All posts filed under: History

Reeducation Time: A Decade Of Stories Of Loss In Xinjiang

All names in this story have been changed to protect the identities of the interviewees. I met Ablikim for the first time in late 2014 at a Uyghur house party in a neighborhood in Southern Ürümchi. He was a thin man with a closely-trimmed moustache. He sat hunched over, his shoulders drawn in. We told each other our names, but I wasn’t really sure how to place him. Over the course of the evening, he sat in the corner quietly, his eyes darting around the room. It wasn’t until much later, when we were walking to our homes side-by-side, that he began to speak. He said he didn’t like speaking in groups because he didn’t like talking openly with strangers. Like many of the young Uyghurs I interviewed over the course of the past decade, Ablikim had been deeply affected by his encounters with police and Han society. In the months that followed, Ablikim and I became close friends. We met nearly every day to drink tea, read novels, and talk about his job search …

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 …

The Future Of Uyghur Cultural — And Halal — Life In The Year Of The Pig

The Chinese version of the lunar new year came early for Uyghurs in 2019. In mid-January, Uyghurs were asked to begin to write couplets describing their hopes and dreams for the year of the pig. They began practicing their lion and dragon dances. In an unverified screenshot, a Uyghur government official made a public display of dividing up pork and distributing it among villagers near the Muslim-majority town of Ghulja in celebration of the coming year. Many Uyghurs in the diaspora who I spoke with fear that the “pig” in the year of the pig will be all too literal: that this will be the year when Uyghurs in their homeland will be forced to eat pork as yet another way to perform Han-ness, along with being forced to shave off their mustaches. In late 2018, numerous reports emerged from Uyghur Chinese Communist Party members calling on Uyghurs to eat non-halal food. One personal testimony written by a Uyghur official named Shireli Behit noted that Uyghur officials who refused to eat non-halal food were “two-faced” people who were influenced …