Uighur Literature: The Antecedents
With the administrative division of the population of Central Asia into ethnic groupings during the early twentieth century, much energy was devoted to the development of separate cultures for the major ethnic groups living in the area. Although most of the groups fall within the Turkic language family, smaller groups such as Iranians and Mongols faced similar problems. The chief problem to be resolved stemmed from the common underpinnings of local culture which were strongly influenced by religion. For the Turkic and Iranian peoples of the area, the religious influence on culture was Islamic and therefore tied closely to general Middle Eastern culture. Additionally, educated persons of sedentary Turkic culture were steeped in Persian literature. Thus sedentary Turkic cultures, from those of the Azerbaijanis to the Uzbeks to the Uighurs faced a twofold problem: to extract Turkic culture from Iranian culture, and at the same time, create separate Turkic contemporary cultures. Added to these formidable problems arose a third: how to deal with the antecedents to contemporary culture. In this chapter I would like to examine the case of the Uighurs in China who, having passed through several cultural phases, have established the structure for the development of a modern literature and have now begun the task of gathering together the antecedents to that literature.