Dee Knight: Eyewitness Xinjiang

We are pleased to republish below the second of Dee Knight’s reports from his recent visit to China (we posted the first instalment last week).

This article focuses specifically on the trips to Xinjiang’s two largest cities – Urumqi and Kashgar – where the group aimed to deepen their understanding of the region, particularly in light of the slanderous accusations routinely hurled by the Western media about putative human rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslim population.

Describing the group’s trip to Urumqi’s main bazaar, Dee observes that Uyghurs and Han Chinese can be seen “mixing, mingling and melding nonchalantly while shopping and doing business.” Meanwhile, contrary to the claims of cultural genocide, “street signs and advertisements typically appeared in both Chinese characters and Uyghur script.”

Dee addresses the claim that the Chinese government uses ‘concentration camps’ to indoctrinate Uyghurs and to destroy their cultural identity. He explains: “Such facilities were set up by the government to provide under-employed Uyghurs with vocational skills, recreational activities, medical services and other benefits. Most have included dormitories, where people who lived far from the center could stay during the week, and return home on weekends.” He describes meeting a 21-year-old Uyghur woman “who spoke near-perfect English” which she had learned precisely in one of these supposed ‘concentration camps’. “The training gave her the skill she needs to earn a living in the bazaar, where other members of her family also work.”

The author further discusses China’s policy in relation to minorities and religion, and notes that none of the accusations levelled at China about suppression of religious freedoms in Xinjiang are borne out by either statistics or observation. The Uyghur birth rate has been steadily rising at a far faster rate than that of Han Chinese; Uyghur life expectancy has increased from 31 years in 1949 to 72 currently; Xinjiang, like the rest of China, enjoys near-100 percent literacy; and there are a huge number of mosques in Xinjiang, which are very well maintained.

Dee concludes:

More westerners need to come and see for themselves. That may be the best way to disprove the official government and media slanders. It could also help to build people-to-people friendship. We found nothing but friendliness everywhere we visited. People were pleased when we tried to communicate in Chinese, and also pleasant and patient to communicate with us however possible. The Chinese people are definitely not our enemy, and their government is doing a very good job serving and protecting them. It really is time for the US government to try harder to make friends with China, and help forge common prosperity and a shared future.

Dee Knight is a veteran of the US peace and socialist movements, and is a member of the International Committee of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and of the Friends of Socialist China advisory group.

This article was first published in LA Progressive on 19 November 2023.

As US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping prepare to meet this week at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in San Francisco, the question arises whether Biden will pull back from spurious claims of “genocide” and “forced labor” against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, China’s economically dynamic far western province.

Xinjiang, China’s far western province, has borders with Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It is China’s Belt and Road portal to all these countries.

On a ten-day visit to China in early November with the theme that “China Is Not Our Enemy,” I had an opportunity to visit Xinjiang’s two major cities – Urumqi and Kashgar – hoping to see the situation up close. There have been horrific claims by US officials and the mainstream media of severe repression of Xinjiang’s Muslim Uyghur population. While these claims have recently been “walked back,” or reduced to claims of “cultural genocide” according to a YouTube report by Cyrus Janssen, our delegation wanted to see for ourselves. (The “cultural genocide” claim relates to the fact that Mandarin Chinese is a required subject in Xinjiang’s schools, while the Uyghur language is an elective.)

Xinjiang’s Surprises

No matter what you might expect from Xinjiang, it’s full of surprises – mostly very pleasant. After a five-hour flight from Beijing, Urumqi, the capital, appears like a valley oasis emerging as the rugged and craggy (and very high) Tianshan mountains loom nearby. This city of 4 million (of whom over half are Uyghurs and smaller percentages are Hui and Khazak), is a market center serving as a portal to Central Asia on the western edge of China’s famous Belt and Road. It buzzes with activity, especially near the wholesale markets where traders come to order all kinds of consumer products from everywhere, but mainly either from local artisans or from China’s manufacturing centers in the east and southeast of the country. We took advantage of wholesale prices to get a coat and hat suitable for the chilly autumn weather, and an extra piece of luggage to manage our tourist acquisitions.

China’s State Council on October 31 announced a plan to build a Xinjiang Free Trade Zone, including the regional capital of Urumqi, Kashgar prefecture and Horgos. It is the first such zone in China’s northwest border region and the 22nd pilot Free Trade Zone in China.

While shopping for beautiful silk scarves in the main bazaar, we were served by a 21-year-old Uyghur woman who spoke near-perfect English. She told us she learned it in a 10-month course in a government-sponsored training center. The training gave her the skill she needs to earn a living in the bazaar, where other members of her family also work.

Continue reading Dee Knight: Eyewitness Xinjiang

Aymeric Monville: Report back from Xinjiang

We are very pleased to publish below the report by the progressive French academic Aymeric Monville of his recent (August 2023) trip to Xinjiang. The report responds directly to the obscene anti-Chinese propaganda that has been raging for several years in the Western media regarding ostensible human rights abuses against China’s Uyghur population.

Aymeric describes his visits, along with the writer Maxime Vivas, to Kashgar, Urumqi and assorted villages. The picture he paints is dramatically different from the stereotype found in the Western media of a dystopian nightmare characterised by brutal repression and cultural genocide.

Arriving at the Kashgar bazaar in the middle of the night, I found it to be a profusion of light, joy, song and happy people in the streets. In particular, the sight of young women on scooters, their hair blowing in the wind, gave me an impression of great freedom.

He notes that, if the whole thing had been somehow staged for his benefit, it would have been a remarkable feat of organisation: “an absolute record for a Hollywood production involving literally thousands of people”.

Of particular note is the account of a visit to a de-radicalisation centre – what would be described in the Western media as a “concentration camp”:

In fact, it was a school where young people who had not committed any crimes but had been influenced by jihadism were taught not only Mandarin so that they could integrate into Chinese society, but also the constitution and a trade. They can play sport, winning table tennis competitions for example, and can go home at weekends. Recognising the basic characters 图书馆, I realise that this is the school library and ask to enter. I also asked to be shown books in Uyghur as well as Mandarin, which was done. I was also assured that the pupils’ Muslim faith is respected and I have no reason to doubt this.

The report includes an interesting discussion of the Uyghur language – its origins, widespread use, and connection to Uyghur culture – as well as various observations on the everyday activities and living conditions of the Uyghur people. There is no evidence of any “cultural genocide”; indeed massive efforts are made to protect the diverse cultures of the region. Monville points out that, if religious fundamentalist separatists were allowed to succeed in their aims, this cultural diversity would come under serious threat: “We can be sure that Uyghur culture in all its diversity, like that of the other ethnic groups living in the region, would have been very much at risk of eradication.”

The report is highly recommended reading for anyone interested in the truth about Xinjiang. We hope it will be widely disseminated.

Aymeric Monville, born in France in 1977, is the author of several philosophical and political essays. In English, he has just published “Neocapitalism according to Michel Clouscard” (foreword by Gabriel Rockhill). He is deeply involved in the fight against anti-Chinese propaganda, and has published essays in France such as “The Ramblings of the Antichinese in France” and “China without Blinkers”.

I am back from Xinjiang, where I spent several days in the company of the writer Maxime Vivas, some of whose books I have had the honour of publishing. We visited Kashgar, a town close to the Afghan border with a 92 percent Uyghur population; then Urumqi, the capital with a population of over 2 million; and finally the new town of Shihezi, developed in the 1950s by the bingtuan (兵团), peasant-soldiers sent by Mao Zedong to develop pioneer areas so as not to have to compete with the local population for water in this semi-desert region. Not forgetting a diversion to sublime Lake Tianchi, to the east of the Celestial Mountains.

Xinjiang has around 25 million inhabitants in an area three times the size of France, but only 9.7 percent of the territory is inhabitable, so I think that this visit to the major urban centres and the main roads used to reach them gives me a sufficiently representative overview to be able to talk about this region with more authority than many French journalists who have never been there, certainly not recently, and particularly since the slander campaign orchestrated by Mike Pompeo and the CIA from 2019.

It was my first visit, and the third for Maxime Vivas.

Having long understood that the campaign about the alleged “genocide of the Uyghurs”, the “genocide in progress” (according tothe French daily Libération) or the “cultural genocide”, the forced sterilisation of women and so on, which has even been voted on by the French National Assembly, is nothing more than a copy and paste of the same campaign that took place ten or fifteen years earlier on Tibet, I was obviously expecting to meet many Uyghurs living in perfectly decent conditions. Nevertheless, I was struck by the relative prosperity of this remote region of China. Arriving at the Kashgar bazaar in the middle of the night, a few hours late, I found it to be a profusion of light, joy, song and happy people in the streets. In particular, the sight of young women on scooters, their hair blowing in the wind, gave me an impression of great freedom and made me think of what their fate would be on the other side of the Afghan border, where they would lose all their rights. We asked people in the street to pose for photos with us. Everyone, including the women, happily participated.

Continue reading Aymeric Monville: Report back from Xinjiang

Summit links biodiversity with culture

The following article, published in China Daily, summarizes the proceedings of a Nature and Culture summit held during the 15th meeting of the United Nations’ Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity, held in Montreal on 11-12 December 2022. The article is particularly interesting for the points it makes regarding the role of minority groups in protecting the environment and promoting a harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature.

Huang Runqiu, China’s Minister of Ecology and Environment, and the president of COP15, “stressed the importance of cultural diversity, especially the experience and knowledge from minority groups.” Huang also highlighted the importance of fully respecting and protecting traditional cultures around the world, appreciating and making use of their understanding of biodiversity protection and encouraging the transmission of this understanding from generation to generation.

The article contrasts this approach with the colonial powers’ record of land grabs, intellectual property restrictions and profiteering. Indigenous Canadian activist and academic Priscilla Settee, professor emeritus at the University of Saskatchewan, told the meeting that “we need to get our history right. We need to acknowledge the centuries of colonialism … based in global imperialism through land grabs. We need to take a critical look at international free trade agreements that I call bills of rights for the rich and powerful.”

A global dialogue on strengthening the links between nature and cultures to achieve a sustainable and ecological civilization also highlighted the achievements and actions taken by China.

Officials, experts and nongovernmental organization (NGO) members gathered at a Nature and Culture summit during the 15th meeting of the United Nations’ Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Dec 11-12, in support of the implementation of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF).

In his opening remarks, Huang Runqiu, the Chinese minister of ecology and environment and the president of COP15, stressed the importance of cultural diversity, especially the experience and knowledge from minority groups.

The relationship between nature and culture is vibrant, said Huang. Culture is deeply intertwined with the natural world. Chinese culture contains a clear concept of harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature, he said.

For example, Yunnan province, where the first phase of the COP15 meeting was held, is home to 26 traditional ethnic groups and 15 unique minority groups, forming a series of traditional ecological cultures such as the Hani Terrace Culture, Naxi Dongba Culture, Dai Long Mountain Culture, and Tibetan Holy Land Culture.

Their worldviews, cultural values and identities are closely connected to nature, as per their saying, “Humans and nature are half-brothers”.

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The Hezhe people and the protection of national minorities in China

The below article is republished from China Daily. Its particular interest lies in its depiction of the life of the Hezhe people who live in China’s northeastern Heilongjiang province. (The Hezhe people also live in Russia’s Siberia where they are known as Nanai.)

The Hezhe are described as one of the smallest ethnic groups in China. According to the 2020 national census, they numbered just 5,373 people. Yet, despite the despicable calumnies spread about the supposed oppression of minority nationalities in China, rightly derided as the ‘lie of the century’, the fact that even a nationality of just a few thousand people has its national rights, culture and way of life fully guaranteed (including with representation in the National People’s Congress) shows the extensive democracy practiced by China, as with other socialist countries, when it comes to the national question. The contrast with the long history of suppression and oppression practiced over centuries by the British state against the languages and cultures of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and the Isle of Man, by the French state towards Breton, Basque, Corsican and Occitan, and with the genocide of indigenous peoples by settler colonists in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, or of the Ainu and Ryukyu peoples at the hands of the Japanese state, could scarcely be clearer.

Wearing traditional grand ethnic costumes, You Mingfen and her fellow villagers watched a live broadcast of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in the early hours of Sunday, the opening day of the ongoing event.

“We were encouraged to hear the achievements mentioned by Xi Jinping and felt proud of the great changes in our hometown in the past decade,” said You, 57, owner of a rural homestay in Bacha village of Bacha Hezhe township in Tongjiang, Heilongjiang province.

“It also resonated with me when he said the Party must ensure and improve the people’s well-being in the course of pursuing development and encourage everyone to work hard together to meet the people’s aspirations for a better life.”

Bacha, a distinctive village with ethnic minority elements, has a population of 513, including 364 Hezhe people.

The Hezhe people are one of the smallest ethnic groups in China, numbering just 5,373, according to the 2020 national census.

They mainly live in several counties by the Songhua, Heilong and Wusuli rivers in Heilongjiang, where they have long depended on fish for survival.

Since 2016, the tourism industry in Bacha village has been booming, with annual per capita income increasing from about 16,100 yuan ($2,200) to 25,600 yuan. The village has received more than 60,000 tourists, bringing its net tourism revenue to 3 million yuan.

Tourists can feast on a variety of fish and buy unique ornaments made from fish skin and bones.

“The Hezhe people are hospitable, and we usually offer the talaha (grilled raw fish) to our distinguished guests,” said You.

“Fresh fish is grilled medium-rare and then cut into thin slices. People eat it dipped in salt,” she said. “The dish can only be made from wild carp.”

The family also has a fishing boat, with which You’s husband can get the freshest wild fish.

You and her husband started their business in 2018 in their two-story house, providing three rooms and distinguished Hezhe catering for guests from across the country.

“The busiest season lasts from May to October, which can bring us more than 50,000 yuan a year,” she said. “In the winter, we can stay in a warm room enjoying the leisure time that was unimaginable before.”

The better life has inspired more young villagers to return to their hometown, including You Hao.

You Hao (not related to You Mingfen), 32, became a civil servant in Tongjiang after graduating from Harbin University of Commerce in 2013.

“I am a Hezhe native born in Bacha, and I was really happy to see the great change in my hometown,” he said. “When I knew the village urgently needed young talent to support the development of its tourism industry, I decided to return in August 2018.”

He was appointed deputy village Party secretary in charge of the establishment and management of the village’s collective tourism company.

“We are striving to improve infrastructure to better serve tourists,” he said. “Tourists can experience the most original rural life and flavor, which has attracted visitors from different cities in the province, as well as from the provinces of Guangdong, Sichuan and Hebei.”

With government support, Bacha made efforts to change its appearance, including renovating roads, greening and installing street lamps. So far, there are 33 homestays and three restaurants in the village.

In 2018, the company attracted an investment of 11 million yuan from a Beijing company for two sightseeing cruises.

“Tourists from all over the country came and stayed here longer,” said You Hao. “Around 200 villagers are directly involved in the tourism industry, bringing them more income.”

In late 2016, a cooperative was founded in the village, focusing on Hezhe ethnic fish-skin artwork, including paintings and various ornaments, and now has attracted 53 members from the village as well as nearby villages.

“We invited experienced folk craftsmen to give lessons to all the members, helping them create unique ornaments as well as pass on our cultural heritage,” said Wang Haizhu, 45, president of the cooperative. “The ornaments are welcomed by tourists, bringing us an annual income of more than 100,000 yuan.”

Wang and her members also tried to promote their ornaments via livestreaming, which also boosted sales volume and cultural promotion.

“We have so much intangible cultural heritage to be proud of,” she said. “It is the responsibility of all Hezhe people to keep the culture booming in future generations.”