China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
In the previous literature on community centers (社区shequ) in China, scholars found that shequ function through a variegated governance structure based on social regulation in poor neighborhoods and self-governance in rich neighborhoods. However, there have been no previous studies specifically on shequ amongst ethnic minority Uyghur neighborhoods in northwest China. This paper explores state territorialization practices through bureaucracy and policing as crucial components in attempting social control and shaping everyday life. In particular: How do citizens experience state bureaucratic power at the neighborhood level in their everyday lives? What is the role of policing and community participation in garnering regime legitimacy? The research draws on government propaganda, ethnographic field notes, and interview data collected over the course of 24 months from 2014-2017 in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of northwest China. The findings show that despite a rhetoric of safety and service, the fear and confusion of neighborhood community centers allowed for the limitation of citizen freedoms, which resulted in a mutual lack of trust between the community center employees and the neighborhood residents. Despite this lack of mutual trust and resulting crises of legitimacy, tight control was maintained through the bureaucracy and policing of community centers. The territorial representations and practices of the neighborhood community centers illustrate divergent sovereignties over the body, household, neighborhood, and nation-state. By further understanding the experience of state bureaucratic control in Xinjiang, the linkages between everyday authoritarian politics on the neighborhood scale expand knowledge about state power and social control.