‘Now We Don’t Talk Anymore’December 28, 2018
Most striking during my visit in 2016 were my interactions with a longtime friend I will call A. We met first in a public restaurant, then moved to her home. Throughout our conversation in both venues, A baffled me by repeatedly declaring, straight-faced, how good state policies are in Xinjiang. Knowing her previously critical position, I could not help but wonder whether her statements were genuine.
The next time I saw her, A’s partner drove us out of Urumqi. Then, A walked me up a deserted mountain track, far from the city’s audio-visual surveillance network. “I have much in my heart I want to say, but I can’t say any of it,” A told me. “Well, I can say it, but no one must hear it. If the [government’s] policies are fine, then why am I afraid of speaking? Their policies are formed with no prior consultation, then implemented without any warning.”
And all but two of the contacts I had maintained for over two decades were too petrified to see me. As a Uighur teacher in her 30s from Kashgar put it, “We used to chat a lot, we Uighurs. But now we don’t talk any more. We are so afraid of saying the wrong thing.”