• Angel Truong

China's Oppression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang: A Historical Timeline

Updated: Nov 30, 2020

Amid the many nationally and globally upheavals that are taking over the news, the suffocating tension between the Uyghurs minority and China has not been receiving as much attention from the public and media as it should have.

The Uyghurs is a largely Muslim Turkic ethnic group, with its own language and culture. For centuries, Uyghurs have lived in a vast region, located in the northwest of China. Happen to reside in a resource-rich territory, the Uyghurs have faced numerous conflicts and pressure from Chinese tribes, imperial dynasties, and leaders over the control of the region. In the 19th century, the province was given its current name, Xinjiang. Xinjiang is home to the largest population of Uyghurs, roughly about 12 million.

The tensions between this Turkic-speaking Muslim group and its host country is unsettled until today. According to data reports from leading researchers and human rights groups, the Chinese state violations on human rights against Uyghurs still continues. An investigation by ABC News using news research from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has identified 28 detention camp facilities in Xinjiang for Uyghurs and documented their continuous expansions since 2017 (abc.net.au). Besides the large-scale subjugation, there are well-evidenced suspense over China forcing birth control to suppress the population of Uyghurs.


Illustrations by: Lutpulla (codastory.com)

1949 - Declaration of the People's Republic of China.

During the Chinese civil war in the 1940s, Xinjiang experienced a short period of autonomy and was known as East Turkestan. On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong declared the creation of the People's Republic of China and brought Xinjiang under its control.

1954 - the People's Republic of China designated the Uyghurs as one of China's official ethnic minorities.

1955 - the People's Republic of China given autonomy to the Xinjiang Uyghurs' region.

In reality, the Uyghurs were given little or no political power.

1966 - The Communist Party's cultural revolution.

Mao wanted to revive the Communist revolution and eliminate any remnants of capitalism and traditional life in China. He called upon the Communist Red Guards to attack "old ideas, old culture, old habits, old customs."

In Xinjiang, mosques were either destroyed and turned into Communist Party buildings. Religious scripts and Uyghur-language textbooks were deemed anti-revolutionary, so they were either burnt or confiscated. The life of Uyghurs was turned upside down.

After 1976 - "Reform and Opening."

Deng Xiaoping, Mao's successor, led a policy called "reform and opening" which gave space for the Uyghurs to explore their religion and revive their culture. Islamic ideology and mosques were soon to be seen in Xinjiang.

During this period, political protests were common. Some were calling for independence of the Uyghurs, while some were openly protesting against the Communist Party. Several riots erupted between the Uyghurs and the Chinese police, and demonstrations soon turned to massacre.

After 2001 - Uyghurs being mistaken as a terrorism threat.

Follow the 9/11 terrorist attack, warning its people that Uyghur separatism attempts and religious extremism posed a terrorist threat, China views the region as “an incubator of terrorism” and has responded with reinforcements and expansions in its local security forces and surveillance control (abc.net.au).

Illustrations by: Lutpulla (codastory.com)

2009 - Riots in Urumqi.

In late June 2009, a fight broke out between Uyghurs and Han (the dominant ethnic group in China) workers in a factory. The two groups have had a history of tensions over the availability of employment and pay gaps. Resulted in mostly Uyghurs getting hurt in the fight, a group of Uyghurs took the streets of Urumqi to protest. Clashes between protesters, Han people, and the police escalated into violence that resulted in a high number of deaths and stronger tensions between the Han and Uyghurs.

2014 - "People's War on Terror" policy launched.

Following a number of violent incidents, since the 2009 riots, including suicide attacks, bombings, and murders, Xi Jinping launched the policy "People's War on Terror."

2015 - "In the name of counter-terrorism."

By 2015, the government enforced and tightened a massive surveillance network, including millions of cameras and tracking technology, across the region as well as placed restrictions on freedom of expression and religion. Xinjiang residents were required to submit biometric information, such as iris scans, blood samples, DNA, and more, to the authorities for identity verification. Police checkpoints were distributed and positioned everywhere.

Illustrations by: Lutpulla (codastory.com)

2017 - 2020 - "Re-education" Camps.

As the crackdown intensified, authorities started to arrest Uyghurs when they carried out any deemed potential "extremist" behaviors - making trips or phone calls abroad, wearing a Hijab, or keeping Islamic books in the household, etc...

The infringement on human rights went as far as confiscating Uyghurs' passports.

Initially, the Chinese authorities denied the existence of concentration camps; however, they later indirectly admitted the camps' presence when referring to them as "vocational training centers" that intended to "re-educate" Xinjiang's Muslim population after a report from the UN. In recent years, data reports, satellite images, and drone footages have captured those camps and the estimated hundreds of imprisoned Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang.

2020: Rebranding Xinjiang.

Today, Xinjiang is heavily promoted as a tourist attraction. Under tight control, images and video footages from this region often show Uyghurs dancing happily for visitors. Last summer, the Chinese government claimed that "most people" are released. However, human rights groups believed as many as 1.5 million Uyghurs remain detained. According to a report published in March 2020, Uyghurs are transferred to global brands' factories and made to work forcefully.




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