Author: Adam Hunerven

Spirit Breaking: Capitalism and Terror in Northwest China

Soon after I arrived in Ürümchi in 2014 I met a young Uyghur man named Alim. He grew up in a small town near the city of Khotan in the deep south of the Uyghur homeland near the Chinese border with Pakistan. He was a tall, quiet young man who had come to the city looking for better opportunities. Critical of many of the rural people with whom he had grown up, he saw them as lacking capitalist ambition and an understanding of the broader Muslim world. But he was even more critical of the systemic, ongoing issues that had pushed Uyghurs into migrant labor and limited their access to Islamic knowledge.  There were far too few economic opportunities and far too many religious and political restrictions in the rural areas of Northwest China, he explained. Since the beginning of the most recent “hard-strike campaigns” that lead up to the implementation of the “People’s War on Terror” (Ch: renmin fankong zhanzheng) in May 2014, many people in the countryside had reached a new level of despair …

Requiem For The ‘Living Dead’: Ten Years After 7/5

Like a frightened flock of sheep, the people’s erratic dreams dividing unbroken Heavenly Mountains: A borderland Great Wall, a natural Wailing Wall Those unrecognized souls are the mud and night of other souls Only the cries of dreams, the tears on faces, like an expression of the heart, need no translation. 像惊恐的羊群 人们时断时续的梦境 隔着一座绵延千里的天山: 一座边地长城,一堵大自然哭墙 那些不被认识的心灵 是另一些心灵的泥淖和长夜 只有梦中的呼救、脸上的泪痕 像内心的表情,毋须翻译 — Shen Wei, an excerpt from “Ürümchi: An Abandoned Bed” (my translation) in the poetry collection Requiem I first heard about the poem “Ürümchi: An Abandoned Bed” from a now-disappeared poet, Perhat Tursun, in 2015. We were sitting in his apartment high above Consul Street in Ürümchi, smoking cigarettes and chatting in Uyghur. He told me that the poem’s author, Shen Wei, was one of the only Han intellectuals he truly respected. He said, “He was the only one who actually acknowledged what really happened during Qi Wu.” Like most Uyghurs, Perhat code-switched when it came to talking about the period of time that surrounded July 5, 2009. It was always just Qī Wǔ (七五) — the Chinese words …

How Kyrgyzstan abandoned its own in Xinjiang while Kazakhstan didn’t

While not exactly an odyssey, the trip from Kyrgyzstan’s capital of Bishkek to Kazakhstan’s “southern capital” of Almaty still makes for a day-long hassle. For many, it starts with climbing into a van at Bishkek’s western bus terminal, waiting up to an hour for the car to fill up, and then making a forty-minute drive to the border, where you get out, take all your things, and prepare for potentially grueling and chaotic lines – the depressing, lose-faith-in-humanity kind where people shove and curse, fighting to get inside and escape the weather, some with small children and others with push carts stacked overly high with goods. There, the border control guards – first the Kyrgyz and then, one river later, the Kazakh – check your things and documents and, depending on their mood and personality, decide whether or not to give you a hard time. Making it past them, you wait another thirty minutes to an hour for the van to get through its own inspection channel, after which you get back on and continue …

Chinese Student Responses to the Mass Internment of Turkic Muslims

Over the past two years I have spoken at dozens of universities and high schools about the internment of what is now an estimated 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims. I talk to students about the way poor minorities all over the world are marginalized by the language of criminality and terrorism, how policing and surveillance systems disproportionately affect them. I frame this by discussing the way Islamophobia has spread around the world over the past 20 years, resulting in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and, now, an attempt to “reeducate” an entire population of Muslims in northwest China. Undergraduate and high school students in the United States are typically really engaged by this. The use of technology to monitor, profile, and control Chinese Turkic Muslim populations grabs their attention. The arbitrary ranking system that has been used to determine who should be sent to the internment camps often puts them on the edge of their chairs. Telling the stories of seeing my Uyghur friends disappear makes them sad. When I’m talking with these students, I feel like they …