Author: Darren Byler

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? …

‘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 …