Researchers grapple with the tightened data landscape in China

RFA 2024

May 26, 2024 | Radio Free Asia | By Han Chen for RFA

Until two years ago, Peter Irwin, a Washington D.C.-based researcher, was able to access Chinese court data to track the number of Uyghurs being sentenced to prison. But amid the international outcry over Beijing’s oppressive policies in Xinjiang, the local court stopped publishing such data.

Irwin was undeterred and pivoted his focus. It was a gradual process, he said, but he and his organization, the Uyghur Human Rights Project, or UHRP, took the time to adapt to the tighter data landscape.

I think we can, and we found ways,” he said.

The work can still be impactfulFor example, last summer, UHRP uncovered international travel companies that were still offering tours to Xinjiang despite widespread human rights violations there. Shortly thereafter, several companies suspended these tours.

In the diverse field of China research, Irwin’s experience has become more common. As China puts up more barriers around data, researchers all over the world increasingly have to grapple with how to work with less, but they are also coming to terms with the restrictions by discovering new tools or new research areas, according to interviews with analysts, activists and scholars from various disciplines.

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