This week, the BBC published an investigation into reports of systematic rape at internment camps in Xinjiang, including graphic and disturbing detail from former detainees and camp staff. This is the latest of many recent reports alleging mistreatment, political indoctrination, forced labor, and more at the camps. While Chinese censors prohibit any discussion of events in Xinjiang from entering the domestic media space, official statements responding to news reports dismiss the allegations, claiming that residents of Xinjiang are living “a happy life in such a stable environment.”
Despite the censorship and propaganda around the issue, Chinese internet users have found discreet ways to discuss the situation in Xinjiang, often in response to foreign media reports, such as when the New York Times published the leaked Xinjiang Papers in November 2019. Following the release of the Chinese-language version of the recent BBC report, several people commented on Weibo, showing a rare public display of empathy and solidarity with Uyghurs. Twitter users, including @big_ear_cat and @Chinese4Uyghurs screengrabbed some Weibo comments and reposted them. CDT has translated a selection below. All Weibo user names and profile pictures have been obscured or blurred out:
— 大耳朵猫妹 (@big_ear_cat) February 4, 2021
Saw a post that indirectly confirms the situation in Xinjiang.
@██████ On the 99 Charity Day [an annual fundraising campaign by the Tencent Charity Foundation] in 2018, a charity organization organized a fundraising campaign called “Love Together · Accompany Children in Kashgar.” The ad wrote:
In Kashgar, due to special circumstances, many school-age children do not have parents or any family members by their side. They can only turn to their schools for supervision and care, thus becoming “boarding students.”
Perhaps the “special circumstances” confirmed the situation-that-must-not-be-mentioned, many friends reposted this fundraising campaign. On the very same day, the event was taken off of Tencent Charity.
That perhaps forever changed my attitude about the western frontier.
Responses to the above post:
@██████ My classmate was a volunteer teacher [in Xinjiang] and saw the family records of the students there. They also learned about why the place lacked human capital, and why the cost of living was so high in a small town where the level of production was so low. This was all publicly discussed in the meeting with their target school.
@██████ In 2017, some friends and I donated a few shipments of diapers to a children’s welfare center in Ili [Xinjiang], as well as cream to help alleviate diaper rash. Later, the welfare center was shut down. The children were asked to return home. Many of them were orphans. I don’t know what happened to them. [brokenheart][brokenheart][brokenheart]
@██████ My attitude changed last spring when I saw a photo posted by BBC of a notice [from Xinjiang], the official parlance [on the notice] was just too… how should I put it? The language was just too familiar. No one outside of the system could have made it up. Once you had this realization, you’d notice that many seemingly irrelevant news stories actually indirectly confirmed the reporting by foreign media.
@██████ If we don’t help them, the children simply lose their lives, education, and bright future. But if we make a noise, the united, stable, wealthy, peaceful, beautiful, and great image of Xinjiang will be lost. Who can pay such a price!
— 大耳朵猫妹 (@big_ear_cat) February 4, 2021
People inside the Great Firewall are obscurely talking about the concentration camps in Xinjiang. Someone posted this picture. It’s about the Allied forces ordering some German people to visit concentration camps after WWII. Many Germans who didn’t know or didn’t believe in the camps’ existence broke down in tears or passed out after seeing the atrocities.
— Chinese For Uyghurs (@chinese4uyghurs) February 4, 2021
Actually every time mainstream English media publishes something about Xinjiang, many people inside the Great Firewall repost and discuss in an obscure way.
Screen-grabbed Weibo comments:
@██████ One doesn’t need to pass any bar to discuss history, but one does need conscience and courage to discuss the current reality. You are from that place, you feel the pain but aren’t sure about their truthfulness. I am from somewhere far away. I believe in your sincerity and the XXX [blurred]’s eyes.
@██████ I am also a Han person from the same place as OP [original poster]. I can’t say that my pain is as engraved as OP’s. But never will I cruelly and unscrupulously turn a blind eye. My pain is two-fold: one is for the victims; the other is for our Han people. Have we really become as evil as our own perpetrators from some 100 years ago?
@██████ OP is a witness, a survivor, and an exile. I dare not say that have felt pain because it’s simply incomparable. I hope those loved by XXX [blurred] can get happiness.
@██████ Maybe I just subjectively don’t want it to be true. It pains me to think that humans can be treated so atrociously.
@██████ I’m different. I know these things are true. That’s why I’m in pain.
— Chinese For Uyghurs (@chinese4uyghurs) February 5, 2021
Many Weibo users had their accounts shut down since yesterday for discussing Xinjiang, including some personal accounts that had been used to document people’s lives for many years. Many people knew about the risks of losing their accounts, but they nevertheless believed that it was worth it. Thank you to all those from inside the Great Firewall who did their bit to light up the world. :heart:
Translation by Yakexi.