“It could be the longest train trip in the world…”: Mobility and Subjectivity Transformations of Uyghur Educational Elites on a Train Journey across China

Dr Zhenjie  Yuan1

1Guangzhou University, , China

The Xinjiang Interior Class (hereafter “Xinjiangban”) is one of the most iconic minority education policies in contemporary China, involving the physical relocation of students from Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (hereafter “Xinjiang”) to the eastern and central parts of the country. The existing scholarship has focused primarily on interethnic politics among students and graduates in schools, with less attention being paid to other spatial contexts that help understand the subjectivity politics that the policy involves. Drawing on detailed fieldwork on the train travelling across China from northwest to southeast, through which the students were sent into the new educational world, this is the first study seeking to examine the subjective experience of the Uyghur educational elites in such a space-in-motion. This study finds that the long-distance mobility provides the Uyghur students with specific time and space to rethink who they are and how they are connected to different places, people and communities. The students’ subtle subjectivity transformations entail a conflicting sense of eliteness, reinforced sense of self-discipline, and increased place identity to Xinjiang. These findings provide both scholars and policy-makers with a “datum point” to understand and to further interrogate the inter-group politics unfolded in the policy. By employing a mobilities perspective, this study attempts to provide a dynamic and critical approach to investigating the politics of ethnicity and interethnic relationships in China.


Zhenjie Yuan is an associate professor in the Centre for Human Geography and Urban Development, Guangdong Provincial Centre for Urban and Migration Studies, School of Geographical Sciences, Guangzhou University, China. His research is inter-disciplinary, traversing across geography of education, sociology of education and ethnic studies. He holds a BSc in Human Geography from Sun Yat-sen University, China, a M.Sc. in Human Geography from South China Normal University, China, and a PhD in Chinese Studies from the University of Melbourne, Australia. Email: zjyuan@gzhu.edu.cn


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

Conference Managers

Please contact the team at Conference Design with any questions regarding the conference.

Photo Credits: Visit Victoria

© 2019 Conference Design Pty Ltd