China's Oppression of Uyghur Culture
Uyghur is a native culture, primarily practiced within Northwest China, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region. A large portion of Uyghur are Muslim and share cultural affiliation to Central and East Asian values despite the culture originating from the Turkish. Since 2017, China has oppressed the practice of Uyghur culture by placing its followers in internment camps, taking their families hostage, and practices of ethnocide such as compulsory cultural assimilation and sterilization. The associated crimes that China used to justify their conduct included citizens who have traveled abroad, have family abroad, and anyone who commits acts of extremism.
The rooted discriminatory and targeted behavior against the Uyghurs stems from the apparent threat of extremism associated with previous “independence movements and occasional outbursts of violence” (Maizland 2021). China has attributed blame for the terrorist attacks to “a separatist group founded by militants,” known as East Turkestan Islamic Movement. This is a controversial connection because the United States has removed the group from possible terrorist attacks as they hypothesize that the group has been inactive for about a decade. This thin-lined connection is stretched further as China correlates the events that occurred on September 11th, 2001 towards the Uyghurs and associates their culture with part of the Global War on Terrorism.
The catalyst or climax for China’s behavior would most likely originate from the 2009 riot that had broken out in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, in which citizens had advocated against state encouragement of specific races along with both economic and cultural discrimination. The protest left almost 200 people dead and resulted in followers of the Uyghur faith being seen as possible terrorists or extremists. This paranoia extends to the association of the Uyghur religion being the blame “for attacks at a local government office, train station, and open-air market, as well as Tiananmen Square.”
The totality of distraughtness, insecurity, fear, and paranoia allowed the current president of China, President Xi Jinping, to utilize more authoritarian methods to eliminate subjective definitions of extremism and establish justification for radical practices of eliminating potential threats. For example, in 2017, surveillance in the region was increased through the “surrender of passports and mandatory GPS trackers in cars” (Hunt et al. 2017 ). They also initiated a prohibition for “wearing or forcing others to wear full face coverings… hyping up religious fanaticism through growing beards or choosing names in an abnormal way… [and] publishing, downloading or reading articles, publications and audio-video material containing extremist material.” These are all very subjective and targeted conditions that were implemented by the Chinese government.
Despite the Chinese government recognizing Buddhism, Catholicism, Taoism, Islam, and Protestantism, they seek to Sinicize religion with the aspirations of preventing separatism. In order to secure Chinese cultural customs and national security, the Chinese government has implemented training camps. The training camps were described by officials as “training centers to teach Chinese language, jobs skills, and the law to support economic development and combat extremism” (Lawless, 2021) However in multiple reports, there have been large accusations of repeated abuse to the prisoners in the forms of “torture, rape, forced labor, and involuntary abortion and sterilization in state-run facilities” (Turkel and Schaack, 2021). China rejects the notion that the “training camps” they have is a violation of human rights despite the various reports and statements from former detainees, prisoners, family members of prisoners, and anonymous sources.
Despite all the various forms of oppression, not all Xinjiang citizens under the Uyghur belief are comfortable with the situation. In an interview with CNN, a 30 year old Uyghur woman stated “she hasn’t felt discriminated- either in the Chinese school she attended or in her job as a nurse” (Hunt et al. 2017). Regardless of this, multiple states such as the United States, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Canada have all declared that China’s policies towards the Uyghur amount to an act of genocide and a violation of human rights. With multiple states recognizing China’s behavior to be acts of genocide, it is their responsibility to address the violation of human rights as agreed upon in the The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The convention establishes the need for collective action in response to genocide by state actors and stresses on prioritizing human rights over state sovereignty, however the response by the states can vary.
[Content Warning: For first person accounts and narratives, here is a document to read, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/27/world/asia/xinjiang-china-crackdown.html.]
Hunt Katie et al. Why China is banning beards and veils in Xinjiang, CNN March 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/03/31/asia/china-xinjiang-new-rules/index.html
Lawless Jill, UK ‘people’s tribunal’ hears claims China abused Uyghurs, AP News, June 2021, https://apnews.com/article/europe-china-government-and-politics-fd19b109674aa8770083c069a5daadd4
Maizland Lindsay, China’s Repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, Council on Foreign Relations, March 2021, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-repression-uyghurs-xinjiang
OpIndia Staff, ‘Mandarin only’ China removes Uyghur language as medium of instruction in Xinjiang, February 2021, https://www.opindia.com/2021/02/china-xinjiang-province-uyghur-language-students-not-allowed-mandarin-only/
Ramzy Austin, ‘They Have My Sister’: As Uyghurs Speak Out, China Targets Their Families, New York Times, July 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/27/world/asia/xinjiang-china-crackdown.html
Turkey Nury, Schaack Van Beth, What America Owes the Uyghurs A Plan for Stopping China’s Genocide, Foreign Affairs, July 2021, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2021-07-16/what-america-owes-uyghurs
Uyghur Muqam of Xinjiang, UNESCO, https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/uyghur-muqam-of-xinjiang-00109