Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Friday, September 04, 2020

China Undercover : Xinjiang Revisited 

Technical Note: I have gotten feedback that this video may be blocked in some places in America due to copyright issues. I live in China, so it is very hard to verify that. Please let me know if there are any issues.

Very informative documentary on Xinjiang. Their estimate for the number of Uyghurs interned in concentration camps is two million. I think that number is high, but I think it is safe to say that there have been several hundred thousand. We have been hearing reports that the camps have now been closed (the documentary also mentions this), but I am skeptical, because many of those who had disappeared have still not been heard from. It could be that they have been sent to work camps. I have several times heard reports that some Uyghurs have been transfered to other provinces to be used for labor. Whatever the case may be, there is no question that a massive, horrifying abuse of human rights has gotten the world's attention. I don't think China expected this. I think they thought they were going to get away with it. The world largely ignored the removal of crosses in Wenzhou in the summer of 2014.

But this is very different. This involves locking up many, many innocent people because of their ethnicity. These people have committed no crimes, and most of them have no political involvement. But they either have relatives abroad, or have expressed too much interest in Islam or some such thing.

In my opinion, it was a colossal error in judgment on the part of the Communist Party. There is no question that has been a public relations disaster. When I first came to China, there was some kind of television program or movie where all the bad guys had Henan accents. Lots of people in Henan complained, but it brought up discussion about Henan's reputation. I was intrigued, because I had never heard about this before, and it turns out that I had quite number of friends from Henan province, perhaps mainly because the house church movement is especially strong there. So I asked one of my Henan friends, "What's this about Henan? Why do people think that people from Henan are bad?

She said, "Henan is to China what China is to the rest of the world." That was a signitficant statement about Henan (whether or not it's true), but an equally significant statement about China. There are times when it seems for all the world like the boys at Zhongnanhai want to make sure China doesn't lose that reputation as the "bad boy" of Asia. So China has come under significant criticism for this great injustice toward innocent people.

But I also see a problem with their critics. They often use the term "genocide" when referring to what China is doing to the Uyghur people. I don't like this, because it isn't honest. Words have meanings. Genocide means mass killing. The Communists are putting the Uyghurs in concentration camps. They are not putting them in gas chambers. The problem with using emotionally loaded terms like "genocide," is that you turn the perpetrators of the injustice you are fighting into victims, because you're saying something about them that is not true, so that creates an opportunity for them to deny everything you're saying about them. Then, suddenly, people are saying, "I guess it's not so bad for them to be putting people in concentration camps as long as they are not executing them," and this becomes the new normal.

No. As I have said previously, deprivation of liberty without due process is a violation of human rights. If you house me in a palatial mansion, give me servants who wait on me hand and foot, and server me sumptuous meals on solid gold dinner ware, you are still violating my human rights if you are keeping me there against my will. We must not back down from this. I suspect that the reason the "supporters" of the Uyghurs use emotionally loaded terms like genocide, is because in their heart of hearts they don't really believe that deprivation of liberty is that bad. So how, then, are they any better than the Communists, who are putting people in concentration camps labeled as training centers because they also do not believe deprivation of liberty is that bad as long as you can convince yourself that you are doing it in the best interest of the people?

What about cultural genocide? Yes, that is a legitimate issue, but a lot more research needs to be done about this. I have heard information in the years since the summer of 2005 when I was in Kashgar about destruction of traditional Uyghur communities. And there is some talk that traditional Uyghur activity is being replaced by fake displays. More recently, the government is scaling back the teaching of the Mongolian language in Inner Mongolia. Reports like this are deeply troubling, and if focus is placed on this issue and held there, I am all for that. But too often what happens is that they start out talking about cultural genocide, and then gradually, quietly drop the "cultural" off the term and we're back to genocide. That's wrong both because it takes the focus off cultural genocide, which is a real issue, and puts it on genocide (such as Hitler putting six million Jews in gas chambers) which is a phony issue with respect to Xinjiang, but also because, again, it puts deprivation of liberty on the back burner so to speak, with the implication that it is not really sufficiently unjust to stand alone as a singularly eggregious violation of human rights. We need to go back to the Magna Carta.

The other problem I have with those who claim to be defending the Uyghurs is that they talk about Xinjiang being an independent country as the ideal. I do not agree. The country name that I see mentioned on Twitter is "East Turkestan." But I'm quite certain most of the people who support the idea of Xinjiang as an independent country do not know where that name came from. It was not a name created by Uyghurs to identify their own country. It was invented by the Russians as an attempt to replace the British name, which was "Chinese Turkestan." The British name was no doubt frustrating to the Russians, because in using that name, the Brits were giving it to China to keep it from Russia.

Back in 2005, I traveled to Xinjiang. I flew to Urumqi and took the train 24 hours across the burning hot Taklamakan Desert to Kashgar. In Kashgar, I stayed at a place called the "Seman Binguan." Behind the Seman Binguan was the old Russian Conuslate, looking exactly like it did in 1890. Across town, behind the Chinibagh hotel was the old British Consulate. The Brits and the Russians were in competition for India--what Rudyard Kipling called "The Great Game." It was the "Cold War" of the nineteenth century, and Kashgar was considered "neutral territory." It was clearly in the interest of the Brits for Xinjiang to belong to China. The Brits never had any designs on Xinjiang. Not so with Russia.

Here's the bottom line: Historically, Xinjiang was either going to be part of Cnina or part of Russia. Which would you prefer? Those who advocate independence for that area seem to believe that the world would be a safer place if we just had one more Islamic Repubic. I rather think not. So you see, the solution to the problem is not to make Xinjiang independent. Who's army would defend its independence?

But that having been said, it must be admitted that China's administration of Xinjiang has been clumsy at best. I have always felt that the people of Xinjiang would have been so much better served if the Chinese government had attempted to hear from the Uyghur people about what their concerns were. But the powers that be in China seemed to be determined to forget about the needs of the people and focus on controlling them. And in 2016 they began to move from control to abject cruelty.

The government policy toward Uyghurs is essentially racist. A couple years ago one of my students told me her family was going to take a trip to Xinjiang. I told her to be careful. She assured me that they had nothing to worry about because they were Han people. She said that without batting an eye. This is not to say that all Han people are hostile toward Uyghurs. Not at all. There are many Han people who are very friendly toward Uyghurs. But they don't seem to feel that Uyghurs should enjoy the same rights that they, as the majority people group in China, take for granted.


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