All posts filed under: History

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? …

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 …