Uyghur language names that currently co-exist with the Chinese names in the Uyghur region.

With the lack of Uyghur language representation in the Chinese offical press and in international media, will there be any future change in the current understanding, usage and representation of Uyghur language names and Mandarin names in the Uyghur region. It is likely that the situation will become still more problematic after China's recent more agressive implementation of Chinese language usage among the Uyghur people.

If we look at history we can see that western colonial powers were able to obtain the wealth by depending on their warship and cannons. In return they introduced their own culture and languages to the the local inhabitants and even renamed the indigenous peoples names and their towns. This all ultimately helped to achieve a full colonization of the subject countries.

We can get many useful examples of this from the history of the British and Russian empires' colonial ambitions, and it is useful to compare this to the later Manchu-Qing empire, the early 20th century Chinese nationalists, and new Chinese Communist Party rule after 1949.

When British explorers 'discovered' new territories, rather than seeking to learn what the natives called these places, they named them after the ruling monarch ''Victoria'' or after existing British towns: ''London'' (Canada), New York (America).

History demonstrates that language and translation have always been a vital tool for sustaining a colonised terrritory. After the decline of the British Empire at the begining of last century and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990s, many newly independent countries changed their geographical names back to reflect the historical roots of the owners.

In New Zealand, many of the early Māori names were replaced by Europeans during the late 18th and early 19th century. Today, many names have alternative or dual English and Maori names.

Since declaring its independence from the United Kingdom in 1947 after centuries of colonial rule, a number of India’s biggest cities and states have undergone place name changes.

Mumbai was formerly known as Bombay, which has its origins in the 1600s with the Portuguese. During their colonization of the area, they began calling it Bombaim - Portuguese for "Good Bay." In 1661 though, this Portuguese colony was given to King Charles II of England, and the British called it Bombay. This name stuck until 1996 when the Indian government changed it to Mumbai, which derives from the Hindu goddess Mumbadevi.

The history of St Petersburg reflects political twists in Russia's past. It was founded in 1703 on the order of Peter the Great, who named it after his patron saint, Peter.

But as the European powers went to war in 1914, the name was changed to Petrograd to sound less German. Ten years later, the city was renamed Leningrad in honour of the deceased leader of the Russian revolution. The city's inhabitants voted to revert to the name St Petersburg in a referendum in 1991.

Under Soviet rule, in 1926 the capital city of Kyrgyzstan was renamed Frunze (Фрунзе), after the Bolshevik military leader Mikhail Frunze. In 1991, the Kyrgyz parliament restored the city's historical name to Bishkek........

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