Over the past four years, the Chinese government has detained more than 1 million Uighurs in reeducation camps designed to strip them of their culture, language and religion. They’ve had to shave their beards and uncover their hair. They’ve been made to pledge allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party. Children have been taken from their parents and put into orphanages.
Returning to Kashgar, I was struck by how, at first glance, it seemed relatively normal. In the Old City, families were out at the night market, eating piles of meat and bread. Kids could be heard laughing through open upstairs windows. There were even young men — prime targets for the detention campaign, which was ostensibly about deradicalization — on the streets again.
Walking around, I was overcome by the same sense of sadness mixed with rage that I felt when reporting in Pyongyang. I knew it was a kind of “Truman Show,” but I couldn’t see the edges of the set. I could see a blankness in people’s eyes and feel a palpable heaviness in the air.[…]
The Kims of North Korea may have learned from Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and Communist China founder Mao Zedong when they built their own personality cult, but Xi has stoked a level of personal adoration unseen in China for decades.
Not just in Xinjiang but across China, it has become extremely difficult to have conversations with ordinary folk. People are afraid to speak at all, critically or otherwise. Students and professors, supermarket workers and taxi drivers, parents and motorists have all waved me away this year.