Author: Darren Byler

Ben Mauk on Xinjiang, Kazakhstan, China & Violence

This interview between Ben Mauk and Matt Dagher-Margosian first appeared on the website Asia Art Tours. It is reprinted here with permission. Asia Art Tours and The Arts of Travel podcast hosts print and audio conversations, centered on creative voices in Asia. For more conversations on Japan, Thailand , Indonesia, Taiwan and elsewhere, come visit their platforms, or get in touch at matt@asiaarttours.com We were honored to speak with journalist Ben Mauk on his award-winning Believer Magazine article, ‘ Weather Reports: Voices from Xinjiang.’ For more of Ben’s outstanding long-form reporting for The New York Times Magazine and Harpers Magazine and other publications, visit: Ben-Mauk.com Asia Art Tours: As an Armenian-American, I’ve been profoundly traumatized by the Xinjiang Genocide and globally the open reappearance of ‘camps’ and fascism. For you, how does the personal affect the political lens with which you wrote about Xinjiang? Can you tell us a bit about the man behind these honest, uncompromising pieces of journalism? Ben Mauk: First off, I should say that I don’t know that I consider my personal background all that relevant. I always …

Uyghur ‘caretaking’ and the isolation of reeducation

In 2015, a young baker named Yusup taught me the Uyghur concept of “caretaking” (Uy: qarimaq). I had been hanging out with him and his closest friend, Nurzat, a fellow migrant from Yusup’s home village near Kashgar, walking the bazaars and talking about life. They taught me how to eat piping hot baked dumplings called samsa without burning your mouth. The trick was to bite off one corner to release the steam, then hold the opened end up so you wouldn’t get seared by the lamb and onion broth as you nibbled. In a rush to pay the bill, they held back each other’s outstretched arm in an awkward dance, competing to pay the 20 yuan ($3) for the half-dozen dumplings. They referred to each other as “life and liver” friends (Uy: jan-jiger dost) — a type of heterosexual male friendship defined by, metaphorically, the same liver, an organ thought to carry the essence of a person’s life. Like soul mates and blood brothers, they ate many of their meals together, shared the same values, and protected …

The Changing ‘Bright Future’ of Han Life in Xinjiang

In 2014, in the middle of a neighborhood at the southern edge of Ürümchi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, there was a restaurant with a big red sign. In Chinese, the six-foot-tall characters read “BIG MEAT” (大肉 dà ròu), as pork is commonly referred to across China. The sign was an anti-Islamic political statement; it told everyone in the neighborhood that Han migrants had arrived and that they would not respect the values of the Muslims who called it their home. This Uyghur-majority neighborhood known as Dawan was one of the centers of violence during the July 5, 2009 protests. A large number of the Han migrants who were killed or injured during the violence came from this neighborhood. In the years that followed, many Han migrants moved from this neighborhood to majority Han districts to the north. Those who remained marked their space, signaling their defiance. The six-foot-tall sign was a statement regarding the type of “quality,” or sùzhì (素质), that was protected by the institutions of the city. Unlike many places in China, in Ürümchi, …

The Imprisonment of the ‘Model Villagers’

For the family of sisters Nursiman and Nur’iman, a local work brigade placed a small red plaque with five stars on it to the front gate of their house. The stars stood for “patriotism, honesty, education, hygiene, and harmony.” But in the end, that didn’t stop the sisters’ parents and brother from being sent to jail for reasons that remain murky to this day. The phone call from the Chinese Embassy in Ankara came on June 15, 2020. It was 4:31 in the afternoon, Istanbul time. After she picked up and realized who was calling, Nursiman caught her breath. She held a second phone up to the speaker on her smartphone and hit record. — 【大使馆工作人员】哎,我们这个接到的上面写的很清楚,因为,说实话来,咱们国内也是咱们是法制国家,那么,它这个也肯定是有依据的,这个里面它是说的2017年12月13号因为准备实施恐怖主义活动罪,判处,被判处13年有期徒刑, Embassy: It is written clearly in the file we received. Our country is ruled by law so they must have a reason. It is written that she was sentenced to a 13-year prison term on December 13, 2017, for the crime of preparing to commit terrorist activities. 哎,13年的是妈妈吗? Nursiman: The one who was sentenced to 13 years is my mother? 【大使馆工作人员】对 Embassy: Yes. 就2017年12月13号,爸爸呢? …