A large amount of evidence has revealed to the world what China has been trying to hide for years—the oppression towards the Uighur people. What’s the perspectives behind this issue? Let’s find out.
by Avani Pammidimukkala
Who are the Uighur people? Uighurs are a Muslim and Turkik-speaking minority group in China who currently occupy the western part of Xinjiang, a Chinese ‘autonomous territory’—a part of a country that has some freedom from an external authority—in northwest China. This ethnic group has a long history with the land they reside on and descended from ancient Sogdian traders who lived in oasis towns of the Silk road.
According to TIME, Uighurs originally were considered to be the most dominant ethnic group in Xinjiang and were recognized “as equal citizens of the communist state” when “the region was[...]brought under Beijing’s control[...]during the 19th-century reign of the Qing Dynasty”. However, the Uighurs and the Beijing authorities never had a good relationship and things turned for the worse when Uighur leaders decided to declare “a short-lived independent Republic of East Turkestan” while the area they occupied, Xinjiang, was considered to be Communist Beijing’s territory.
Beijing had no intentions of giving up the oil-rich territory of Xinjiang and the Uighurs’ desire for their own land made the Chinese suspicious. As a result, the Chinese authorities set a policy that settled “hundreds of thousands of Han Chinese [in Xinjiang] that has left the Uighurs” to compromise “a little less than half of the region’s roughly 20 million people”.
Because the Han Chinese were taking jobs away from the Uighur people and of the Uighurs’ anger towards the unjust treatment they were receiving from the Chinese, the Uighurs finally fought back against the Chinese government in the capital in 2009, killing around 200 people, most of them Han Chinese. Taking the situation to their advantage, the Chinese government labeled the event as ‘religious terrorism’ and placed the blame on the Uighur people, leaving millions of Han Chinese citizens to increase their prejudice against the ethnic group.
In May 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping started the ‘Strike Hard Campaign’ to ‘take action’ against the ‘potential terrorists’. And, today, the Chinese government still treats the Uighur people terribly because of their false ‘concerns’.
This article will cover three perspectives on the Uighur-Chinese problem - the Uighurs’ perspective, the Chinese government’s perspective, and a neutral perspective.
Since the Uighurs suffering in China has been kept under tight wraps for quite a long time, not many people knew about the horrible treatment the people in the ethnic group have been receiving since the early 1900s. However, a large number of witness accounts, satellite images, individual news reports from visitors, and communist party documents have slowly revealed to the world what China has been trying to hide for years—their oppression towards the Uighur people along with other ethnic minorities (like Kazakhs) residing in Xinjiang.
Evidence presented in a John Oliver video about the Uighur problem has shown that “the region resembles a massive internment camp” and that what is going on in Xinjiang can be considered the “largest imprisonment on the basis of religion since the Holocaust”. In fact, Xinjiang is considered to be one of the most policed areas in the world, and cameras are placed outside of every household so the government can constantly monitor the Uighur people and deem them ‘suspicious’ for no reason. Oliver mentions that “over 1 million Muslim minorities [in Xinjiang] were rounded up, detained, and forcibly indoctrinated” for absolutely no reason. Furthermore, the Chinese government has deemed “24,000 people ‘suspicious’” and “over 15,000 people were sent to reeducation camps” because of acts like growing a beard, fasting, or applying for a passport.
The treatment in the ‘reeducation camps’ is absolutely terrifying. People imprisoned in these camps are forced to learn the ways of the Communist Chinese (patriotic education and Mandarin) and are not allowed to contact anyone from the outside world unless they have to for a prescribed activity. The Chinese government explains that they do this to ‘prevent escapes’.
An Uighur woman named Gulzira Auelhan shares her experience at a reeducation camp: she explains that she was once beaten on the back of her head with an electric baton because she spent too long in the bathroom. Her ‘teacher’ told her to be ‘quick’ and in the end, she had to smile and tell the ‘teacher’, “Thank you, Teacher. I will not be late next time”.
The Chinese government also forces abortions and sterilizations on Uighur women, and their reasoning is because of ‘economic opportunity’. Families are also separated, and children are placed in boarding schools. Children are also banned from participating in religious activities and parents are not allowed to give their children names that are ‘too Islamic’.
Because of the harsh criticism that China has been receiving from foreign countries, they have started to close down a few of their camps. However, the Chinese government is now transferring Uighurs to forced labor prison factories around China under the disguise of giving them good employment while ‘distancing them from extreme views and educating them’. According to Oliver, “over 80,000 Uighurs were transferred out of Xinjiang to work in various factories across China” and “at least 83 foreign and Chinese companies are benefiting from this forced labor like Nike”.
So, some of the products we are using right now are made from the suffering the Uighurs have faced in these factories and we are unknowingly and indirectly involved with the problem. Currently, there are measures being taken by various organizations and countries to help the Uighurs, and more support is necessary to help these people.
Chinese Government Perspective
According to the Council of Foreign Relations, officials in the Chinese government are oppressing Uighurs because of their concern that “Uighurs hold extremist and separatist ideas,” and that camps can help eliminate “threats to China’s territorial integrity, government, and population”. In other words, the Chinese government is racially segregating the Uighur people based upon false beliefs and claims. They just want to get rid of an ethnic group that they see as a ‘bug’ to their country of China.
Due to prejudice against Islam, the Chinese government believe the Uighurs are evil and “part of the Global War on Terrorism”. They believe that if they take action against these supposed ‘terrorists’, then they can get rid of potential “separatism, religious extremism, and international terrorism”.
Additionally, according to John Oliver, the Uighur people have their “own language” and are “culturally and ethnically distinct” from the Chinese. The Chinese also did not like this as they believed that religious minorities should be eliminated.
There is no neutral perspective on this topic. There is no way to sympathize with what the Chinese government is doing to innocent people because of their ethnicity and religion. What we can do now is help the Uighur people. Currently, the United States has imposed sanctions on the Chinese Officials over the mass detention of Muslims and the White House has passed the Uighur Human Rights Bill. Additionally, small organizations and individuals all over the world are spreading awareness about the issue in hopes of change. Hopefully, in the future, the Chinese government will be held responsible for their actions and the Uighur people can practice their religion happily and freely.