Author: Darren Byler

‘Uyghurs are so bad’: Chinese dinner table politics in Xinjiang

One of the things Lu Yin anticipated most about going home to Southern Xinjiang was the opportunity she would have to eat Uyghur food. Her family is part of a largely segregated system of Han-owned state farms, factories, mines, and oil fields known as the People’s Production and Construction Corps, or Bingtuan, yet despite this, their relative proximity to a major Uyghur oasis city means she has always considered Uyghur food a taste of home. But when she went back the last time, it seemed that all the Uyghur restaurants near her home village were closed. Undeterred, her uncle, a powerful Bingtuan official, said that he would arrange for her to have a home-cooked meal with a Uyghur family he knew. It was after dark when they arrived at a small mud-brick house covered with clay. There was a courtyard in the center, between two small rooms. In the back was a larger room, with a coal-fired cooking stove beside a raised platform covered with rugs. Like most homes in Uyghur villages, there was no running water inside the …

His Dictionaries Taught Chinese To The Uyghur World. Then He Was Taken Away

Hüsenjan was a Chinese state employee — and member of the Chinese Communist Party — tasked with creating dictionaries for the Uyghur language. His work couldn’t save him. The Chinese-Uyghur finance dictionary was huge. It must have been made out of A3-size paper, almost 11 inches by 17 inches. When she held it in her hands, Gulruy Asqer remembers it feeling like two big bricks. It was a lot to carry. Her brother had given it to her as a farewell gift before she moved to the United States. “I complained that it was so heavy,” she said. “I just left it in the center of the living room rug with all of the other things that I thought were too big to carry.” She had the rug, which was a wedding gift, shipped to the U.S. She left the dictionary behind. “I can imagine how disappointed he must have been to see me abandoning that dictionary,” she said, thinking back. “I didn’t value it at all.” Her brother, Hüsenjan, who has published more than …

‘Heaviness In The Stomach’: A Uyghur Daughter Alone In America On Her Birthday During A Pandemic

When my Chinese friends see her as a human, as a mother, if they start there, then it makes me feel as though there is hope. But to be honest, among my Chinese friends, this is really rare, just one or two or three. Last month, Akida Pulat celebrated her birthday alone. It was her third birthday since her mother, Uyghur anthropologist Rahile Dawut, had disappeared in Northwest China. Thinking about this in a café in Seattle two weeks before the city began to shut down due to COVID-19, Akida said, “When I was little my mom would ask me what I would want for my birthday. She would make my favorite food, hand-pulled noodles or Hui-style lamb fried with garlic (蒜苔炒羊肉 suàntái chǎo yángròu), and served with rice. She would invite her friends to bring their kids to my party. They always showed me that they really loved me and showered me with attention. “She would always tell me, ‘I love you my daughter, I hope you have a wonderful year.’ She would always be the first person to …

Sealed Doors And ‘Positive Energy’: COVID-19 In Xinjiang

Recently a young Han man from Xinjiang who I will call Wu Yi told me a joke his friends in Ürümchi have been repeating since the end of January: “When will people in Xinjiang be allowed to go outside? When the last patient in Wuhan is cured.” Wu Yi and his friends have been grumbling about the way they’re losing money. The addition of checkpoints in 2017 already made it difficult to do business: Wu Yi, who grew up in an affluent family in the city, said his father had to meet business partners from Kazakhstan in places like Shanghai or Beijing. Now even that was impossible. Since January 27, five days before Huanggang, Hubei Province was locked down, Wu Yi’s family has been permitted to leave their apartments only twice per week. Everything is controlled by the auxiliary police (协警 xiéjǐng) and the neighborhood watch office. “Since there was already such a huge police force in Xinjiang for the ‘terrorism’ problem, it was easy for them to lock all of us up,” he said. …