Life and death under China’s control
Alongside advanced AI technology, China has engaged millions of Han Chinese cadres as human spies with the task of living in with Uyghur families to monitor and thereby control people’s thoughts and lives. How far is China prepared to go in its systematic control and brainwashing of the people of East Turkestan? And what happens to those who refuse to submit? In her essay the Uyghur human rights activist, Rukiye Turdush, explores these questions by highlighting several people’s diverging experiences.
“What does the future hold for the people of East Turkistan?” I ask myself this question every day, and I fear the day when the oppressed people of East Turkestan have lost their will to resistance — when there is no chance of resistance against brutal treatment and no escape is possible.
It is not secret anymore that China’s dominance and control is not limited to forced re-education or concentration camps where 1-3 million people have been sent to be brainwashed, tortured or possibly killed, or forced labor camps and prisons. Fully implemented digital espionage and state surveillance is also a scary part of China’s total control in East Turkistan. However, Chinese oppressors are not solely relying on artificial intelligence technology such as face and voice recognition cameras and mandatory installation of spy apps on people’s phones in order to control the people of East Turkistan. Inconceivable as it may seem, they have sent millions of Han Chinese cadres as human spies to sleep over in Muslims’ homes to create a psychological dominance. Generating psychological dependency, destroying the sense of autonomy of each individual by creating a “no chance of resistance or escape” environment left only one way for these oppressed: transforming into ethnic Han Chinese with absolute loyalty and obedience to China with slavery minds, if not, you will be tortured or killed, you will have no chance to resist, escape or even die.
Is this coercive program intended to destroy the national soul of the Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslims? How will it affect the people of East Turkistan, when these intentions are translated into inconceivably brutal measures?
If China’s ultimate goal was to destroy the national souls of the oppressed and if it had succeeded through so called “re-education”: brainwashing in concentration camps, why have those who were arrested not been released once the “brainwash” was completed? What is happening to the people who are not good candidates for brainwashing and are considered to be resilient? What is happening to the people who are physically or mentally not fit for labour? Are they still alive? Or have they been murdered already, or are they being continuously exterminated and their physical existence destroyed? Anything could be possible. Almost all of the Uyghur intellectuals and many others are sent directly to prison from concentration camp. Already, two well-known Uyghur scholars, Tashpolat Teyip and medical doctor Halmurat Ghopur, have been sentenced to death within two years. Obviously, intellectuals and educated Uyghurs are not good candidates for such brainwashing. At the same time, an explanation could be that China’s values and ideology are not superior enough to succeed over those intellectuals and many other Uyghurs who have a deep understanding of their own nation’s values and religious ideology.
Moreover, the loyalty of people is about the psychological state of love and pride, “instilling loyalty to China” with force, humiliation, degradation, and dominance only created hate and obedience out of fear. It is hard to say since absolute loyalty and forever obedience is possible by imposing coercively, even though, China seems to achieved total dominance over these people.
Umide, a 28-year-old Uyghur women whose real identity is undisclosed due to concerns for her safety, accepts my phone interview. She was recently released from a concentration camp and believes the main reason for her release was her ability to show obedience to China during her detention. Her foreign national husband's home country's consulate also played a vital role in rescuing her. She said: “I was tortured with electric shocks because I could not sing the Chinese red songs properly on the first day in the camp. Later I was locked up alone at night in a small, very dark and cold cage. I heard a lot of human screaming coming from hell that night. At that time, I thought I was dead and had gone to hell. When they allowed me to out of the cage, I could not think of anything except how to sing those Chinese songs perfectly. In spite of my chest being filled with hate and disgust over these songs.”
China posted so many propaganda videos with Uyghurs praising the Chinese communist party, all these videos can only prove forced obedience out of fear since these people are living under “no chance of resistance or escape” conditions. Most of Tik Tok videos posted by Chinese individuals about the Uyghurs’ life also reveal the fear and helplessness of the Uyghurs. For example, the Chinese human spies sent to the Uyghurs’ and other ethnic Muslims’ homes take pride in what they do and believe that it gives them a good opportunity to gain confidence by dominating others. By contrast, the oppressed feel a psychological dependency, as they have no other route of escaping. I analyzed dozens of TikTok videos posted by Han Chinese cadres while they were mandatorily staying in Uyghur homes – many are homes in which the man of the household had been arrested and the woman of the household had been left alone with young kids. These Han Chinese cadres supervise what Uyghurs eat, what they wear, even what they think, and score them accordingly. Sadly, pleasing these spies, seems to be a way in which to get a good score or a possible guarantee of not being sent to the concentration camps. In those videos I have seen the mask of ignorance in the Uyghur faces created by helplessness, due to this unbelievable degree of privacy violation. I was shocked when I saw in one of the TikTok videos, two Han Chinese man sleeping in the same bed between a Uyghur couple. The Uyghur husband was smiling happily in the video. The wife was looking nervous, wearing her coat, covered tight with a blanket and holding her baby. No human being can accept such a humiliation. However, it is apparent that under the “no chance of resistance or escape” conditions, the expectation of a temporary reprieve from being killed or arrested or the expectation of any small mercy may have undermined this couple’s physical resistance more than their fear and humiliation.
Like many other Uyghurs, I was disappointed and surprised when I saw some of the Uyghur women displaying a happy smile in their wedding photos with Han Chinese men. It has been never common – until the last two years – for Uyghur women to marry Han Chinese men, when China started to incarcerate Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslims in concentration camps. Seemingly, not only the Han Chinese government but also their Han Chinese citizens are increasingly succeeding in their day-to-day domination of the Uyghur populations’ physical and mental autonomy. Similar to their government, they have become a source of fear and dominance, and they can degrade and insult the Uyghurs. But there is also an expectation among the Uyghurs that the Han Chinese government and its citizens can be a source of mercy, despite the fact that they have “absolutely no mercy,” as Xi Jinping was quoted declaring in a speech leaked and published in the New York Times. Not losing children to an orphanage camp or being sent to a concentration camp are compelling reasons to appease the Han Chinese, for the Uyghurs are seriously threatened with both these things all the time. One of the Uyghur women who married a Han Chinese man verbally attacked the Uyghurs in her TikTok video, saying: “I married a Chinese guy because Han Chinese are better than the Uyghurs. They are not bad people like the Uyghur, who deserve re-education camps! You guys end up in re-education camps today! And I will not end up in a re-education camp, unlike you.” Did she truly mean what she said or she is trying to take out her anger and rage on her own people? It seems clear to me that she hated herself as a member of an oppressed group, as her confidence and pride had been completely destroyed. As a consequence, she was directing her anger and self-hate towards her own nation – the easy target, instead of against the Han Chinese, and was searching for mercy from the Chinese dominant power.
In conclusion, creating “no chance of resistance or escape” conditions cannot successfully destroy the national morale of the Uyghurs since not everyone is frightened. It might work for those who are uneducated about their own political value, identity, and history and for people who are less religious or for those without the love that strongly attaches them to someone, as mental emptiness easily creates a vacuum of despair. These people may have trouble understanding the need to protect their human sense of independence and they can lose their capacity for inner self-protection and hope. Still, even these people can’t be loyal to China since their obedience only comes from fear. Many Uyghurs and other Muslims may lose themselves as the whole population is totally disconnected from the outside world and also from their spiritual values. Only the hope that stems from being connected to God’s power and justice, hope that the outside world can defend justice against evil, a strong mental connection to their loved ones and a strong wish to be united with them may be what keep them alive. A few weeks ago, I saw a YouTube video posted by a young Taiwanese man who had visited East Turkistan. In his video, he told viewers that one of the Uyghur men he got the chance to speak to secretly in Kashgar held his hand and burst into tears and said: “We thought the world didn’t know, that no one knows what is happening to us; I thought we were totally forgotten.”
American Uyghur Ferket Jawdet’s mother, who was secretly interviewed by the New York Times last month when she was released from China’s concentration camp due to her son’s nonstop campaign in the United States, told her son when the Chinese government sent her a death threat to prevent her from releasing the interview: “I’ve been through everything. I have seen everything. I don’t worry about anything anymore.” What makes her such a brave woman? It could be everything: mental agony against the inhuman treatment, her hopes and her connection to the outside world through her son.
Abdurehim Parac, a Uyghur man who is currently living in Istanbul, Turkey, lost his whole family. His wife, father and brother were arrested by the Chinese government when he left in 2015. His eldest daughter, 10 years old, was taken away by two Chinese officials with the excuse of boarding school and never came back after her mother was arrested. Two of his young boys, aged 5 and 6, ran away from home to search for their mother; one was killed in a car accident in the street and the other disappeared. When his wife was arrested, the 9-month-old baby was forcibly kept from breast-feeding and left alone at home to die. No one dared to enter their home to help. Parac’s close friend, who informed Parac about his family tragedy, was arrested right after his phone conversation with Parac. Recently, Parac learned that his wife was killed in a concentration camp in 2018. When I asked him how he could still stay strong under such tremendous mental pressure, he told me: “I believe in God and I have to be alive to see the day when China faces the consequences of what they have done to millions of families like mine.”
Yes, he is right. China may succeed by totally dominating, enslaving, or even exterminating the Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslims in East Turkistan, as they are too powerful today. But they will pay the price one day and face the consequences of what they have done to innocent civilians in East Turkistan. And we need the global world to take action for the people of East Turkistan to save their national morale which is gradually weakening as well as physical existence. It is not enough merely to express empathy.