2 days ago
“My parents have warned me my whole life: comply with the Chinese regime, don’t say anything against the party.” Frustrated, angry and unable to speak out for fear of reprisals, one Uighur has bravely done the next best thing – talk to someone who can. He has helped me formulate the following narrative and for the safety of him and his family, I will refer to him only as X. The treatment of Uighurs reported by Western media is shocking; the treatment of Uighurs reported by Uighurs themselves is harrowing. Cultural genocide is occurring and it’s time the world woke up to it.
For thousands of years, the Uighurs have lived in the area known to them as East Turkestan, but to others as the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China. Since the 18th Century takeover by the Chinese Manchu Empire, however, Uighurs have been lobbying for independence. Despite three periods of victory in 1864, 1933 and 1944, the struggle for liberty has been extremely tough and ultimately unsuccessful. With the creation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, clampdowns became far more frequent and since 2017, the systematic erasure of Uighur culture and identity has increased dramatically.
The life of the Uighur language, for example, is now limited. While X himself – and his parents and grandparents – had the opportunity to be educated in Uighur-speaking schools, the new generation no longer have this chance. From 2010 up until 2017, only Uighur literature was taught using the Uighur language; now, however, both primary and secondary schools within the region are obliged to teach completely in Chinese. There is no longer any Uighur spoken or taught in schools. Children currently at school will grow up with barely any knowledge of their ethnic language; future generations might not even know it existed at all. Lose a language and you lose meaning and true understanding of your history, culture and people. Lose the Uighur language and you lose the Uighurs. This is what I mean when I say cultural genocide: by killing the culture – of which language is the main element – you kill the people’s identity. They will no longer be Uighur, but simply Chinese.