The history of mankind is fraught with racial, religious, and political conflicts, sowing the seeds of hatred and violence. Today's Xinjiang is experiencing oppression by the authoritarian government. Yet for many Chinese people, memories of Xinjiang remain in the 支边 (support the infrastructure construction of the border areas) years.
The Chinese media’s portrayal of “violent conflicts in Xinjiang” is mostly for propaganda purposes. Propaganda works surprisingly well: To date, many Han Chinese believe Uyghurs are intrinsically more violent and treat the Chinese government’s mass detention with apathy.
But recently, reports on the Xinjiang re-education camps have surfaced in Western media, and the human rights abuses in Xinjiang have received much broader attention from the international community.
Yesterday, Turkey, which is friendly to the Chinese government, also issued a statement condemning China’s policy towards its ethnic minorities. The Muslim world has not paid much attention to the Xinjiang issue in the past. Perhaps the statement by Turkey will create a domino-like chain reaction in Muslim countries.
The (unconfirmed) death of Uyghur musician, poet and philosopher Heyit is heart wrenching. (Update: China Radio International’s Turkey Service later posted a video apparently dated 2/10 on its website showing he is still alive and “under investigation”.) For many Uyghurs, Heyit is the conscience and prophet of the nation, who uses music to capture the trembling of the souls of Uyghurs.
In 2017, he was sentenced to eight years in prison. He was officially regarded as an “Islamic extremist” and was punished for writing nostalgic songs cherishing the era of his ancestors. History is precisely what China is eager to obliterate from the collective memory of the Uyghurs. However, the life and story of Heyit is widely circulated across the Muslim world.
Chile experienced a US-backed military coup in 1973. The singer-activist Victor Jara was brutally murdered at the Chile stadium. In 2018, 45 years later, those responsible for Victor’s death were sentenced to prison. Human rights groups in Chile have not given up their efforts to hold the murderers accountable. Another example is the life and story of the Jamaican singer-activist Bob Marley, who died from cancer at the young age of 36.
Heyit is not alone. CCP’s most egregious human rights violations take free thinkers as targets, such as Mr. Wei Jingsheng. Fang Lizhi, Liu Binyan, and Wang Ruowang were expelled from the party, but they could take comfort in people’s respect and support, especially toward the end of their lives. Liu Xiaobo was imprisoned by and lost his life to CCP. Yet the essence of his spirit embodied in his work was circulated around the world. His name has become a cultural symbol and a constant reminder that the world must hold China accountable for human rights violations. His power and influence may be something the CCP didn’t expect.
I have been following the death of the Taiwansese-American journalist Chiang Nan. There are still many mysteries surrounding his death, and some of them may remain unsolved forever. But history is very clear on one thing: by killing Chiang Nan, the KMT itself also took a bullet: the murder and its repercussions took a direct toll on the KMT’s authoritarian governance system.
And what about the journalist Khashoggi killed in Saudi Arabia? Western politicians and the Saudi murderers tried to sweep it under the rug, but what they could not escape is the observant gaze of history.