On Clubhouse, Youth Share The Truth About Xinjiang

After Chinese users flocked to Clubhouse to engage in uncensored and freewheeling conversation on topics both serious and silly, authorities blocked the app. One room, “Is there a concentration camp in Xinjiang?,” was particularly notable for its topic matter, size, and uniquely empathetic discourse. The room was widely covered by international media and sparked renewed interest in a 2009 essay written by Huang Zhangjin after the 2009 Urumqi riots titled “Goodbye, Ilham” that detailed his friendship with the famed Uyghur intellectual as well as the racial politics of Xinjiang. For SupChina, Darren Byler translated portions of the Clubhouse conversation, which provided insight into Han feelings of complicity and resistance:

Han Chinese 4: So what if they call the concentration camps in Xinjiang “re-education camps”? You should ask yourself. Drawing on your own familiarity with our bureaucratic system, can we imagine what might result if we were targeted by such a process? It would definitely make you feel very anxious and terrified. When you don’t trust that the innocent will be protected, it will make you terrified. Now is the time when each of us should fight to make a statement for those who are oppressed by this entire tragic system.

[…] Han person 8: There are a lot of verified reports about the government’s orders and many portraits of victims, along with the testimonies of former detainees and their relatives. If you share this kind of information among your circle of friends and they still want to say it’s all fake, then ask them to disprove the evidence. I think we really need to ask ourselves what kind of evidence we need to see to be convinced. At a certain point, you realize that no matter what kind of evidence you provide, some people will not be persuaded. This is precisely why discussions like this one are necessary. I think if you are willing to speak on social media or in private, for example, even at the dinner table, to talk to your family and friends in private, this is of course very good. All of us understand that in the current environment of speech, not everyone can speak publicly, but at least we can educate ourselves.

[…] Han person 11: However, in the face of some situations in which we are complicit, we can also choose a third kind of courage. All of us live with fear, that’s what happens when you grow up in a culture of fear, but there is one thing I can do when I am in China: Don’t spread this fear. Don’t bring this fear to your children. Don’t bring it to the next generation of young people. I think no matter what ethnicity you are or religion you practice, young people shouldn’t grow up in fear. People either become cowardly or bullies when they grow up in fear. Neither of these two kinds of people can become pillars. I hope not to let our children bear this fear again. That’s all I want to say. [Source]

At Vice News, Viola Zhou also reported on the clubhouse room and the emotional reactions it elicited:

“On Clubhouse, I hear more human stories. They seem more real,” said Alex, a Han Chinese participant in a 10-hour-long chat about Xinjiang that attracted more than 4,900 listeners over the weekend. “I can relate to their fear. It is the type of fear any ordinary person could face.”

[…] During the Saturday chat about Xinjiang, Chinese-speaking Uighurs and Kazakhs told stories of how their family members had disappeared into the detention program without being charged with any crime. Some said they were too scared to text their relatives on the Chinese messaging app WeChat, as Xinjiang authorities see links with foreign countries as potential ground for punishment or detention.

[…] “I was shocked. I had always thought they would never understand what we were going through or felt guilty,” said a Uighur participant in the chat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It was really moving when they showed their emotions. It felt like the distance between us was not that great.” [Source]

There have been a series of podcasts covering the room, notably Time To Say Goodbye’s “Xinjiang on Clubhouse,” which featured Darren Byler; The New Yorker Radio Hour’s interview with reporter Jiayang Fan and one of the hosts of the Xinjiang room; and Sinica’s “The Xinjiang camps on Clubhous‪e‬,” featuring the anonymous Han filmmaker who started the room, New York Times journalist Muyi Xiao, and Rayhan Asat, a Uyghur attorney. Finding Humanity Podcast’s “Indoctrination and Torture: Stories of a Genocide From Uighur Women in China | Nursimangul Abdurashid and Mihrigul Tursun,” includes testimony from Uyghur women and James Millward, a history professor and Xinjiang specialist at Georgetown University.

At Reuters, Yingzhi Yang, Pei Li, and Brenda Goh reported that copycat apps, with strict censorship rules built-in, are already in development:

But similar apps in China are expected to take on Chinese characteristics that will accommodate censorship and government oversight.

[…] The app requires real name registration, a trait Lizhi CEO Marco Lai says is key in China. The company also employs staff to listen to conversations in every room and deploys artificial intelligence tools to weed out “unwanted” content, such as pornography or politically sensitive issues.

[…] “Adults in China do not like to express their views in public, we have been taught to keep a low profile since we were young,” he said. “A good approach in China, though, is entertainment, you invite everybody to have fun.” [Source]

Speaking out about the concentration camps in Xinjiang is extremely dangerous for Uyghurs. At Radio Free Asia, Shohret Hoshur reported that his colleague, director of the RFA Uyghur Service, Eset Sulaiman’s brothers have been taken into the camps, most likely due to Eset’s reporting:

Sulaiman’s older brother Ehet, the 57-year-old director of the Tengritagh Township Teaching District in Kumul (in Chinese, Hami) prefecture, and his younger brother Ehmet, the 39-year-old head of Kumul’s Tengritagh township, have both been detained since 2018, RFA recently learned after interviewing several local officials.

[…] “I can’t possibly believe that their detention was unrelated to them being the relatives of an intellectual like Eset, who is so respected and influential in the homeland,” he said.

Sulaiman’s family members are among more than 50 relatives of RFA’s Uyghur Service staff who have been confirmed held in some form of Chinese state detention, alongside the millions either in the camps or sentenced to prison for “crimes” often for activities deemed “religious extremist” by authorities. [Source]

In 2014 and 2015, two brothers of RFA reporter Shohret Hoshur were tried on charges of “leaking state secrets,” with one sentenced to five years, in apparent retaliation for their brother’s reporting. On NPR’s morning edition, Emily Z Feng reported on a son’s search for his father, mother, and two brothers, all of whom seem to have disappeared into the camps:

A KALIOLLA: (Through interpreter) My father spoke the truth, and our family lost their freedom. Is this the Qing dynasty, where one person falls out of political favor and so their entire family is extinguished?

[…] MUQYIAT KALIOLLA: (Through interpreter) If you cannot contact us, fear the worst. The authorities have threatened us so much recently. They let us talk to you today, but they are likely to finish us off tomorrow. If that happens, know it was not suicide. Don’t stop your advocacy. Our lives and the fate of our family are in your hands.

FENG: A few weeks after these calls, neighbors told Kaliolla the house his mother and two brothers live in was empty, his calls and texts to them unanswered. [Source]

Uyghurs living in Pakistan told VICE that they have been subject to increased harassment from Pakistani authorities after the creation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. In a documentary about Mohammed Umer, a Uyghur living in Pakistan, VICE News detailed the dangers faced by Uyghurs attempting to preserve their culture outside of China:

The Chinese government has also run smear campaigns aimed at discrediting the Uyghur women who detailed their experiences of systematic rape in the Xinjiang detention centers. The Chinese government targeted the BBC for running the report, banning it from broadcasting within China’s borders and coordinating a disinformation campaign to undermine trust in the news organization’s reporting on Xinjiang.

(Read the full thread on Twitter.)


Subscribe to CDT


Browsers Unbounded by Lantern

Now, you can combat internet censorship in a new way: by toggling the switch below while browsing China Digital Times, you can provide a secure "bridge" for people who want to freely access information. This open-source project is powered by Lantern, know more about this project.

Google Ads 1

Giving Assistant

Google Ads 2

Anti-censorship Tools

Life Without Walls

Click on the image to download Firefly for circumvention

Open popup

Welcome back!

CDT is a non-profit media site, and we need your support. Your contribution will help us provide more translations, breaking news, and other content you love.