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Starting from the observation of a change in the dynamics of human displacement in Xinjiang since the 1990s, this paper’s aim is to identify and understand the impacts of Chinese state- and nation-building with human displacement. Referring to Zolberg’s work, this paper shows that ethnic conflict and separatism in Xinjiang are the result of the emergence of the PRC as a new state in 1949. The subsequent forced incorporation of borderlands, such as Xinjiang and Tibet, into the Chinese state has created “populations in between,” caught into the Chinese nation without belonging to it. Although Chinese authorities have a policy aimed at assimilating ethnic minorities, it has strengthened the Uyghur identity and sense of distinctiveness. In this way, state- and nation-building in the PRC not only triggered human displacement, but also shaped the Uyghur community in exile. If this community in exile has emerged in reaction to the process of the Chinese nation-state building, it continues to be shaped by Beijing’s policy, whose hardening has triggered the homogenisation, unification, and publicisation of the Uyghur diaspora.

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Working paper


Refugee Studies Centre

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