The author is anonymous — the Chinese authorities are very efficient at finding and harassing the family and friends of people who speak out — so that is understandable. The author is clearly well-acquainted with the civil rights struggle in the United States and applies some lessons of that to China. Many of her points reminds me of Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel The Invisible Man about a college-educated black man’s struggle to get ahead in a racist society that refused to see him as a human being.
This article, appeared in the Chinese language online publication The Initium, reminds me of Ran Yunfei’s article 2008: Ran Yunfei: “Where Will the Fear End? A Talk that Could Not Be Delivered”.
The U.S. over the past seventy years or so has more actively addressed racism at the legal, governmental and social levels against its citizens who are members of minority groups and even a majority group (women). As a result of this history, filled with both successes and failures, many Americans have become more sensitive to failings in other countries, which like the USA are all too human. And talk about them, being frank and of course with the American missionary impulse and dare I say sometimes ignorance and arrogance in the mix.
Criticism hurts, especially when it is accurate. We hear again and again from the Chinese Communist Party how one or another criticism coming from an American or a US government official has hurt the feelings of the Chinese people. All 1.4 billion of them of course. Examples (the Party keeps a loooong list: 2009: Behind the Hurt Feelings of the Chinese People — A Threat to the Regime
This sort of analysis is much resented by China’s ruling Communist Party which interprets it as a plot to divide China into many parts especially since the 8% of PRC citizens who belong to minority groups such as Tibetans and Uighurs are the majority in much of the western two-thirds of China. See for example 2021: PRC Party United Front Department Critique of US Human Rights Discourse on Xinjiang.
When the Lockdowns End for the Han Chinese, Will They Still Remember the Uighurs in the Camps? — Confessions of a Han Chinese Woman
At that moment I felt like a white man at a white rally shouting ‘Black Lives Matter’ and or a man at women’s rally shouting for women’s rights.
December 3, 2022
“As a woman I have no country? The name of this new column is based on Virginia Woolf’s quote “As a woman I have no country”, but we have kept it as a question mark, hoping to explore the relationship between women and their country with you, and to listen to the stories and experiences of women in separation. I am the editor of this column, Yvonne Fu. This is the first article of “No Country for Women? This is the first article from a Han Chinese woman, reflecting on the position of Han Chinese and women in the struggle from the recent Chinese protest and solidarity activities.
During the lockdown protests, I attended a candlelight vigil abroad to commemorate the victims of the Urumqi fires. Afterwards I felt very guilty and angry. That night I felt more than ever that I am a ‘white’ Chinese person. Of course, I understand that such a protest in China is not easy and should be praised and cherished. However I do think that this protest, which was ignited by the Urumqi fire and spread from the streets of Shanghai to the world, is not radical and is not in solidarity until the slogan “Free the Uyghurs” is shouted, no matter if people do shout hundreds times for” “Xi Jinping Step Down” and the “Communist Party step down”.
A Memorial Service Symbolic Yet Not Real
The memorial service I went to was very similar to many of the overseas memorial services I’ve seen online. It was a tribute to the victims of the Urumqi fire to show support for the protest movement in China. There was a good turnout and people brought candles, flowers and white paper. At the event, people shouted the slogans of Sitong Bridge and the slogan of “Step down, dictator” in righteous anger. However, among the candles, white papers and flowers, there were more opposition to local Big Brotherism 反封建 , anti-totalitarianism and freedom slogans, with only a few pictures of the victims.
Among the crowds shouting for the dead to rest in peace, I wonder how many knew whom they were mourning, how many knew that all of the victims were Uyghurs, how many knew that the family of five that had died (Ed. note: one Uyghur mother and her four children died in the fire), the father and oldest son in the family had gone to a concentration camp back in 2017?
Of course, this lack of knowledge about the identity of the victims is first and foremost due to the Chinese government’s disclosing the victims only as mere numbers and its failure to disclose their identities. In China, it is considered a crime to go and collect information about the deceased. But as people who come to mourn, can they not, within their means, gather some existing information online to pay serious tribute? Instead of only expressing our mourning through protest slogans, why can’t we do that? The deceased Uyghurs have become mere symbols in this memorial service and protest against totalitarianism and for freedom.
It’s hard to describe the shame I felt at that moment and how uncomfortable I felt standing there.
I am in no position to make accusations against the other protesters or the organizers because I am also one of those who took the Uighur dead to be mere symbols. In all the days of anger over the Urumqi fire tragedy, and in all the days of excitement over the mass protests in the country, I never took a moment to find out just who the victims were. Before I went to the demonstration, I only thought of bringing white paper. I never even thought of bringing a printout of the photos of the deceased. Only shortly before the memorial service that it occurred to me that I didn’t know whom we were mourning. I looked them up on the Internet and realized that all the people who died were Uighurs. It was only through Abduweli Ayup, a Uyghur blogger, that I first learned about what happened to the man and the eldest son of this family of five.
The Urumqi victims were not just victims of the same closure policy as the Guizhou bus victims. These Uighur victims in Urumqi were victims of a policy of ethnic cleansing.
It was also then that I realized my discomfort with the many campaign posters and slogans shouted out about our “compatriots”. How could the Han Chinese retain their self-respect while pretending to be compatriots of the Uighurs? After so many years of ignoring the painful ethnic cleansing of their compatriots, most Han Chinese started to shout about “compatriots” but for the cause of their own freedom. As another Uyghur blogger, Nyrola, asked, “The Han Chinese can move on after the lockdowns end, but what about the Uyghurs who have been unjustly imprisoned in concentration camps and prisons for the past five years? Who will end their lockdowns?” Yes, when the epidemic prevention policy in China is relaxed, and when the Han Chinese step outside the fences surrounding their apartments, will they still remember their Uighur “compatriots” in the camps?
I made up my mind on the road to shout the slogan “Close the camps” at the memorial service. I realized that an event in the name of mourning Uyghurs would be inhumane if I did not speak out for the Uyghurs. In the tide of shame that overwhelmed me, I mustered up the courage to shout it as many times as I could. The crowd shouted with me. I also shared the story of the family of five I knew, and there were expressions of outrage.
I shouted “Close the camps!” but that didn’t make me feel any better. That night, I didn’t know anything about the other victims, other than that family of five, and I didn’t know their names. I still don’t know who the people I mourned were. The totalitarian government‘s control is based on dehumanization. Now however, even protests against totalitarianism also use the dead as slogans and symbols of protest. It is also a fact that because no specific person mourned, and no Uighur is visible, that such anti-totalitarian protests actually encourage and even foster Han ethno-centrism and oppression of Uighurs.
I shouted ‘Close the camps!’ but that did not make me feel any better. It would not have been right to fail to raise your voice, to fail to shout these slogans. But I didn’t feel right as a Han Chinese shouting “Close the Camps!” at an event where there were no Uighur voices. I had an indescribable sense of pseudo-goodness. At that moment I felt like a white man at a white rally shouting Black Lives Matter or a man at a male rally shouting for women’s rights.
At that moment, I finally came face to face with a fact that I had been avoiding: as a Han Chinese woman, as a feminist who had always been oppressed, I had never considered myself privileged in China. I considered myself an oppressed person. But there is no denying that as a Han Chinese, as a Han Chinese who knew about the Uighur tragedies in the past but who did not care more and speak out more, I am a privileged person. I am a persecutor.
The Violence of Unity
A few days ago, I saw on the Internet a widely-distributed manifesto against separatism in China. I heard many people say that different political demands should be acknowledged. They probably are saying this in the sense of seeking common ground while reserving differences. I disagree very much with such a view. In my opinion, it is not simply the case that if we all oppose totalitarian rule, then we will necessarily not have internal division and that we will be able to build solidarity.
In particular, the aspirations of the Han and the Uyghurs cannot be seen as merely different political aspirations. Such a statement creates the illusion of equality between Han and Uyghurs and obscures the oppressive power relationship between Han and Uyghurs.
A few days ago I saw Chenchen Zhang blogger share her friend’s very true comment : “Han people’s solidarity with Xinjiang has to be built based on this realization”. Only by acknowledging this Han-centric oppression, only by acknowledging this division, can there be true unity. The solidarity that is being made in harmony, and the solidarity that many people are talking about nowadays, is a solidarity that the Han people are manufacturing to serve their own demands and interests.
Since this movement began, I myself have encountered a lot of ethno-centrism (mostly from men) overseas. Many protesters have been brave enough to chant slogans like ‘Xi Jinping step down’ and ‘Communist Party step down’, but are very opposed to the East Turkistan flag — (Translator’s note: Xinjiang independence movement flag). Many even openly made imperialist, anti-secession declarations. This is not an isolated case. A friend of mine even attended an event and spent the whole evening arguing with an anti-secessionist man.
Under such circumstances, we can’t just say that some people just have different political aspirations. We must admit that the political aspirations of many Han Chinese are oppressive political aspirations. Here, I am not just referring to the openly anti-secessionist Han supremacists. I think the bigger problem with the movement is that while it acknowledges the oppression of the Uighurs, but intentionally or unintentionally, ignores it in the movement. Such behavior is a more insidious but more dangerous form of violence.
Many people are aware of the situation in Xinjiang and support the demands of the Uyghurs. But the problem is that, unconsciously, many Han Chinese feel that the closure of the camps should only be a demand of the Uighurs. After I called for the closure of the camps several times in a row, I was asked if I was from Xinjiang.
This question was well-intention but behind the question lies the subconscious awareness that only Xinjiang people care about Xinjiang.
I have also heard it argued that speaking out for the Uyghurs is important because the Uyghur present is the the Han Chinese future and so speaking out for the Uyghurs is also speaking out for oneself. Such a view is useful as a political mobilization strategy, but is also very problematic. The subtext is that the Han speak for the freedom of the Han and the Uyghurs speak for the freedom of the Uyghurs, and only when the fate of the Uyghurs is at stake would the Uyghurs speak out for the fate of the Han. Most people still focus on cursing the dictatorship and the lockdowns. The problems of the Uyghurs are actually marginalized.
Here I have to stress that to the Han Chinese, the freedom and human rights of the Uyghurs should not be a secondary demand of this movement. It should be a principle demand of this movement. In the 1970s, a black women ‘s rights organization in the United States, the Combahee River Collective, said, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression. : Black women are at the very bottom of the pyramid of oppression created by imperialism. Only when black women are free can all people be free. Only then would the systems of oppression have been completely destroyed.
Conversely, no one else’s freedom in the upper echelons of black women can bring about black women’s freedom, or worse, white women’s freedom, for example, may well still be based on the oppression of black women.
By the same token, today in China, it must be recognized that this regime, this country, this concept of the so-called Chinese nation is based on the oppression of minority groups, including the Uyghurs. If Han Chinese protesters today believe that everyone should be equal and free, then they should shout the slogan ‘Free the Uyghurs’. If they stop at being opposed to local leaders acting like feudal lords or at fighting for the freedom of the Han Chinese themselves, then such freedom still contains within itself the oppression of the minorities. Under such circumstances, I think there is no such thing as disagreeing, no way to seek common ground while reserving differences in opinion. That is because these demands are not “differences of opinion” among equals. No, they are instead a relationship between oppressors and the oppressed.
When the Chinese Communist Party itself first started the revolution, it also aimed at “a great liberation for everyone”, but in the face of so-called different demands, it proposed that class liberation was the main kind of liberation, and that other demands, such as women’s liberation, would be realized over the course of class liberation. History and lived experience in the real work inform us that this has not been the case. If the anti-totalitarian protests continue to be characterized by the predominance of the majority or even the violence of the majority against the minority, then even if the movement, if victorious, is likely to result merely the replacement of the old oppressive regime with another repressive regime.
There has never been a “Chinese” or “us”. Instead of standing with the Chinese, the movement should stand with the Uighurs, with all the minorities in Xinjiang, and with the most oppressed.
Seeing a Real, Specific Person
The anger that shouts “Communist Party step down, Xi Jinping step down” is simple, valuable, and brave. But it needs to go further. If you can only see the Communist Party and Xi Jinping, then this kind of anger is cheap. Many people have shared their emotions at rallies. I am touched by the courage of the people who took to the streets in China, and I am touched by the supporters from overseas, but I do not see a future in such emotional displays.
As a feminist, this is not the first time I feel this way. I have in my mind the passionate anger in the Tangshan beatings and the Xuzhou woman in chains incident. Such anger is valuable, but what happened afterwards? Do these men realize that this kind of gender violence, which makes them angry, has the same root as sexual harassment, which is very common in everyday life? Do they realize that they themselves are the vested interests and even the persecutors of a patriarchal society? How far can one go in targeting the anger of the abusive individual without going after the underlying social and cultural structures?
Think of all the inspiring anti-colonial nationalist struggles around the world in the early 20th century. Has the world changed for the better now? Are the people of the world free? Nationalism is the ghost of imperialism. For feminists, treating Xi Jinping and the Communist Party as the enemies may be a short-term strategic and tactic. However treating Xi Jinping and the Communist Party as the ultimate enemy is short-sighted and wrong. We have bigger fish to fry.
So I think that in these and possible future protests, one should stop looking only at China or the country, stop asking what the future of this country is going to be, and stop basing one’s demands on the present nation-state. We must see people, we must see actual living-and-breathing people. Ask what kind of movement and revolution will make people free and equal. Seeing real living-and-breathing people is the weapon that defeats dehumanizing regimes and cultures. Seeing real people should also be the ultimate goal of the movement. Seeing the specific, seeing the different people involved is the basis of true solidarity.
As a Han Chinese feminist, I am well aware of the brutal tactics of this regime. Even for Han Chinese outside of China, attending any such mourning rallies would be risky. This article is not meant to deny the oppression and suffering of ordinary Han Chinese, nor is it meant to deny the righteousness and courage of ordinary people taking to the streets at home and abroad (especially in China), nor is it meant to make everyone charge the pagoda (ed. note: put their heads on the chopping block). We have heard too much about the abuse and beatings of detained protesters in China. Many have not been heard from since or have disappeared. It’s just that both now and after the movement is in full swing, I think it’s important to reflect on the movement and see the power issues that exist within it.
For those overseas protesters who are already bravely chanting “Down with the Xi Jinping and the Communist Party” and for those accounts that provide slogans for protesters, please add “Close the Xinjiang concentration camps” to your demands. For others, if you can’t come forward, please start seeing real people and not abstractions. Start by learning about the Uyghur victims in Urumqi, learn their names and their stories. Because of the powerful propaganda machine, many Han Chinese in China do not know or even acknowledge the existence of the Xinjiang concentration camps. If more people come together to see real, specific people, perhaps they can help counteract this information black hole.
If you cannot speak out publicly for the Uyghurs, please at least pay attention to Xinjiang and to the Uyghurs. There have been many media reports about Uyghurs’ experiences and stories, and these are easily searchable. There are also two websites, Xinjiang Victims Database and Xinjiang Documentation Project, where you can see individual stories. If the protest is being held as a tribute, please take it seriously and ask Uyghurs and other minority groups who are willing to speak out to do so. The November 29th New York rally did a good job of this.
Slogans, symbols and political demands are not as important as individual experiences and stories. Please listen more to the stories and voices of Uyghurs. Pay more attention to other minority groups. Listen to their voices.
“I see it, I am paying attention”
Since returning from the memorial service, I have tried to find the names of some of the victims that I know of so far.
A family of five – living on the 19th floor
1) Mum: Kamarnisahan Abdulrahman (based on CNN)
HAIERNISHAHAN ABUDUREHEMAN (based on a tweet by Abduweli Ayup)
2) Shehide, 13 years old
3) Imran, aged 11
4) Abdurrahman, 9 years old
5) Nehdiye, 5 years old
The father and the eldest son are currently in a concentration camp in Xinjiang. According to CNN, the father’s name is Ali Matniyaz and the son’s name is Yiliyas Abudulrahman; according to an Abduweli Ayup tweet, the father’s name is Eli Metniyaz and the son’s name is Ilyas Eli.
The family, which currently has daughter Sharapat Mohamad Ali and son Mohamad in Turkey, is speaking out through overseas media and asking people to listen to their voices.
Elzat Eziz, age 14; and his sister, age 21, name unknown
Gulbahar and her two children
As to the number of victims, officials say ten, but the most I’ve seen so far says more than 40. In the grip of China’s violence machine, you may be limited in what you can do as an individual. The day after the fire, a 24-year-old surnamed Su from the Shuimogou district of Urumuqi City, Xinjiang, was administratively detained for questioning the death toll. But at the very least we should keep paying attention. We should pay attention to any possible information about those who died, continue to pay attention to the case of the detained person surnamed Su, continue to listen to the voices of the families of the deceased, and continue to pay attention to the Uyghurs who survived the fire.
A few days ago I read another article on the internet that called on Han Chinese to pay attention to the Xinjiang issue (since the article I saw has no link but a text repost, I don’t know the source, so I can’t quote it accurately, I’m sorry). I was touched by it and would like to share it with you here.
“You don’t have to write a heartfelt confession. You don’t have to write something that is completely free from mistakes. All we want is to be seen. We have been invisible for so long. Being seen can actually improve the situation of at least some victims. So all you have to say is, I see, I am paying attention. That’s good enough. Will we meet one day where there is no darkness? I don’t know, and to be honest I don’t really care. All I care about is that today, right now, we see each other’s glow from a distance. We can see one another another.”
I see. I am paying attention.
那一刻我感覺自己是一個身處白人集會高喊 Black Lives Matter 的白人，是一個身處男性集會高呼女權的男人。
「女人沒有國家？」是端傳媒新開設的專欄，名字源於伍爾芙的一句話「As a woman I have no country」，但我們保留了一個問號，希望能從問號出發，與你探討女性和國家的關係，聆聽離散中的女性故事和女性經驗。我是這個欄目的編輯符雨欣。這是「女人沒有國家？」的第一篇，來自一名漢族女性，從最近的中國抗議聲援活動中，反思漢族、女性在抗爭中的位置。
封控抗議潮期間，我在國外參加了一個悼念烏魯木齊大火死難者的燭光晚會，結束後整個人卻陷入在深深的愧疚和憤怒情緒中，因為在那個晚上，我無比深切感受到，作為一名漢人，我是一名中國白人。我當然明白在中國能有這樣的抗議行為是非常不容易的、應該讚許和珍惜的，但我更認為，這場由烏魯木齊大火點燃的、從上海街頭蔓延到世界的抗議活動，在沒有喊出 Free Uyghur 的口號前，即便喊一百遍習近平和共產黨下台，也是不激進的，是沒有團結可言的。
我沒有什麼立場去指責別的抗議者和組織者，因為我也是符號化維吾爾逝者的一員。在為烏魯木齊火災慘案憤怒的那些天裏，在為國內群起的反抗活動振奮的那些天裏，我從來沒有一刻去主動了解，遇難的到底是誰。來之前，我只想着帶白紙，都沒想着把逝者照片打印帶過來。也是在追悼會前不久，我才想到我不知道悼念的人是誰，上網查找才知道所有遇難的人都是維吾爾人。是在 Abduweli Ayup 這位維吾爾博主那裏，我才第一次知道那一家五口的男主人和大兒子的遭遇。
也是在那時，我才意識到我對於許多活動海報和口號喊「同胞」的不適。漢人有什麼臉去做維吾爾人的同胞？這麼多年來，大多數漢人對同胞種族清洗的慘痛遭遇不聞不問，這時候為了自己的自由，開始喊「同胞」了。就像另一位維吾爾博主Nyrola質問的那樣，「解封後漢人可以 move on，但過去五年集中營和冤獄裏的維吾爾人呢？誰給他們解封？」是啊，當國內的防疫政策有所鬆動，當漢人走出封控的圍欄時，是否還會記得在集中營裏的維吾爾「同胞」？
我喊了關閉集中營，但是這並沒有使我好受一些。不去發聲、不去喊這些口號是不對的。但在沒有維吾爾人聲音的那場活動裏，我作為漢人喊「關閉集中營」，也沒有感覺很對。我有一種難以言喻的僞善感。那一刻我感覺自己是一個身處白人集會高喊 Black Lives Matter 的白人，是一個身處男性集會高呼女權的男人。
前幾天我看到 Chenchen Zhang 博主分享她朋友的評論，說得很對。「China is a Han supremacist state. Han people‘s solidarity with Xinjiang has to be built based on this realization」。只有承認這種漢族中心主義的壓迫、只有承認這種分化，才有真正的團結可言。和稀泥的團結，以及現在很多人說的團結，是漢人拿自己的訴求和利益強行創造的團結，嚴厲一點說，這甚至是以團結為名的暴力。
在這裏，我要強調，對漢人而言，維吾爾人的自由和人權，不應該是這場運動的次要訴求，而是這場運動的主要訴求。美國70年代有個黑人女權組織 Combahee River Collective 就曾發表：「If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.」 ——在帝國主義所創造的壓迫金字塔的最底端，是黑人女性，只有黑人女性自由了所有的人才會自由。只有在這樣的情況下，壓迫的系統才被徹底摧毀。
想想20世紀初全世界那些振奮人心的反殖民的民族主義鬥爭。到現在，這個世界變好了嗎？世界人民自由了嗎？民族主義是帝國主義的幽靈（Nationalism is the ghost of imperialism）. 對於女權主義者來說，把習近平和共產黨當作是敵人可以是一種短期戰略戰術，但是把習近平和共產黨當作終極敵人是短視的和錯誤的。我們有應該有更深遠的目標（We have bigger fish to fry）.
1）媽媽：Kamarnisahan Abdulrahman （根據CNN）；
HAIERNISHAHAN ABUDUREHEMAN（根據Abduweli Ayup推文）
2） Shehide, 13歲
3） Imran， 11歲
4） Abdurrahman ,9歲
5） Nehdiye, 5歲
父親和大兒子目前在新疆集中營。根據CNN，父親名字是 Ali Matniyaz，兒子名字是 Yiliyas Abudulrahman；根據 Abduweli Ayup 推文，父親名字是 Eli Metniyaz，兒子名字是 Ilyas Eli。
目前這家人中還有女兒 Sharapat Mohamad Ali 和兒子 Mohamad 在土耳其，他們正在通過海外媒體發聲，請大家去聽他們的聲音。
前幾天我在網上看到的另一篇呼籲漢人關注新疆問題的文章（因為看到的文章沒有鏈接只有文字轉發，所以不知道出處，無法準確引用，十分抱歉），結尾引用了維吾爾博主 Humar Issac 的《面對新疆危機，一個2020年的普通人可以做些什麼》文章中的一段話。我深受觸動，也希望在這裏分享給大家：
「你不需要寫一段情真意切的告白，不需要寫得從極左到極右都挑不出毛病。我們所求不過就是「被看見」而已，因為我們被看不見太久了，也因為「被看見」是能夠真實地改善至少個別受害者的處境的。所以你只需要說，我看見了，我看着呢，這就已經 good enough. 我們會在沒有黑暗的地方相見嗎？我不知道，說實話我也並不真的在乎。我只關心今天、當下，我們遙遙望見彼此的螢火，彼此看見。」