Early this year at The New York Times, Sarah A. Topol walked readers through the past quarter century of developments in Xinjiang by profiling a 32-year-old Uyghur woman.
The life of Xinjiang native Humar Isaac traces important social and political events—including the Han settlement of Xinjiang, the policy mandated erosion of the Uyghur language, the the 10-month Xinjiang internet blackout that followed the 2009 Urumqi riots, and the launch of the 2014 crackdown on Uyghur culture and religiosity that is still ongoing today. The crackdown has culminated in the detention of as many as two million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities since 2017, including Humar’s parents.
In 2020, the world has become increasingly aware of the situation in Xinjiang as diplomatic pressure on Beijing has ramped up. During a year of pandemic and as the world reflects on questions of race, discrimination, and privilege, Humar has written an essay for anyone outside of Xinjiang wondering what they can do to help the situation there. On Matters earlier this week, Humar offered her recommendations. CDT has translated an excerpt. Links in bold were included in the original Chinese essay, and words within 「square quotes」were originally written by Humar in English.
[…M]y first request to you, 「stay in this with us.」
I hate the phrase 「”back to normal”, like, hell no.」
The「normality」that the world has clung to since 1989, when it watched but pretended not to see the Tiananmen Square incident, is precisely what caused the absurdity we now face.
There is no「normal」world to return to, so where do you plan to go? How far back do you have to go to「make the world normal again?」 Back to the moment when satellite images showed the construction of concentration camps the Chinese government completely denied? Back to when Foxconn workers were jumping off buildings one by one but people still lined up all night for iPhones? To 2008 when the Olympic fireworks shone over Tiananmen Square?
Don’t go back, don’t expect to arrive back to your “normal life.” You must「move forward」with us. Don’t forget this moment, don’t leave it behind.
[…] Please don’t avoid [the absurdity], don’t look away even if it becomes too glaring and painful, you still can’t hide from it.
Stung by the absurdity, it becomes a basic moral obligation for a person living in 2020.
This being the case, I’d like to recommend some bare absurdities for your direct review.
Actually, it’s my family’s story, a local perspective connecting all of Xinjiang’s post-1949 history. This can allow readers completely removed from the situation to quickly take in all of the necessary background.
Plus, it’s a pretty good story. There are so many details—you really couldn’t make it up if you wanted to. I was part of the first group of kids to go to Chinese language school. I was bullied all the way to university, and after testing into Peking University, dealt with a panicked family so I could marry my ethnically Han husband… Then, during the concentration camp years, my mother and father went missing one after the other. From afar, I ordered my little sister to run to the United States. Then, virtually by accident, I found my parents. And then, because I continued to speak out, I had a falling out with my own mother…
I find it pretty wild myself when I tell it, it truly is a good story. And, actually, Sarah’s other stories are good reads, as well. For example, after reading her Rohingya “The School Teacher and the Genocide” story, you feel like you’ve known the protagonist for a very long time, like you gradually lost contact but still care about one another. I can imagine I leave a similar impression on many who have read my story—a friend they used to be familiar with and still care for
I also recommend Darren Byler’s work. All of his monthly columns on SupChina are great reads. His writing style is gentle and restrained. His work presents real people, like they’re right at your side, you can even smell the tobacco on their fingertips.
In general, I hope that what you read will make you feel that we are real, specific individuals, who can walk by your side—not some (often times 「literally」) faceless religious followers or victims.
As for books, I can’t immediately think of many, because I don’t read many books. Off the top of my head, you can read “A Tibetan Revolutionary” or “My Liangshan Brothers.” Those both have really good Chinese and English versions, the two books are really helpful. They really allow you to get a good understanding of the current situation for non-Han people in today’s China.
I mean, this is 2020! Are Uyghurs really that special? Of course they are! But, you could also say that they aren’t that special. I hope everyone paying attention to the plight of the victims of the Xinjiang crisis also spares attention for all the other victims of the CCP. After all, we all share the same aggressor. Let’s connect our stories together, all of our stories.
Also, I have what is likely a presumptuous request.
I wouldn’t force this on anybody, no need at all for You to accept. Look—I’ve suddenly started using the honorific “You.”
I want you to know the truth, and I hope you can try to understand and accept it: We, the collective victims of the CCP, generally speaking, are 「a fucked up group of people.」
If you need victims to all be clean, beautiful, perfect people, well, then you might be able to find a few, since we are so vast in number. But, generally speaking of course, the majority of us are imperfect people.
Don’t abandon us because we aren’t perfect. Don’t abandon us because some among us support Trump (I know this is hard to 「justify… but still」). Don’t abandon us because some among us spread or even create fake news.
Generally speaking, please believe that 「we are all in this together.」Don’t think of yourself as an outsider, and don’t think of us as outsiders. This is my request.
If you’re feeling righteous and indignant, like you need to do something that has a strong positive influence on others in order to relieve your anger, I also have another small suggestion.
First, simply and crudely, vote with your money. Fantastic! It feels amazing, please give it a try.
Currently, the only destination for your money that I can enthusiastically recommend with the guarantee of my reputation is theXinjiang Victims Database. I knew Gene Bunin before the current Xinjiang crisis. Back then, his most well-known works were a series of essays about Uyghur restaurants. Now, his name is strongly connected to the Xinjiang Victims Database.
The number of victims in this database recently surpassed ten thousand. Two of them are my parents.
If a million people or even ten thousand people sounds like too big a number, if it makes things feel less real, this database presents cold, detailed, specific facts that will sting. (Their website is a little slow, so please go donate to them on GoFundMe!)
If it’s convenient, support Uyghur 「businesses,」 like restaurants. They’re generally all really good, anyway. However, I wouldn’t suggest you visit Xinjiang for tourism. Of course, the pandemic has closed everything, but even if there wasn’t a pandemic, I still wouldn’t recommend touring in Xinjiang.
Next, just use your voice.
“If you like a celebrity, blogger, painter, author, then you should say so. Don’t assume they don’t need to hear your positive comments because they have such a large following. They need it. They need your comment. Your words may encourage a disheartened author to keep writing, put a smile on the face of a bullied celebrity, or inspire a long dormant blogger.”
Don’t like in silence, because people who dislike won’t do so silently.
The same applies to the current situation. No need to write a manifesto or tell how perfect they are from head to toe. We only ask to “be seen.” Because we’ve been overlooked for too long, and because “being seen” would truly improve the situation for individual victims. You just need to say, I see you, I’m watching. This is good 「enough.」
Will we ever meet in a place without darkness? I don’t know. To be honest, this is not my concern. I only care about today, the present, as we spot one another’s distant glow light from afar, and we see one another.
Thank you for reading. [Chinese]
Translation by Bluegill and Josh Rudolph.