Being Uyghur or Being Muslim? – Identity Construction of Tertiary-Level Uyghur Students in China

  • Mingyue Gu
  • Xiaoyan GuoEmail author


This study explores identity construction and multilingual practices of a group of tertiary-level Uyghur students in China within their intra-national migration. Interviews and observations were conducted in three rounds of fieldwork. Findings indicate that participants experienced multiple marginalizations constituted by linguistic practices underpinned by the infiltration of neo-liberal values and practices into the spheres of education and of social reality. Participants struggled over the (re)ethnicization process and contested their disadvantageous social positions by capitalizing on a repertoire of linguistic and cultural resources. Moreover, they tried to negotiate an educated Uyghur elite identity by marking boundaries between themselves and Uyghur counterparts in less prestigious institutions. In spite of this, the minority elites faced potential challenges when translating symbolic resources into economic capital in the neo-liberal economy.


Minority Student Host Society Symbolic Capital Linguistic Practice Symbolic Resource 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Adamson, B., Feng, A., Liu, Q., & Li, Q. (2013). Ethnic minorities and trilingual education policies. In D. Besharove & K. Baehler (Eds.), Chinese social policy in a time of transition (pp. 180–195). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Block, D., & Gray, J. (2015). Just go away and do it and you get marks’: The degradation of language teaching in neoliberal times. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, doi:  10.1080/01434632.2015.1071826.
  3. Block, D., Gray, J., & Holborow, M. (2012). Neoliberalism and applied linguistics. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. Blommaert, J. (2010). The sociolinguistics of globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education (pp. 241–258). New York: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bourdieu, P. (1991). Language and symbolic power. New York: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Brown, W. (2005). Edgework: Critical essays on knowledge and politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Chen, Y. B., & Postiglione, G. A. (2009). Muslim Uyghur students in a dislocated Chinese boarding school: Bonding social capital as a response to ethnic integration. Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts, 2, 287–309.Google Scholar
  9. Clothey, R. (2005). China’s policies for ethnic minority studies: Negotiating national values and ethnic identities. Comparative Education Review, 49, 389–409.Google Scholar
  10. Connell, R., & Dados, N. (2014). Where in the world does neoliberalism come from? Theory and Society, 43, 117–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Davies, B., & Harré, R. (1990). Positioning: The discursive production of selves. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 20, 43–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dong, J. (2010). Neo-liberalism and the evolvement of China’s education policies on migrant children’s schooling. The Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 8, 137–160.Google Scholar
  13. Giles, J., & Johnson, P. (1987). Ethnolinguistic identity theory: A social psychological approach to language maintenance. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 68, 69–99.Google Scholar
  14. Giroux, H. (2008). Against the terror of neoliberalism: Politics beyond the age of greed. London: Paradigm Publishers.Google Scholar
  15. Gu, M. (2014). A complex interplay between religion, gender and marginalization: Pakistani schoolgirls in Hong Kong. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 38, 1934–1951.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hall, S. (1992). New ethnicities. In J. Donald & A. Rattansi (Eds.), ‘Race’, culture & difference (pp. 441–449). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  17. Harvey, D. (2005). A brief history of neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Heller, M. (2011). Paths to post-nationalism: A critical ethnography of language and identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hobsbawm, E. (1990). Nations and nationalism since 1780: Programme, myth, reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Ma, R. (2010). ‘Culturalism’ and ‘nationalism’ in modern China. In M. Guibernau. & J. Rex (Eds.), The ethnicity reader: Nationalism, multiculturalism, & migration (2nd ed., pp. 299–307). Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  21. Mac an Ghaill, M., & Haywood, C. (2014). Pakistani and Bangladeshi young men: re-racialization, class and masculinity within the neo-liberal school. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 35, 753–776.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Martín Rojo, L. (Ed.). (2010). Constructing inequality in multilingual classrooms. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  23. Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  24. Mok, K. H., & Lo, Y. W. (2007). The impacts of neo-liberalism on China’s higher education. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 5, 293–312.Google Scholar
  25. National Bureau of Statistics of the People’s Republic of China. (2010). Tabulation on the 2010 population census of the People’ Republic of China.
  26. Pennycook, A. (2007). Global Englishes and transcultural flows. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  27. Pérez-Milans, M., & Patiño-Santos, A. (2014). Language education and institutional change in a Madrid multilingual school. International Journal of Multilingualism, 11, 449–470.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Piller, I., & Cho, J. (2013). Neoliberalism as language policy. Language in Society, 42, 23–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Price, G. (2014). English for all? Neoliberalism, globalization, and language policy in Taiwan. Language in Society, 43, 567–589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Shain, F. (2011). The New Folk Devils: Muslim boys and education in England. Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books.Google Scholar
  31. Shin, H., & Park, J. S. Y. (2016). Researching language and neoliberalism. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 37(5), 443–522.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Tsung, L. (2009). Minority languages, education and communities in China. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Tsung, L. (2014). Language power and hierarchy: Multilingual education in China. London: Bloomsbury Academic.Google Scholar
  34. Wright, A. (2012). Fantasies of empowerment: Mapping neo-liberal discourse in the coalition government’s schools policy. Journal of Education Policy, 27, 279–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chinese University of Hong KongSha TinHong Kong

Personalised recommendations