This paper investigates how a regional identity can be maintained in a nonmodern context, focusing on the case of southern Xinjiang in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The argument focuses on one aspect of this identity system, the popular historical tradition, arguing that its deployment through both manuscript technology and regional shrine pilgrimage contributed to the maintenance of Xinjiang's settled Turki identity group before the construction of the “Uyghur” identity. In the absence of a national history, separate histories of local heroes were linked together through custom anthology production and networked travel to shrines, yielding a modular historical tradition that accommodated local interests in regional narratives. Central to the operation of this system were community authorship in the manuscript tradition, the creation of a new genre for local history, and the publicly recorded circulation of pilgrims who heard performances of historical texts. This constellation of phenomena underpinned an alternative type of imagined community: a reasonably homogeneous, regional, writing-facilitated identity system flourishing in a nonmodern context.
Rian Thum (email@example.com) is Assistant Professor of History at Loyola University New Orleans.