1983 / 52 minutes

Directed by
André Singer
Country of production
United Kingdom
Disappearing World Series

The Kazakhs of Xinjiang (Sinkiang) are one of the fifty-five national minorities that now live within the borders of the People’s Republic of China. The policy of the Chinese Communist Party toward these people has been one of Sinofication, a neutralization of `reactionary’ local leaders and an alliance of Han Chinese with the indigenous culture. Xinjiang is a particularly sensitive area for the Chinese because of the traditional ties of the Kazakh with the Soviet Union. In 1962, some 50,000 Kazakhs and other non-Han peoples sought refuge in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. Since then, the Sino-Soviet border has been closed, and until recently the entire area was off-limits to non-Chinese outsiders. This film offers unique ethnographic material about the Kazakh, as well as about Chinese policies in the years following the Cultural Revolution.The film follows the movement of the family of Abdul Gair, illustrated the cycles and tensions of present day Kazakhs, mixes detail of their traditional life as herders with suggestion of the effect of Chinese rule. The Chinese government allowed the filmmakers freedom to choose the subjects and people for the interviews and action sequences. Because of this, the film expresses, to a great extent, the view of the filmmaker, not of the Chinese government. Against a background of the Tienshan Mountains, the Kazakhs are shown branding yaks, milking mares, drinking kumis (fermented mare’s milk), making their yearly move from winter to summer quarters, and setting up their felt-covered summer tents. Then, through the trip of Ahmed the production team leader to the brigade headquarters, the film portrays the relations between Kazakh and Han, showing the brigade’s authority. Rather than livestock, formerly a mark of wealth being owned for individual profit, production and gain is now controlled by the brigade leaders. Women are given more freedom within the community. Kazakh children now have an opportunity for education in the Kazakh language, but the teaching is largely Party doctrine; they have health care, but this again is Chinese. Yet, despite pre-1977 restrictions on local religion and nomadic culture, and although Abdul Gair is himself a Party member, the Chinese do not, as yet, control the Kazakh. The Kazakh have retained their horses, not only as wealth, but as a means of freedom. Here, as in other cultures where a strong centralized government controls a minority, the continued cultural independence of the Kazakh is an open question. The Chinese policy is currently to move as many Han as possible from the overcrowded central areas of China to the less populated border areas such as Xinjiang. This film gives an understanding, not only of a Kazakh society, but also insights into current change, of the conflicts of domination and independence.

Review of the film. RAIN, No. 57, p. 10.

A. Singer with L. Woodhead, 1988. Disappearing World: Television and Anthropology. Granada Television Ltd., Boxtree.

Language and subtitles
English with English Subtitles
Central Asia and Far East
Social Change Nomads and Nomadism Collective / Community identity

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