This week’s #asiaforlifepodcast is about some of the life-and-death issues in Xinjiang, China.
This article was written in conjunction with the podcast episode, “Xinjiang—Doctor Imprisoned for Treating a Bullet Wound”. I introduce the sorts of problems that the Uyghur ethnic group is facing at the hands of the government, and share a story at the end about a retired doctor who was given an 8-year prison sentence for helping a victim of a police shooting.
In the podcast, I made a mistake about the number of people arrested in Xinjiang, so had to edit out part of one sentence. To clarify, based on Chinese government data from 2017, I estimate that Uyghurs were arrested at roughly 30 times the rate of others. Although the arrest figures are lower now, Uyghurs are still being heavily coerced—and frequently forced—to live in “vocational education and training centers”.
I’ve recently started the Asia for Life Podcast, and I’m still playing around with the structure of it. But I’ll be sharing at least 1 or 2 podcast episodes each week. I’m also still trying to decide whether it’s feasible to add accompanying articles for each episode on asiaforlife.com. I’m not sure yet. The format will probably evolve during the coming months. But I’ll do my best to give you valuable content, and welcome your feedback.
I’m in Hong Kong, and so obviously the #1 thing on everybody’s mind here right now is the political situation in Hong Kong. Is it just going to be a tug-of-war that’s never actually resolved? Will the Chinese military publicly step in? Will the Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, step down? Will Hong Kong ever get universal suffrage?
Those are the questions being asked in Hong Kong and around the world. I don’t know the answer to any of them, and I’m actually not going to cover them here.
What I hope to do with the Asia for Life Podcast series is to discuss things that other people aren’t really talking about, and especially to discuss issues that are relevant to the pro-life movement. That will mainly include the typical beginning and end-of-life issues, like abortion and euthanasia. And more broadly, it will include adoption, foster care, orphan care, family separation, drugs, divorce, the death penalty, war, etc. And typically I’ll be discussing them in the context of some place in East Asia.
“Pro-Life” essentially means that you’re “Anti-Unjust Killing”
But the main point of being pro-life is to be against murder—against the unjust killing of other human beings. And that’s what Asia for Life is about—saving lives, and encouraging people not to take life.
So today, even though I’d like to share about what’s happening in Hong Kong, I decided to talk about an issue that I think is even more important—and even more politically important for China—and which the world is mostly not paying much attention to.
I’m going to talk about the situation of Xinjiang. Xinjiang is the province in the far northwest of China, and it borders 9 countries, including Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. You’ve probably seen at least one news headline about Xinjiang in the past few months. During the past year, I think there’s been more news coverage about Xinjiang than ever before. But if you don’t know what’s happening there, you should read about it.
Instead of trying to summarize the situation for you, I’m going to read how others have summarized it. And I’ll link to a Google Doc below, that contains a list of articles about all the ways that China is oppressing people who live in Xinjiang. These news articles are from 2017 to 2019.
What’s happening in Xinjiang is important for a lot of reasons. But I’m not so concerned about the political implications for China and the rest of the world. I’m simply concerned that the people in Xinjiang are being oppressed, tortured, brainwashed, unjustly imprisoned, and often killed. I’m concerned about it simply because they’re human people. They’re normal people who are trying to live their lives and make a living for their families. And in the process of trying to live normal lives, they’re being imprisoned and killed at a rate far higher than anywhere in China.
I didn’t know how to tie in a conversation about Xinjiang with pro-life issues exactly. But in the process of uncovering every other kind of oppression, I was sure I’d find instances of forced abortion, coerced abortion, etc. And I have. But I’m not going to start by talking about a tragic story of a forced abortion, or a typical “pro-life issue” that we typically talk about in the pro-life movement.
However, I will share a story at the end, that gives an idea of how extreme China’s violence and disregard for life can be. Even while it sometimes seems that they’re honestly trying to be peaceful, restrained, and understanding, they’re still willing to shed a lot of innocent blood.
A summary of the summaries of research on China’s “concentration camps”
Here is the long list of articles for further reading.
I’ll also link to just a small handful of the articles below:
This first resource in the list actually contains an even bigger list. It currently has 567 pages of references to published materials about China’s concentration camps (Note: 567 pages is really long for a bibliography!)
Next, there are these:
👉Statement by Concerned Scholars on China’s Mass Detention of Turkic Minorities, Nov. 26, 2018 [https://perma.cc/T47F-BYV7] (open for signature)
👉Twitter account of Concerned Scholars of Xinjiang: @XJscholars
👉Database of detention camps (Australian Strategic Policy Institute)
👉Xinjiang Victims Database
This database has 5,086 testimonies. They’re mostly submitted by the family members of people who are in the re-education centers, under house arrest, or dead. There would be a lot more testimonies, if not for the risk involved in sharing publicly. The vast majority of Uyghurs will not share their stories, because of how their family and friends will be persecuted if they don’t stay silent.
Here are some more (of a multitude) of carefully researched papers:
👉Brainwashing, Police Guards and Coercive Internment: Evidence from Chinese Government Documents about the Nature and Extent of Xinjiang’s “Vocational Training Internment Camps”
👉Surveillance in China’s Xinjiang Region: Ethnic Sorting, Coercion, and Inducement
You can also read non-academic editorials, like this one co-authored by Sam Brownback:
👉China’s attack on Uighurs isn’t counterterrorism. It’s ugly repression, Washington Post, May 22, 2019 [https://perma.cc/XL8F-2PQ4]
I’ll list just several more research articles, or else I’ll never stop:
👉Human Rights Watch, China’s Algorithms of Repression, May 1, 2019 [https://perma.cc/9KZP-L3HU] [中文版]
👉Patrick Poon, Families of missing Uighurs terrified to search for their loved ones, Amnesty International, March 31, 2019 [https://perma.cc/V6DP-5BJL]
👉List of Uyghur Intellectuals Imprisoned in China from 2016 (last updated Nov. 14, 2018) [compiled by Tahir Hamut & Abuweli Ayup]
👉Criminal Arrests in Xinjiang Account for 21% of China’s Total in 2017, China Human Rights Defenders, July 18, 2018 [https://perma.cc/M6M6-GH82]
Even the high rate of 21% could be misleading. The vast majority of arrests are of Uyghurs, who make up less than half of Xinjiang’s population. (And Xinjiang has only 1.8% of China’s population). My ballpark estimate is that Uyghurs were arrested at roughly 30 times the rate of other Chinese people in 2017.
👉Darren Byler, Ghost World — In northwest China, the state is using technology to pioneer a new form of terror capitalism, Logic, no. 7, 2019 [https://perma.cc/PCM5-A8S7]
👉Darren Byler, Violent Paternalism: On the Banality of Uyghur Unfreedom, The Asia-Pacific Journal, vol. 16, issue 24, no. 4 (Dec. 15, 2018) [https://perma.cc/BQT2-YP3Y] [PDF version]
That last article, On the Banality of Uyghur Unfreedom, is particularly sad. Violence against a person doesn’t require a loud explosion or lots of blood. The control of the Uyghur people is systematic and constant, involving literally every action they take during the day. Reading about the myriad of little ways that people are controlled, their relationships undermined, and their consciences overridden, is sometimes more heartbreaking than the more obvious ways that are usually highlighted in the news.
It’s all terrible. It’s like reading reports about North Korea, or about what took place during China’s Cultural Revolution. Except it’s aimed specifically at the Uyghur people group.
It’s also different because China has better technology now. They’re able to use all their new tools to be even more totalitarian.
I’m not saying that what’s happening in Xinjiang now is as bad as the Cultural Revolution was 50 years ago. That was actually worse, for people all over China. Clearly, compared with then, and compared with much of its history, China is doing better today. And the Chinese government is doing better than it was 50 years ago.
But in today’s world, there is no people being oppressed by their government as harshly as the Uyghurs are. North Korea might be an exception. Even with all the injustices—the torture, rape, and systematic brainwashing of inmates in Xinjiang re-education centers—they don’t face starvation and malnutrition. So in that very narrow sense, it might not be as bad as North Korea.
Uyghur Veterinarian Imprisoned for Treating a Bullet Wound
To wrap up, I’m going to share about a story that happened in 2014. It’s not related to the re-education centers that have been built in the past few years. But it’s also important to remember that these “vocational education and training centers” are not the core of the problem. The repressive violence has been China’s policy for many years now.
The story comes from Shache County, in a remote part of Xinjiang. At the end of Ramadan in 2014, 40 women were arrested for wearing overly traditional Muslim clothing. It’s illegal for Chinese Muslim women to cover their heads, but they thought they could do it anyway.
There was a protest over their arrest, and the protest turned violent. The police responded by killing nearly 100 people, according to their official statement. The number may have been much higher. But nobody knows, because the area was put on lockdown, with all internet and phone communication shut down.
One young man had a bullet in his leg, and he needed medical help. Someone helped him get to a veterinarian, who removed the bullet. If he hadn’t, the man probably would have needed an amputation. And he was afraid to go to the hospital, because they would have assumed he was present during the massacre, and he most likely would have been arrested.
The veterinarian, Dr. Haliq Mahmut, helped the young man, possibly saving his life, and certainly saving his leg. Because of his act of generosity, this doctor is now serving an 8-year prison sentence. He’s 65 years old, he’s married, and he has five kids. He had recently retired from his job and started his own private practice at his house.
He probably wanted to spend more time with his family. But that’s impossible now, as it is for hundreds of thousands of Uyghur men.
This isn’t the worst story in Xinjiang, or the greatest injustice that anybody has faced there. But it does show the lengths to which Chinese authorities will go, to punish people who are on the wrong side, in any way.
I don’t have any idea how to close an episode about this kind of tragic situation, except to ask people to pray for the region of Xinjiang. I have been praying for Xinjiang for the past 20 years, and believe God really cares about this region. It’s one of the most oppressed places on Earth today, and it’s not okay. So let’s pray.