This is the last of three episodes in the #asiaforlifepodcast on the situation of Uyghurs, including how they are treated under China’s Family Planning Policy.
And please read/listen to the previous two episodes here:
Each week, I’ll be sharing at least one or two podcast episodes. And I’ll focus mainly on one topic per week. Next week, it will be on Planned Parenthood, and especially on Leana Wen, the former director of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. If you’ve kept up with pro-life news at all in the past year, you’ve definitely heard her name. And there’s been a lot of news about her since she was fired several weeks ago, very unexpectedly.
But I want to talk about Dr. Wen’s relationship with Planned Parenthood from a slightly different angle, with more focus on her heritage as a Chinese immigrant, and how I think she was too decent and reasonable—and possibly overqualified—for the role she was in, despite her best efforts to be the model pro-abortion advocate.
And since she’s originally from Shanghai, I’ll also talk about my own time in Shanghai, because my encounter with Planned Parenthood in Shanghai majorly impacted me, and motivated me to want to do pro-life work in East Asia.
But that will be next week. This week I’m focusing on Xinjiang, China’s northwesternmost province. If you don’t know much about Xinjiang, I made this little list of fun facts for you.
Fun Facts About Xinjiang
In my opinion, Xinjiang food is the best food in China. I know this is totally a matter of personal taste, but Xinjiang cuisine is really amazing. I so wish I could eat Uyghur food in Hong Kong, but I don’t know of any Uyghurs who live here.
- Xinjiang is the world’s largest exporter of tomatoes. If you’ve had ketchup recently, then at least some of it was probably from tomatoes from Xinjiang.
- A bunch of Chinese movies have done filming there, including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The Kite Runner was mainly filmed in the area around Kashgar, near the border with Afghanistan.
- Parts of Xinjiang are further from an ocean than anywhere else on Earth.
- Like everywhere else in China, Xinjiang officially runs on Beijing Standard Time. This would be the same as if California were using the same time as Washington, D.C. So, whenever they discuss time, or use times in an advertisement, or whatever, they have to mention both the official time, and the unofficial local time.
- Xinjiang is the size of Alaska.
- Like Alaska, Xinjiang has a lot of oil, and is useful as a security buffer with Russia.
- Just as America would never give up Alaska, China will definitely never give up Xinjiang, no matter what they have to do to keep it.
Something I found out this week that’s very strange—I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but it’s very strange—is that Xinjiang hosts some of the competitions each year for the International Army Games. (Wikipedia article in Russian only.)
So in case you’ve never heard of this, which I hadn’t until yesterday, the International Army Games were launched by the Russian government several years ago, to be the “Olympics” of army games. They have different competitions—at the same time—in a bunch of different countries. There are over 40 countries participating this year, with games in 10 different countries, all taking place this month, right now.
And Xinjiang hosts some of the games each year. And this is strange, I think, because it also feels like there is actual war going on in Xinjiang right now, against millions of its own citizens–especially the Uyghurs.
China’s persecution of Uyghurs happens outside the concentration camps too
More important than anything in the list above, Xinjiang is also home to the world’s largest network of concentration camps. That’s part of what we’ll be talking about today, as well as some of the many societal injustices people face there, whether or not they are in detention.
The main thing you’ll hear about in the media now is about the hundreds of thousands of men who are in detention. They cannot take care of their families while they’re in detention, and that causes all sorts of other problems, which leads to even more oppression.
But we should talk both about the detentions, and about the other kinds of oppression. They’re both important to understand.
- We’ll start with food and clothing. Persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang includes things like being coerced to eat pork and drink alcohol. They’re also coerced (or forced) to wear common clothes. Men shouldn’t wear traditional clothes, and women can’t cover too much of their skin. Some women claim to have been approached by plain clothes police with scissors, and their dresses were cut on the street.
- There’s the everyday experience of having to stop at police checkpoints to show ID. This happens whenever people walk outside to buy groceries or anything else. This is normal, everyday life. One trip to the grocery store can literally require several different ID checks.
- If you’re an Uyghur man and you want to walk to Burger King or KFC for lunch, it means you will be stopped and ID’ed, and possibly frisked and interrogated. And there’s a chance you’ll get detained, without explanation. You don’t see a lot of young men on the streets, because they’re either already detained, or they’re too scared to go outside.
While most people in the “vocational education and training centers” are Uyghur men, many women and children are also detained.
Women are also in danger of being abused by government workers outside of prison, especially the many whose husbands are in detention.
A state press report about these visits also confirms that in some cases, cadres are sent to the homes of members of the opposite sex.The danger of abuse is particularly high during these compulsory “Becoming Family” homestay programs, which often involves Han Chinese government officials in a dominating power relationship with Turkic Muslim families who are required to host them overnight. This makes women and girls particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse. [Human Rights Watch]
When the parents are in detention, or if the government believes the parents are a dangerous influence, then children are taken away from their homes and their schools, and they are sent to “child welfare guidance centers”.
The government has effectively created orphans, and so they had to create new orphanages, which have been built all over the province. Hopefully most of these children will be re-united with their parents, but a lot fo them won’t be. China is currently separating at least tens of thousands of families of Chinese citizens, because they are Uyghur Muslims. But nobody’s allowed to talk about it. Why?
For a lot of people in the West, they’re used to hearing horror stories about China from previous decades, with the idea that all the really awful stuff happened in the past, and things are better now. And I would say that’s generally true. Things are not as incredibly awful as they used to be. The international community has been helping China for decades, because of the suffering of China’s giant population.
And overall, things are better now. People are freer, nobody’s starving to death anymore, and they don’t rely on food aid to deal with crises caused by the government’s central planning policies. People aren’t punished for having extra money when they work hard and become moderately successful, at least not as much. People are free, more than at any time in the past several decades.
As far as the conditions of China’s “vocational education and training centers”, Uyghurs in detention are not given much food, and they’re punished when they don’t follow Han cultural norms. For example, they are punished with no food if they don’t say “Thank you” in Mandarin, or if they speak the Uyghur language.
But these are not the same as the old Russian gulags. They’re not the sort of concentration camps where the majority of people are gassed or intentionally starved to death. It’s appropriate to call them “detention centers”, because so many are put their against their will. And because of the political persecution that goes on their, and because of the scale, it’s appropriate to call them “concentration camps”. But if you feel that’s too dramatic, you can just call them “vocational education and training centers”.
China’s Forced Abortion Policy, Past and Present
I want to put this in context, both to understand how bad things really were in the past, and to understand how they’re bad now.
We’ll take this story from 1990 as an example. In the town of Baren, near Kashgar in Xinjiang, parents were trying to resist the forced abortion policy. After 250 women had their pregnancies forcibly aborted, hundreds of people went to the local Communist Party office to complain. The response was a military massacre. The military came in and shot hundreds of people. They even brought in helicopter gunfire. It was a terrorist attack by the Chinese government against its own people.
Another tragic part of this story is that the world knew that stuff like this happened. But everybody stayed quiet. And my guess is that it was because China had cheap labor, and the West didn’t want to risk losing access to China’s work force by complaining about government oppression.
Today, there are still a lot of injustices, including some forced abortions. Forced abortion is no longer common in China, as it was for decades. But there are certainly still coerced abortions, and certainly among Uyghur women.
One woman, Gulzia Mogdun, was told that her brother, an imam, would not be put in prison if she got an abortion. She got the abortion, and her brother still went to prison. She was kept under house arrest for months afterwards. And actually, I can’t even say “house arrest”. I guess China thinks it’s too much trouble to deal with accusations of “house arrest”, so instead they keep people under constant surveillance. You can call it “surveilled house arrest”.
Besides the other kinds of oppression, many thousands of women in detention are getting forcibly drugged, to ensure they’re not fertile while they’re forcibly detained. Honestly, if anything like this were happening anywhere in the West, the U.N. would respond in a clear and aggressive way, and if things didn’t change, there would be declarations of war. If France, or Canada, or America, or Spain—or even Russia or Turkey, which are definitely more authoritarian than the average country—were doing this stuff at this scale, there would be international outcry, sanctions, etc, at the very least. But, people in charge in the world have low moral expectations of China. It’s a great moral shame, which no nation is willing to address in a way that makes sense, given the enormity of the injustice.
The Response of Christians(?)
I haven’t found a lot of Christian leaders speaking out about this, and honestly, I don’t know what exactly anybody can do. It’s not like you can plan a mission trip, or send money or something. But I hope we will start to talk about it.
Jason Jones is a big name in the pro-life community, who has brought up the situation of the Uyghurs, and tried to do something. You can read some of his articles on the Stream.
In that second article, he talks some about the hypocrisy of some American leftists, who refer to “concentration camps” at America’s southern border. America’s “concentration camps” are places where immigration officers treat people at least as humanely as immigration officials in any other country would treat them under the same circumstances. These are places where they’re actually protecting people from human traffickers, who find every possible way to make money off of people’s suffering, as they look for a way into America. What’s at least as frustrating is that these same leftists ignore the actual concentration camps in China. It’s incredible that a handful of American politicians can use photo ops at the border to dominate the global conversation with their favorite fad political issue—which they have little or no intention of solving—and steal people’s attention away from the really urgent problems in the world.
I’m really glad someone was willing to point that out. Jason Jones is a gifted movie producer, and also a solid human rights activist who has worked with Muslim groups to try to encourage political leaders to respond to what’s happening in Xinjiang.
He has also pointed out some of the characteristics of a real concentration camp:
- Involuntary medication.
- Forced abortions.
- Forced sterilizations. And even
- Summary executions.
Most of these things are policy. They are not simply done by irresponsible officials breaking the rules. Except for rape, all of those things are the job of detention officers. So please don’t let people get away with trying to compare what people are suffering in Xinjiang with any of the injustices people suffer at the hands of any government in the West. It’s not even close to the same.
If you want to continue to follow what’s happening in Xinjiang, the best resource I know of is a blog called “art of life in Chinese Central Asia”, which is at livingotherwise.com/blog.
Darren Byler has done a lot of important research to help the English-speaking world understand the plight of the Uyghurs, and it’s a good place to start to learn more about what’s really going on there, and how hard the Chinese government is working to keep the whole world silent and confused about their treatment of the Uyghur Chinese population. That’s livingotherwise.com.
My only other request in closing is that you pray for Xinjiang, and for all the people living there, and for all the people who are affected in some way by China’s policies towards the Uyghurs. There’s a lot more I could say about the situation, and about why the Chinese government thinks this is all a good idea, but you can find more research and commentary elsewhere.