Uyghurs Adopting Han Children, Once Feted In Propaganda, Now Taboo Topic

Censors deleted a Zhihu answer about growing up in Xinjiang that touched on the underexplored outcomes of the One Child Policy and the region’s racial politics. One user posted to Zhihu, a popular question and answer site, asking, “What is your impression of people from Xinjiang?”:

Question: What is your impression of people from Xinjiang?

People often ask me whether I am really from Xinjiang, because I am Han. In the interior [Xinjiang residents’ term for eastern regions of China], most are under the impression that people from Xinjiang are all ethnic minorities with high noses and large eyes. This is an invitation to share: in your eyes, what are people from Xinjiang like? [Chinese]

Censors removed the following answer


山之城:Generally kindhearted and non-patriarchal. Everyone in western China is familiar with the “ethnic unity cases” that were propagandized a few years back. The vast majority were instances where Uyghurs adopted abandoned Han children, most of whom were girls or disabled. The cases were clustered between Aksu and Ili—the region abutting the Tianshan Mountains formed a U-shaped belt of abandoned children. Most of the female babies were abandoned between October and December, my sister among them. My mom was working in Hami when she found my sister abandoned at the entrance to a public toilet and took her home. Back then, the West was only loosely governed. Villages essentially ran themselves and Uyghurs had little to do with Han people. People from beyond the pass [another local term for people from the interior of China] would come to Xinjiang to work in the spring, and some couples would secretly have a child. If they had a girl, they’d abandon it in Xinjiang and return back home, leaving only a piece of paper with the child’s date of birth. Uyghurs are kindhearted, non-patriarchal, and put less stock in  “blood ties” than Han people do, so most of these abandoned children were adopted and raised by Uyghur families. It’s likely that many of the Han faces one encounters out here are formerly abandoned children. The number of formerly abandoned children is still quite high. When all the villages and townships started reporting the data to higher districts, the number was so high—and the vast majority were abandoned Han girls—that it became a scandal and topic of debate. They don’t publicize these cases anymore. [Chinese]

The “ethnic unity cases” referred to in the post, wherein Uyghur families adopted abandoned Han children, were once popular fodder for propaganda pieces. A headline from state-media outlet China News Service is a classic of the genre: “Elderly Uyghur Couple In Xinjiang Adopts Abandoned Han Girl: 20 Years Later, She’s A College Student.” The stories are undeniably moving. Now, recalling them is taboo.

Although it is unclear why this post was censored, there are two strong possibilities. The first is that the state’s campaign against Uyghur families, and women in particular, makes past propaganda lauding Uyghur families’ excellent parenting incongruous with current policies. During the crackdown in Xinjiang, many Uyghur children were removed from their parents and placed in Chinese-language boarding schools. Another possibility is that the post drew attention to the political forces that led to the abandonment of Han children in Xinjiang, namely the now discarded “One Child Policy.” Some families seeking to escape cruel restrictive policies like one Shandong county’s “Hundred Childless Days” campaign went to Xinjiang, where enforcement was comparatively lax, to try for more children. A traditional preference for male children led some parents to abandon female babies. Despite the abandonment of birth restrictions in favor of a “Three Child Policy,” the government has so far been unwilling to allow a public accounting of the lingering traumas of the past. The post may also simply have been censored for its final line, which noted government bureaus’ self-censorship on the topic of Uyghur adoptions of Han children.

The original Zhihu thread is still live and not all answers with a political edge were censored. One sardonic commenter answered, “You have a Pavlovian response to hearing the song ‘Declaration of the Chinese People.’” The song, which children across the region are forced to memorize, is a propaganda ballad extolling Xi Jinping’s core socialist values. “Engrave them in your mind, fuse them in your heart,” it commands them.

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