Database Entry: China Cannot Silence Me
Surveillance Forced Assimilation In-home Surveillance by 'Relatives' Restricting communication

China Cannot Silence Me

December 21, 2021
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The days when no WeChat message from her appears are the most terrifying. Her silence means that she is being visited by the people we call her “relatives.” When my mother is with them, she answers their questions cautiously, as if she were a contestant in a sadistic game show. Each time they visit, my mother painstakingly prepares food for the uninvited visitors, fretting over each meal, making sure it’s neither too Uyghur (which could brand the family as “suspected extremists”) nor too Chinese (which could seem too ingratiating). As they eat, my parents remain quiet as the relatives drone on about their political beliefs and their warm feelings about the government.

Since 2016, more than 1.1 million cadres have visited the homes of 1.6 million people of various ethnic groups in the region, according to state-run Chinese media. These visitors drop in without warning and stay as long as they see fit. Their task is to scrutinize the behavior of Uyghurs and note any signs of “extremism.” Some sure markers, according to the government, are Uyghur people speaking their native language, contacting family abroad, and praying.

Before going to bed, the relatives carefully inspect every room of the house, and then they sleep with my parents in their small bedroom. As my mother and father lie in their bed, the relatives sleep on a carpet on the floor a few feet away. My mother’s mind races in the eerie quiet; it is too tense and uncomfortable to sleep. When the sun rises, she is already up preparing the relatives’ breakfast. When the visitors finally leave, my mother escorts them to the gate with all the cordiality she can muster. She fears that her fate depends on it. As they walk away, she stands at the edge of our courtyard, waving with feigned gratitude, until they vanish. Once she’s certain that they are gone, she rushes inside, picks up the phone, and sends a message to me in Sweden: “We are fine, we are safe. Don’t worry.”