Authoritarian Manipulation of History and Human Rights: Xinjiang, Taiwan, Ukraine, Russia

May 13, 2023 | 4:30 PM (CT)
Joseph Regenstein Library, Room 122
1100 E. 57th Street

This roundtable convenes academic scholars and human rights researchers to discuss the ways that the authoritarian regimes of the PRC and Russia manipulate claims of historical sovereignty to justify contemporary oppression, dispossession, campaigns of misinformation, and forced assimilation. This group also considers how history has been deployed or suppressed in successor states.

This event is the public component of a larger workshop focusing on the regions of Xinjiang/East Turkistan, Taiwan, Russia, and Ukraine to introduce ongoing research investigating the ways in which historical narrative can be manipulated to serve propaganda; the challenges of studying history and culture in this contentious environment; and strategies for pursuing research in areas facing diverse challenges.

The workshop and public roundtable are co-sponsored by the Center for East Asian Studies, the Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies, the Department of History, the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights, and the University of Chicago Library, with generous support from a Title VI National Resource Center Grant from the U.S. Department of Education.


Ania Aizman, Assistant Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Chicago

Ania Aizman teaches seminars on Russian, Eurasian, East European, and Central European culture, each drawing upon and bringing together literature, film, anthropology, and history. Her current book project, “Anarchist Currents in Russian Culture from Tolstoy to Pussy Riot,” shows that an intellectual and artistic anarchist culture has existed in Russia and among Russians abroad for over 150 years. Despite suppression during the tsarist, Soviet, and post-Soviet eras, writers and artists continued to imagine life beyond the state in stories, paintings, manifestos, memoirs, and performances. She argues that the arts, whether elite or popular, are key to understanding the unlikely survival of anarchist ideas in Russia. Another concurrent project is a study of how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has transformed the politics and cultures of radical anti-authoritarian groups, such as anarchists, in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.

Asia Bazdyrieve, Art Historian

Asia Bazdyrieva is an art historian whose work focuses on hybrid European-Soviet modernity and its ideological and material implications in spaces, bodies, and lands. Bazdyrieva co-authored Geocinema, a collaborative project exploring infrastructures of earth sensing as a form of cinema, which has been nominated for the Schering Stiftung Award for Artistic Research (2020) and the Golden Key Prize at the Kassel Dokfest (2021). She is currently an associate member of Critical Media Lab Basel and a resident of transmediale.

Darren Byler, Assistant Professor of International Studies at Simon Fraser University

Darren Byler is an anthropologist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia and the author of Terror Capitalism: Uyghur Dispossession and Masculinity in a Chinese City (Duke University Press 2021) and In the Camps: China's High-Tech Penal Colony (Columbia Global Reports 2021). He also coedited a book titled Xinjiang Year Zero (Australia National University Press 2021) and cotranslated a Uyghur language novel by Perhat Tursun titled The Backstreets: A Novel From Xinjiang (Columbia University Press 2022). His current research and teaching are focused on theories of policing, infrastructure development and global China.

Tobita Chow, Director of Justice Is Global at People's Action Institute

Tobita Chow is the founding director of Justice Is Global, a special project of People’s Action to build a just and sustainable global economy and defeat right-wing nationalism. He is a leading progressive critic and strategist regarding the rise of great power conflict between the United States and China, and organizes for greater international cooperation to confront shared global challenges such as climate change, pandemics and inequality. His commentary has been published in The Guardian, The Nation, In These Times and Dissent. Before founding Justice Is Global in 2019, he had a decade of experience as a leader in community organizing in Chicago.

Evan Dawley, Associate Professor of History at Goucher College

Evan Dawley is Associate Professor of History at Goucher College, and he previously worked in the Office of the Historian at the U.S. Department of State. He has carried out research on Japanese and Chinese colonialism in Taiwan, Taiwanese identity construction during the 20th century, the deportation of Japanese from Taiwan after 1945, and Japanese women settlers in Taiwan. He is currently studying the ongoing creation of Chinese identities in the context of relations between the Republic of China and communities of Chinese and Taiwanese abroad, and the ROC’s interactions with foreign governments around these communities. He is the author of Becoming Taiwanese: Ethnogenesis in a Colonial City, 1880s-1950s (2019), which has also appeared in a Chinese translation, 成為臺灣人:殖民城市基隆下的民族形成 1880s – 1950s (2021). He has published in Twentieth-Century China (2022), the American Journal of Chinese Studies (2020), and the International Journal of Taiwan Studies (2018), and has contributed essays to several edited volumes and to the digital project, Bodies & Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History. He co-edited The Decade of the Great War: Japan and the Wider World in the 1910s, with Tosh Minohara and Tze-ki Hon (2014), and is co-editor of Beyond Versailles: The 1919 Moment in East Asia, with Tosh Minohara (2021).

Mirshad Ghalip, PhD candidate at Indiana University 

Mirshad Ghalip is a PhD candidate at Indiana University. He is a linguistic anthropologist researching language maintenance efforts of the Uyghur diaspora community in the US.

Eleonora Gilburd, Associate Professor of History at the University of Chicago

Eleonora Gilburd is Associate Professor of History at the University of Chicago. She specializes in the history of modern Russia and the Soviet Union, with a particular interest in Soviet culture, society, and their international context. She is the author of To See Paris and Die: the Soviet Lives of Western Culture.

Dina Khapaeva, Professor of Russian at the Georgia Institute of Technology

Dr. Dina Khapaeva is Professor at the School of Modern Languages, the Georgia Institute of Technology. Her research comprises Russian studies, death studies, cultural studies, historical memory, and intellectual history. Dr. Khapaeva authored six monographs, including The Celebration of Death in Contemporary Culture (The University of Michigan Press, 2017), Nightmares: From Literary Experiments to Cultural Project (Brill, 2013), Portrait critique de la Russie: Essais sur la société gothique (Les éditions de Aube, 2012). Her numerous articles have appeared in journals including Communist and Post-Communist Studies, Social Research, Annales: Histoire, Sciences Sociales, Le Débat, Merkur, Social Sciences Information, The South Atlantic Quarterly, Russian Literature. In 2016, she received an Invited Professorship at the Écoles des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.

Nikolay Koposov, Distinguished Professor of the Practice at the Georgia Institute of Technology

Nikolay Koposov is a Distinguished Professor of the Practice in the School of History and Sociology and the School of Literature, Media, and Communication. He specializes in modern European intellectual history, modern France, post-Soviet Russia, historiography, historical memory, and comparative politics of the past. He has authored six books including Memory Laws, Memory Wars: The Politics of the Past in Europe and Russia (Cambridge University Press, 2017) and De l’imagination historique (Éditions de l’ÉHÉSS, 2009), and edited four collective volumes and translations. He participated in expert groups on the politics of historical memory coordinated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, the International Federation for Human Rights, and Körber Foundation (Germany).

Tzu-Tung Lee, Curator & Political Artist

Tzu-Tung Lee is a curator and a political artist from Taiwan. Combining anthropological field research and political activism, zir projects explore how one survives and negotiates autonomy with multiple forms of political, gender, and illness identities. Surfing between video, installation, web art, and performance art forms, Tzu-Tung often introduces participatory methods in zir works and invites participants as collective creators to test and decolonize the contemporary form of art, technology, and authorities.

Laura T. Murphy, Professor of Human Rights and Contemporary Slavery at Sheffield Hallam University

Laura T. Murphy is Professor of Human Rights and Contemporary Slavery at the Helena Kennedy Centre at Sheffield Hallam University. She is author, most recently, of Freedomville: The Story of a 21st Century Slave Revolt, as well as The New Slave Narrative: The Battle of Representation of Contemporary Slavery, and Survivors of Slavery: Modern Day Slave Narratives. Her current work focuses on forced labor in the Uyghur Region of China, including in the automotive, solar, apparel, critical minerals and building materials industries.

Yana Prymachenko, Visiting Scholar in History at Princeton University

Yana Prymachenko (Ph.D.) is a Senior Researcher at the Institute of History of Ukraine, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. In the fall of 2022, she joined the history department at Princeton as Visiting Scholar. Her research interests vary greatly, ranging from the history of the Second World War, memory politics in Russia and Eastern Europe to the study of Soviet propaganda and informational wars. She is an author and co-author of 10 books dedicated to the history of Ukraine. Dr. Prymachenko made a significant media contribution to promoting historical knowledge in the public sphere. She is the author of more than 80 academic and journalistic articles. Her current research focuses on the mediatization of history and historical fakes in media.

Johanna Ransmeier, Associate Professor of History at the University of Chicago

Johanna S. Ransmeier is a social and legal historian of modern China. She studies the surprising ways crime and the law intersect with family life in China. Her first book Sold People: Traffickers and Family Life in North China (Harvard University Press, 2017) exposed the transactional foundations of traditional family structures and the role of human trafficking in late Qing and Republican China. She is a fellow with the National Committee on US China Relations Public Intellectuals Program (Cohort V) and was a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Modern History at Academia Sinica in Taiwan. She currently serves as co-chair of the faculty board of the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights.

Guldana Salimjan, Ruth Wynn Woodward Junior Chair of Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at Simon Fraser University

Guldana Salimjan is an ACLS China Studies fellow and SSHRC Postdoctoral fellow at Simon Fraser University. Her scholarship is broadly concerned with settler colonial dispossession and displacement. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, her current book project examines the entanglement of history, memory, and narratives of the homeland and belonging of Kazakhs in the China-Kazakhstan borderland. Her other projects have examined Chinese political and environmental discourses and the experience of the internally displaced and diaspora of Xinjiang. She is also co-directing the Xinjiang Documentation Project based at the University of British Columbia.

Teng Biao, Hauser Human Rights Scholar at Hunter College

Dr. Teng Biao is an academic lawyer, currently Hauser Human Rights Scholar at Hunter College, and Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago. He had been a lecturer at the China University of Politics and Law (Beijing), a visiting scholar at Yale, Harvard, and NYU. Teng’s research focuses on criminal justice, human rights, social movements, and political transition in China. Teng defended cases involving freedom of expression, religious freedom, the death penalty, Tibetans and Uyghurs. He co-founded two human rights NGOs in Beijing – the Open Constitution Initiative, and China Against the Death Penalty, in 2003 and 2010, respectively. He is one of the earliest promoters of the Rights Defense Movement in China and the manifesto Charter 08. Teng has received various international human rights awards including the Human Rights Prize of the French Republic (2007) and NED’s Democracy Award (2008).

Rian Thum, Senior Lecturer in East Asian History at the University of Manchester

Rian Thum is a specialist in the history and anthropology of Muslims in China at the University of Manchester, where he is a Senior Lecturer. His book, The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History, argues for the central role of sacred sites and local Islamic texts in the maintenance of Uyghur identity. Thum is Associate Editor of The Journal of Asian Studies and a former fellow of the National Humanities Center and the American Council of Learned Societies. In addition to his academic publications, Thum’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, and The Nation. Thum’s current book project, Islamic China, is a re-examination of Chinese Islams that takes full account of the numerous Persian and Arabic sources that Chinese-speaking Muslims have used and written.

Fei-Hsien Wang, Associate Professor of History at Indiana University Bloomington

Fei-Hsien Wang is an associate professor in the Department of History at Indiana University Bloomington. She is a historian of modern China, particularly interested in law, economic life, and knowledge production. Her recent book Pirates and Publishers: A Social History of Copyright in Modern China (Princeton University Press, 2019) examines how the Chinese practiced copyright as a new legal doctrine in local contexts to establish their claims and protect their livelihoods. Her current book project, tentatively entitled Phantoms of Empire, explores the long-lasting trends in China’s vibrant cultural consumption of fantasizing fantasies about the Qing Empire in the post-imperial Sinophone world. She is also Associate Editor of the American Historical Review.

Over the course of May 12 and 13, the scholars above will discuss their work-in-progress and challenges to their research and practice in a closed-door workshop. This conversation will then culminate in the Saturday 4:30 PM public roundtable during which participants will reflect on intersections and ideas generated during the workshop. Inquiries and papers under discussion throughout the two day closed workshop can be found here.

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