The Xinjiang Papers

Source: NYT (11/16/19)
THE XINJIANG PAPERS: ‘Absolutely No Mercy’: Leaked Files Expose How China Organized Mass Detentions of Muslims
More than 400 pages of internal Chinese documents provide an unprecedented inside look at the crackdown on ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.

HONG KONG — The students booked their tickets home at the end of the semester, hoping for a relaxing break after exams and a summer of happy reunions with family in China’s far west.

Instead, they would soon be told that their parents were gone, relatives had vanished and neighbors were missing — all of them locked up in an expanding network of detention camps built to hold Muslim ethnic minorities.
The authorities in the Xinjiang region worried the situation was a powder keg. And so they prepared.

The leadership distributed a classified directive advising local officials to corner returning students as soon as they arrived and keep them quiet. It included a chillingly bureaucratic guide for how to handle their anguished questions, beginning with the most obvious: Where is my family?

They’re in a training school set up by the government,” the prescribed answer began. If pressed, officials were to tell students that their relatives were not criminals — yet could not leave these “schools.” Continue reading

Potemkin Xinjiang

Source: Globe and Mail (11/4/19)
‘Like a movie’: In Xinjiang, new evidence that China stages prayers, street scenes for visiting delegations

People walking past a mosque in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang, on Sept. 11, 2019. HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

One day last October, eight local officials entered Zumuret Dawut’s home in Urumqi, the regional capital of northwestern China’s Xinjiang region. They came to ask her elderly father to pray – and they promised to pay.

They said, “We will give you 20 renminbi for each time you pray,” Ms. Dawut recalled in an interview. “You will need to pray five times tomorrow. So we will give you 100 renminbi” – about $18.50.

Her 79-year-old father was puzzled. He had long since stopped attending the local mosque out of fear the authorities would see his religious observance as a sign of radicalization and place him in an indoctrination centre, as the government has done with hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the region. The mosque was considered closed. Continue reading

Testimony from a Xinjiang reeducation camp

Ha-Aretz has published a remarkable testimony from an ethnic-Kazakh woman who claims to have escaped from a re-education camp and has found asylum in Sweden.

The article, by David Stavrou, includes extended quotations from Professor Fiskesjö, and alludes to accounts published elsewhere that paint a consistent picture.

Some nuances may have been obscured by serial translation.For example, she says that inmates were frequently required to write out confessions of their “sins.” The word “sins” suggests that standard CCP self-criticism was given a religious tinge — but by whom? The guards (adapting their message to the culture of their victims) or the prisoners (interpreting the requirement in terms of their religious experience)?

Concerning the atrocities (especially the widespread rapes), I have to wonder where the dividing line runs between high-level policies of cultural extermination and a low-level lack of discipline among the police.

The article also describes an employment contract with Chinese characteristics:

She was told she had been brought there in order to teach Chinese and was immediately made to sign a document that set forth her duties and the camp’s rules.  “I was very much afraid to sign,” Sauytbay recalls. “It said there that if I did not fulfill my task, or if I did not obey the rules, I would get the death penalty. The document stated that it was forbidden to speak with the prisoners, forbidden to laugh, forbidden to cry and forbidden to answer questions from anyone.

A. E. Clark <>

Hui Muslims face crackdown

Source: NPR (9/26/19)
‘Afraid We Will Become The Next Xinjiang’: China’s Hui Muslims Face Crackdown
By Emily Feng

Chinese-style tile has replaced the domes and domed minarets of the Hongsibao Mosque in China’s Ningxia region. Ningxia is home to a large concentration of Hui Muslims, who have long prided themselves on assimilation but are under increasing scrutiny by Chinese authorities. Emily Feng/NPR

Gold-domed mosques and gleaming minarets once broke the monotony of the Ningxia region’s vast scrubland every few miles. This countryside here is home to some of China’s 10.5 million Hui Muslims, who have practiced Sunni or Sufi forms of Islam within tight-knit communities for centuries, mainly in the northwest and central plains. Concentrated in the Ningxia region, the Hui are China’s third-largest ethnic minority.

Now, though, virtually every mosque in Ningxia’s countryside has been denuded of its domes, part of a sweeping crackdown on China’s Muslim minorities that has reached Hui strongholds in Ningxia, in central China, and as far inland as Henan province in the east. (Up to now, Gansu province in central China has been able to keep most of its mosques intact.) Continue reading

Forging the Golden Urn review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Joseph Lawson’s review of Forging the Golden Urn: The Qing Empire and the Politics of Reincarnation in Tibet (Columbia, 2018), by Max Oidtmann. The review appears below and at its online home here: My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

Forging the Golden Urn: The Qing Empire
and the Politics of Reincarnation in Tibet

By Max Oidtmann

Reviewed by Joseph Lawson
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright July, 2019)

Max Oidtmann, Forging the Golden Urn: The Qing Empire and the Politics of Reincarnation in Tibet New York: Columbia University Press, 2018. Xvii + 330 pp. ISBN: 978-0-231-18406-9 (cloth).

The Geluk church, headed by the Dalai Lama, was the most powerful institution in the Qing Empire not under the control of the Qing court. It is still arguably the largest extra-bureaucratic nongovernmental organization in China, as Max Oidtmann points out in the introduction of his terrific book on relations between the Qing court and the Geluk hierarchy. Neglected relative to Manchu or Mongol archives until recently, the Qing Empire’s Tibetan institutions and sources are the subject of an emerging body of research by Paul Nietupski, Peter Schweiger, Yudru Tsomu, and now Oidtmann with this new book on how the Qing court asserted control over the process for recognizing the reincarnations of powerful lamas. Continue reading

Radical realist view of Tibetan Buddhism

Source: NY Review of Books (7/13/19)
A Radical Realist View of Tibetan Buddhism at the Rubin
By Ian Johnson

Photo by Thierry Ollivier/RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY. Kingdom of Shambhala and the Final Battle, Mongolia, nineteenth century

One of the hallmarks of the past few decades has been the rise of religious-based nationalism in, for example, India, the United States, and the Middle East. And it has become routine in discussing these areas to make a link between politics and religion—be it Hinduism, Christianity, or Islam.

Buddhism, though, continues to flummox us. People are often shocked that it could be central to the violence of Sri Lanka or Myanmar, or the more than a hundred self-immolations that took place in Tibet in the early 2010s—self-inflicted acts of political violence that confounded both the Chinese government and many onlookers in the West. For many, Buddhism is “a religion of peace” and its adaptation for political purposes, even to inspire violence, feels flat-out wrong. Continue reading

New report on mass arrests in Xinjiang

New report from the Uyghur Human Rights Project on the mass arrests of academics, cultural figures, artists, and others in Xinjiang.

The summary says: the Persecution of the Intellectuals in the Uyghur Region Continues:

• 338 Uyghur intellectuals interned, imprisoned or forcibly disappeared since April 2017
• Persecution of teachers, scholars and artists constitutes an attempt to erase Uyghur culture
• Students, lecturers, poets, musicians and media professionals known to be taken away
• 21 staff of Xinjiang University in internment camps
• International scholarly exchange with China cannot be justified until they are released. Continue reading

The Shinto past of a Buddhist shrine (1)

It might interest list members to know that the Grand Hotel in Taipei now stands on the grounds of what was once the Taiwan shintō shrine (台灣神社). I’ve never heard of the 1974 edict, if anything I would have expected such an order to come down decades earlier, maybe the 1950s? At any rate, those interested in stories like this should check out Joe Allen’s book Taipei: City of Displacements. The story of the horse in a park resonates in particular with the incomplete erasure of Japanese flags.

Bert Scruggs <>

The Shinto past of a Buddhist shrine

Source: Taipei Times (1/11/19)
Highways and Byways: The Shinto past of a Buddhist shrine
The Bilian Temple in Hualien County’s Shoufeng Township is one of many structures throughout the nation that uses Chinese iconography to paper over Japan’s presence in Taiwan
By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

Externally, Bilian Temple in Hualien County’s Shoufeng Township today resembles thousands of other places of worship in Taiwan. Photo: Steven Crook

I’m not interested in remnants of the colonial period as much as Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) efforts after World War II to erase the Japanese imprint. Recently, I was thrilled to learn of a few old houses in the south that bear Republic of China (ROC) embossed flags on their facades — but where the post-1945 paint job is now so faded it’s possible to see Hinomaru (the Japanese flag) emblems that were the original adornments.

The KMT’s animosity toward Japan was understandable given Japanese aggression and wartime atrocities when it ruled Taiwan as a colony from 1895 to 1945. After 1949, however, Japan was a key trading partner and an important investor. What’s more, Taipei and Tokyo were both closely aligned with Washington. However, Japan’s 1972 decision to break off diplomatic ties with the ROC and establish formal relations with the People’s Republic of China provoked a fresh wave of anti-Japanese sentiment, at least among the ROC leaders. Continue reading

Detention camps turn to forced labor

Source: NYT (12/16/18)
China’s Detention Camps for Muslims Turn to Forced Labor
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
By Chris Buckley and Austin Ramzy

Chinese state television showed Muslims attending classes on how to be law-abiding citizens. Evidence is emerging that detainees are also being forced to take jobs in new factories.

KASHGAR, China — Muslim inmates from internment camps in far western China hunched over sewing machines, in row after row. They were among hundreds of thousands who had been detained and spent month after month renouncing their religious convictions. Now the government was showing them on television as models of repentance, earning good pay — and political salvation — as factory workers.

China’s ruling Communist Party has said in a surge of upbeat propaganda that a sprawling network of camps in the Xinjiang region is providing job training and putting detainees on production lines for their own good, offering an escape from poverty, backwardness and the temptations of radical Islam. Continue reading

Sichuan’s Catholic past

Source: Sixth Tone (11/7/18)
On the Trail of Sichuan’s Catholic Past
The remote southwestern province is home to some of China’s oldest and most well-preserved Catholic churches.
By Ma Te

Sacred Heart Cathedral in Dechang County, Sichuan province, Feb. 9, 2018. Courtesy of Ma Te.

The southwestern province of Sichuan is situated in one of China’s most culturally, ethnically, and religiously diverse regions. Home to members of the Han, Tibetan, Hui, and Yi ethnic groups, among others, travelers to the area can find centuries-old Tibetan and Taoist temples standing alongside mosques and churches.

Of the various faiths practiced in Sichuan, Christianity stands out as a relative latecomer. The first Catholic missionary known to have reached the province was an Italian Jesuit named Lodovico Buglio, who spent much of the 1640s proselytizing there. Eventually, in 1753, the Paris Foreign Missions Society, a Catholic lay organization, took over responsibility for the Catholic missionary presence in Sichuan. By 1804, there was a small but growing community of Sichuanese Catholics, including 18 Chinese priests and four French missionaries. Continue reading

Xu Jilin, ‘The New Tianxia’

Source: Reading the China Dream (10/15/18)
Xu Jilin, “The New Tianxia: Rebuilding China’s Internal and External Order”[1]
Translation by Mark McConaghy, Tang Xiaobing, and David Ownby

Introduction by David Ownby

Although the major themes of this 2015 essay are found in many of Xu’s essays, they are woven together here in an imaginative way to address a topic that Xu does not often address—Chinese foreign policy.  He starts with a fairly familiar presentation of the traditional notion of tianxia 天下 (literally “all under heaven”) which, in Xu’s words, connoted both “an ideal civilizational order, and a world spatial imaginary with China’s central plains at the core.”  In one sense, then, China was tianxia, the embodiment, when the system functioned at its best, of the set of principles that justified imperial Confucian rule.  But tianxia was open, not closed; like the 20th century American dream,tianxia was understood, by the Chinese, as a kind of universalism to which other cultures could aspire.  Xu illustrates his point less through discussion of China’s traditional tribute system, and more through exploration of the historical relations between the Han people and the various non-Han “barbarian groups” on China’s peripheries, his point being that the processes of assimilation, borrowing, and integration were multiple, complex, and non-problematic at an ideological level.  In other words, prior to the arrival of the notion of the nation-state, “Chinese” and “barbarian” were not understood in racial terms but in civilizational terms.  An open, universal tianxia welcomed Asia’s “huddled masses” as long as they recognized tianxia’s brilliance. Continue reading

China Matters

On this day of June 4, China Matters Ltd in Australia saw fit to publish this mumbo-jumbo about the mysterious, and very pure, profundity of China. See below. The author recycles several falsities, notably the very old misunderstanding of Chinese writing as pure pictures:

“On a purely linguistic note, … Chinese language as a pure logogram and European languages which are all phonogram … ”

–But such theories have been debunked by all the linguists! For how long now? Centuries?

It goes on. Take this for example: “Classical Chinese does not operate under a set of grammatical rules,” (!!) … and so on.

But perhaps the fakery doesn’t matter, if one’s fantasy “China” matters more — as it seems to, at China Matters Ltd.?

One writer on Twitter labelled this “pure bullshit,” and there’s something to that. However, I think it is also an example of what Andrea Ghiselli in the latest China Quarterly called “Cherry-Picking” (see: “Revising China’s Strategic Culture: Contemporary Cherry-Picking of Ancient Strategic Thought,” China Quarterly, Volume 233, March 2018 , pp. 166-185.

This strategic “Cherry-Picking” is, I think, very closely related to Trumpian fakery, which also cares nothing for the facts except as the raw material with which to fashion a semi-plausible new truth that will fool some, at least.

One could use the same term for both. And the current industry of “Cherry-Picking” to mystify-and-glorify China deserves much more research, analysis, and exposure.

(In my recent article I took on the longstanding, but fake, narrative that China was always peaceful, never an empire, etc etc.: The Legacy of the Chinese Empires, in: Education About Asia 22.1, (2017), pp. 6-10, download at:

Magnus Fiskesjö <>

Source: China (6/4/18)
A Piece to the Puzzle: Reading China’s Strategic Mindset
By Kelvin Chau

Australia will need to study Chinese cultural knowledge more comprehensively to remain competitive in the ongoing Asian Century. Studying Chinese strategic culture, notably Chinese conflict management principles, is both necessary and the first step to take. To put it simply, the importance of understanding the role of strategy in the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) business culture and policy formulation is captured by the title of Professor Xuetong Yan’s book “Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern China’s Power”. Continue reading

The Buddhist Films of Edward A. Burger

Edward A. Burger (of Amongst White Clouds fame), has a new film out, another Buddhist themed documentary, giving unprecedented view into the daily lives of Zen monks at the Zhenru Monastery in Jiangxi. You can read my review below.–Lee Mack <>

Source: White Confucius (1/30/18)
Amongst White Clouds: the Buddhist Films of Edward A. Burger

I was depressed the other day. The kind of feeling where basically everything seems like shit and you don’t have any clue why you still live in China and, as a consequence, you are hateful toward everything. This is nothing to be alarmed about. It happens from time to time. When I fall into this state of mind, I know it is time to go back to basics and put some effort into remembering the good parts of being a foreigner here. In this case, that led me back to Edward A. Burger.

Burger is a documentary filmmaker I met in Beijing in 2006. We were introduced by a mutual friend and shared hot pot on Guijie. I had been told he was a filmmaker, a claim I was skeptical of myself having just come off a year at the Beijing Film Academy. I figured if he were serious about it, he would be there too and know the people I knew. Continue reading