All posts tagged: Xinjiang

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 …

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 …

Uyghur Stories Need To Be Mainstreamed

Over the past several months, state culture workers in the Uyghur region have produced a series of twisted, psychologically violent videos. These short films center on the transformation of Uyghurs as a way of justifying the “reeducation” camp system that has taken away the freedom of as many as 1.5 million Uyghurs. In one of the videos, a young woman discusses how she was forced into an arranged marriage and how the camp system saved her from her misogynist husband, exposed her to Chinese culture and the joys of hip-hop. Another tells the story of a young Uyghur man who, prior to his reeducation, said he saw his wife as his “property” and would not allow her to work outside the home. He said that he sometimes beat her. Now, he said, through his “reeducation,” he had come to truly love his wife and recognize that she deserves to be free; together they are embracing a new “reeducated” life. Uyghurs in the diaspora who have watched these short films tell me they come away deeply sad and angry. One Uyghur woman …