As Yalies sipped cocktails in Beijing and snapped photos of the Great Wall this summer, the Uyghurs — a Muslim ethnic minority — faced genocidal policies within the same country.
Uyghurs primarily live in the region of Xinjiang, an autonomous region in western China. The Chinese government’s routine oppression of the Uyghurs due to their predominantly Muslim background has sparked repeated revolts throughout the past few decades. As a result, the Chinese Communist Party has radically transformed Xinjiang into a dystopian state. Surveillance cameras monitor every move with facial recognition software while livelihoods are ranked and restricted based on obedience. In addition, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders reported that about 21 percent of all arrests made in China were done in Xinjiang, a region that comprises a mere 1.5 percent of China’s population.
Most alarmingly, recent reports have shown that about 1,000,000 Uyghurs have been locked away in “political re-education” camps. In addition, 100 percent of men in certain Uyghurian townships are being detained, tactics eerily similar to those of the Srebrenica massacre and the Holocaust, tactics that attempt to destroy families to create long-lasting, intergenerational anguish.
I’ve written about my own people’s ongoing oppression before, specifically “DOLMA: Communist Manifest-no” in December 2017, but I felt compelled to write about the Uyghurs since it is crucial for us to speak up for those who are not being heard, for those who are being stifled.
Chinese imperialism does not end with Uyghurs and Tibetans. China strategically loaned $8 billion for the building of Sri Lankan ports in 2015, knowing that this vulnerable country would default on the loan. Sri Lanka was then forced to relinquish its port to China, granting them territory in the Indian Ocean that furthered China’s expansionist hopes. I wish I could end there, but China has also begun heavily lending in African and Central American countries.
Unfortunately, many Yalies will fail to learn about the repeated tragedies inflicted by the authoritative Chinese Communist Party during their time here. Yale could remedy this by offering classes that wholly and critically engage with modern Chinese imperialism. The courses that currently center around imperialism are Western-centric, which is important, but the study of imperialism is incomplete without confronting the long-standing and ongoing impacts of East Asian imperialism. Who will let the subaltern speak?
While other countries are also complicit in genocidal policies, I’m focusing on China because of its palpable connection to the University and its willfully ignored history of imperialism; Yale has the influence to advocate for human rights in China but has remained silent. The connection between the two is undeniably robust — a whopping 75 Yalies were awarded Light Fellowships to China last year, one of many China fellowships offered here. Yale also actively invests in Chinese connections — the Yale School of Management proudly established the Yale Center Beijing as Yale’s first university-wide center outside of the United States. On the other end, Chinese elites aim to send their progeny to elite Universities; Xi Jinping’s daughter recently graduated from Harvard. Concerningly, in 2006, protests against Hu Jintao’s visit to Yale were stifled, per the Yale Daily News. In contrast, fully funded trips to visit Hu withformer University President Richard Levin were offered — it’s almost as if the University conspires to push pro-China agendas!
We cannot ethically continue to have selective empathy for the oppressed. How can those who publicly decry controversial American, Israeli or other strong-man policies shamelessly flock to China each year? We need to be consistent in our praxis of human rights advocacy. Some will say that this op-ed is controversial, but advocating for human rights should not be radical — doesn’t the term “political re-education camps” strike familiarity and fear into your hearts? There is something so unnerving about seeing Temple of Heaven tourist pictures on social media when there are multiple religious genocides occuring in China.
Yalies wield the biopolitical power to protest China’s human rights violations. Though the Uyghurs are thousands of miles away, we are not helpless in advocating for them — we must put our bodies upon the gears and choose human rights over glitzy summers in Beijing. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends than that good men should look on and do nothing.
We must bear witness to these crimes. We must champion courses that confront modern Chinese imperialism. China cannot be defended based on cultural relativism, for it is an ugly privilege to philosophically sacrifice bodies. By refusing to study abroad, work or vacation in China, we can actively prioritize human rights and take a stand against one of the most heinous human rights violators on the globe. I beg of all of you — I cannot do this alone. There is so much at stake.
Kelsang Dolma is a senior in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .