This article uses Central Asian examples to challenge theories of ethnic nationalism that locate its origins in intellectual activism (Hroch), state modernization processes (Gellner), or the rise of mass media (Anderson). Modern Uyghur cultural politics and traditional Central Asian dynastic genealogies reveal related processes used in constructing modern nationalist symbols and pre-modern ideologies of descent. Modern territorial states with ideals of social unification and bureaucratic organization rely upon nationalist discourses to elaborate and rework cultural forms into evidence for the ethnic nation. The state links citizens to institutions through nationalist content used in political discourse, schooling, and public performances. Because such content is presented as authentic but used instrumentally, its contingency and fabrication have to be concealed from view: the culturally intimate spaces of bureaucratic production of culture and narratives are separated from public performances. The creation of genealogies used to legitimate pre-modern states are similar: compositional processes and goals are kept offstage, and little is disclosed in the public historical narratives and performances.
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