“I’m From Xinjiang” Videos, New Uyghurs, and a Deracinated People

Zubayra Insights May 2023 (1)

May 31, 2023

A UHRP Insights column by Zubayra Shamseden, Chinese Outreach Coordinator, Uyghur Human Rights Project

China has been promoting “new Uyghurs,” or Uyghurs cleansed of their identity by the state, via a platform called “I’m from Xinjiang” as propaganda about the situation in East Turkistan. Videos that are coming out of East Turkistan that not only show happy Uyghurs dancing in surreal scenes with silky summer dresses in the snow, but also relate accounts of “successful Uyghur students,” who were offered “great opportunities” by the Chinese Communist Party to study in China and overseas.

As an Uyghur suffering from the indirect effects of the genocide, it is painful to see what Uyghurs have become inside East Turkistan under China’s inhumane regime. The propaganda materials clearly show the voices of “new Uyghurs,” who have either been forced into or simply given up resisting a life the Party wants them to live.

One video shows a successful Uyghur student’s life in Ürümchi. If someone does not know what is happening to Uyghurs in East Turkistan and how skillful China is covering up its crimes against innocent people, they might believe this is reality. They would not know how many students, teachers, lecturers, intellectuals, businesspeople, artists, and athletes have been imprisoned simply for their success or for having traveled overseas.

For an Uyghur, watching and listening in your own language to “New Uyghurs” deny what is happening to them in their own homeland is truly mind-blowing. When I watched Nadire Ablikim, one of the “new Uyghurs” likely reeducated through concentration camps and relentless indoctrination, I felt like the video was not only propagating China’s version of Uyghur identity, but also telling the world that China will not back down from its genocidal policies. It is the confidence of a regime that uses economic prowess and dictatorial might to disregard accountability. The Party’s message is that Uyghurs have been reformed and assimilated. This is what happens if you do not fit into the Party’s vision for China and its rise to global power.  

Recently, another video surfaced on social media telling the story of an Uyghur who is traveling the world. He loudly announces that he can update his online followers about wherever he goes whether traveling to Turkey, the EU, or the US. He finally boasts that he will stop in Turkey to celebrate the birthday of his daughter, who has been there since 2019. Afterwards, he plans to return to China. He says this when people like me have not been able to talk to our relatives in China since 2016. There are still other Uyghurs looking for their disappeared loved ones. 

The Uyghur Human Rights Project has highlighted calls by Uyghur Americans for the Chinese government to return their relatives’ passports and permit travel overseas for family reunifications in the United States. Their accounts directly contradict these claims that Uyghurs in East Turkistan can travel freely. Uyghurs who have returned to China have been interned in concentration camps. For example, Gulbahar Haitiwaji was living in France with her family when she was urged by Chinese officials to return in 2016 to sign pension documents. She was detained shortly after her arrival. After half a year in pre-trial detention she was transferred to a camp where she faced torture and violent interrogation.

If the policy has changed and overseas Uyghurs can travel to East Turkistan without fear of detention, disappearance, or punishment, then you would find most Uyghurs in Turkey, Australia, the US, Central Asia, and the EU hastily making travel arrangements. I’d like to see my relatives and so would many others, such as Nur’iman. Some Uyghurs would like to see their children after years of separation.  

Lies don’t become true if they are told a million times, and I believe China will be brought to justice one day. I will wait for that day to come and China will have to account for what it has done to my brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, as well as my people.