The ‘patriotism’ of not speaking UyghurJanuary 02, 2019
On October 27, 2018, Memtimin Ubul, a Communist Party deputy secretary of Kashgar’s Qaghaliq County, stated publicly something that had increasingly become the norm over the past two years in the Uyghur homeland. In the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, it was now officially unpatriotic for Uyghur state employees to speak or write in Uyghur language. In a statement that was circulated to more than 750,000 readers, the ethnically Uyghur state official wrote that any state employee who spoke Uyghur in public “should be classified as a ‘two-faced person.’” This is a charge that has resulted in the detention of hundreds, if not thousands, of Uyghur public figures, in addition to the untold number (possibly more than a million) who have been sent to “transformation through education” prison camps.
Memtimin wrote that the patriotic duty of state employees extended throughout all aspects of their lives. Patriotism should be present in the way they dressed, talked, and ate. Even in one’s home life, Uyghurs should refuse to speak Uyghur and instead speak Chinese. From his perspective, government employees had the “highest levels of knowledge and culture” in Uyghur society, and as such they had “immeasurable social influence.” It was therefore up to them to demonstrate what it meant to be patriotic Uyghur citizens. “Speaking the ‘language of the country’ should be the minimum requirement for patriotism,” he wrote. Chinese was no longer the language of Han people, but the language of reeducated patriotic Uyghurs.
“[T]he Han language” (汉语 hànyǔ; Uy: Hanzuche), was important for a number of reasons. First, and most importantly from Memtimin’s perspective, he said it aided the fight against religious extremism. By emphasizing Chinese as a test of patriotism, he argued that Uyghurs would “finally break free from the shackles of religion” — a statement that ignores the fact that millions of Chinese-speaking citizens, the Hui, remain devout Muslims.
A second reason for embracing Chinese was that it would lead to a new kind of “cultural self-confidence” when it came to Uyghurs performing “Chinese traditional culture.” By embracing Han cultural traditions, Uyghurs would claim their Chineseness more fully. They would learn “basic quality” (基础素质 jīchǔ sùzhì), which he associated with Han cultural knowledge.
Memtimin’s essay is an example of the way Uyghurs have been compelled to profess “vows of loyalty” (发声亮剑 fāshēng liàngjiàn; Uy: ipade bildürüsh) to the state. These statements force Uyghurs to articulate views that are often not their own. The statements ask them to re-narrate their personal biographies in a way that emphasizes undying loyalty to the state. They strongly resembled the personal statements that many were forced to publicly declare during the waves of Maoist class struggle and thought reform in the 1950s, but in this case they are directed only at Uyghur ways of life and directly oriented toward Han state culture.
According to Memtimin, Uyghur knowledge is degraded knowledge steeped in Islam. It means not only that Uyghurs are less than the “outstanding” Han, but also that they will forever remain “shackled” to a religion that state authorities have come to view as a “mental illness.” From this perspective, excising Uyghur language from their minds is the only way to fully access Chinese patriotism. This is the kind of patriotism that will keep Uyghurs out of the prison camps.