‘Only when you, your children, and your grandchildren become Chinese’: Life after Xinjiang detainmentFebruary 22, 2021
A new “Three Illegals, One Item” (三非一品 sān fēi yī pǐn) campaign had been instituted not only across Southern Xinjiang, where seizures and burning of Qurans, religious books, prayer rugs, and other materials deemed “extremist” began as part of related programs already in 2013. Now, Kazakh-majority areas in the North were also targeted. (“Three Illegals” refers to “illegal religious activities, illegal religious materials, spreading illegal religious networks.”) This new campaign demanded that villagers turn in small plastic pitchers used to wash one’s hands as part of daily hygiene — something possessed by nearly every Uyghur, Kazakh, or Hui household, particularly in rural areas where running water was not always available. Cups and plates with Arabic inscriptions or Uyghur calligraphy were also criminalized. Books that had previously been published with the approval of the Xinjiang People’s Publishing House, such as the children’s book A Letter from Saudi Arabia,were also banned as a manifestation of religious extremism — item 42 on the list of 75 signs of religious extremism. Possession of such objects could result in immediate detention. In September 2017, a survey of 300 Uyghur villagers published by the Ministry of Justice of the People’s Republic indicated that they believed perhaps 15 percent of the illegalized household objects had not yet been turned in or destroyed. Around 50 percent also confessed to thinking that fasting during Ramadan should be considered a personal choice.
These quite normative forms of Kazakh and Uyghur cultural and religious life were suddenly deemed “anti-human, anti-society, and anti-civilization,” and together they harmed “social stability.” Nurlan recalled:
When I went to my hometown in August 2017, I witnessed the local government collecting and destroying books and other written materials in Arabic and Kazakh. Since my village is mainly Kazakhs, I’m talking only about Kazakhs here. A group of five people would come to each house and order you to take out all religious books and even those books about Kazakh heroes, as well as Abai Kunanbai’s books. They asked the homeowners to burn them in front of the government workers. They also took away the Turkish carpets, removed gravestones from the tombs, stopped Kazakh-language teaching, and confiscated all the imported products from Kazakhstan, especially candy, from the shops.