Year: 2021

‘Truth and reconciliation’: Excerpts from the Xinjiang Clubhouse

On Saturday, February 6, two days before it would be banned across China, the social media app Clubhouse had a defining moment. As numerous news outlets have reported, a room called “Is there a concentration camp in Xinjiang?” attracted a brief flourishing of speech and free discussion among Chinese people in the era of state censorship. As noted in an episode of the Sinica Podcast with several of the room’s hosts, one of the features of the Mandarin-language conversation was unique: Uyghurs were placed in moderator positions and invited to share their stories of family separation and disappearance. There was civility and respect in the room, which swelled to as many as 4,000 participants. Crucially, there was largely an absence of what one participant termed “Hansplaining”: Chinese-language discussions of Xinjiang which privilege Han perspectives. The room attempted to center discussions of the Xinjiang camps not on geopolitics or the security concerns of protected citizens, but from the standpoint of those who are most harmed by systems of state violence. The participant said that critiquing Hansplaining is important because it is so …

‘Only when you, your children, and your grandchildren become Chinese’: Life after Xinjiang detainment

In early 2020, just as COVID-19 was beginning to sweep across China, I traveled to Kazakhstan to interview Kazakhs and Uyghurs who had recently fled across the border. In a cold second-floor office building, I met dozens of China-born Kazakhs who came to talk to researchers about their family members who were lost in detention facilities in Xinjiang. I also spoke to nearly a dozen former detainees about their experience, and how they were struggling to recover their sense of self. I was not the only researcher there. Journalists and filmmakers from around the world gathered in Almaty. A pair of filmmakers I met, Yadikar Ibraimov and Jack Wolf, agreed to share with me a film project they were producing — parts of which are featured in this essay. The film conveys the urgency of the ongoing trauma that is palpable in Uyghur and Kazakh exile communities, particularly in Kazakhstan, where the stories of new arrivals and regular outpourings of collective grief have begun to shape daily life. An interview Ibraimov and Wolf conducted with Nurlan …

An Interview with Gene Bunin of the Xinjiang Victim Database & Uyghur Pulse

This interview between Gene Bunin 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 As Armenian and Jewish founders of Asia Art Tours,  we are keenly aware of the pain and suffering of genocide. Right now, the genocide in Xinjiang is one of the most urgent crises the world must face. To shine light on this mass atrocity, I spoke to the founder of the Xinjiang Victim Database, and Uyghur Pulse – Gene Bunin. Asia Art Tours: For people who are unfamiliar with your work, could you discuss Uyghur Pulse, the Xinjiang Victims Database and Shabit.biz? What are the objectives of these projects? And what obstacles have you faced in trying to continue to bring attention to these issues? Gene Bunin: The Xinjiang Victims Database is a multi-purpose web platform based at shahit.biz. Like …

‘The atmosphere has become abnormal’: Han Chinese views from Xinjiang

In 2019, when Meng You, an international student from China who is currently in North America, went back to see her family in Xinjiang, one incident really stood out to her. While shopping with her mother in a town near a division of the Xinjiang People’s Production and Construction Corps, or “the Corps” (兵团 bīngtuán) — where her grandparents had settled after moving from central China decades before — they had an encounter with a Uyghur man and the police. They were looking for parking in a crowded part of the market area when suddenly she heard a scraping sound on the side of their car. What happened over the next few moments made her reconsider her position as a Han citizen. A Uyghur fruit seller who was trying to avoid pedestrians had run into their car with his motorized cart. “Even though it was his fault, he was really angry,” Meng You recalled. “In Mandarin he said, ‘You hit my cart, pay me!’ He looked so ‘angered’ (激动 jīdòng). My mom said, ‘No, you hit my car.’” …