Uighur Poets on Repression and Exile (NYRB August 13, 2020)

The shocking dimensions of China’s repression in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region are now beyond dispute.In early 2017, after spending years perfecting a high-tech surveillance regime in its only Muslim-majority region, the Chinese state began a program of mass internment that has seen the disappearance without trial of at least a million Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim citizens into a vast network of internment camps and prisons.

Many camp inmates have been compelled to work in factories, and the fruits of their forced labor have increasingly shown up in the supply chains of multinational corporations like Kraft Heinz and Adidas. More recently, an extensive campaign of forced sterilization aimed at Uighur women has come to light, grimly echoing past policies implemented against indigenous peoples and minorities elsewhere in the world, including the United States.

In addition to repressing Uighurs through imprisonment and sterilization, the Xinjiang authorities have mounted a sustained assault on Uighur culture and identity. This has included the destruction of graveyards and religious sites, the elimination of Uighur-language education, and the widespread banning of Uighur books.

The mass detentions have targeted cultural figures—writers, poets, intellectuals, musicians—with special ferocity, sometimes accompanied by public denunciation campaigns. As renowned writers have vanished into the camps and prisons, their books have been pulled from store shelves. Publishing in Uighur, lively and diverse through late 2016, has been reduced in the last three years to a pitiful trickle of state-approved journals.

This article was originally published in the New York Review of Books on the 13th of August, 2020.

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Joshua L. Freeman, a historian of China and Inner Asia, is currently a Cotsen postdoctoral fellow at the Princeton Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts. (August 2020)

Follow Joshua L. Freeman on Twitter: @jlfreeman6.

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