Article – Lit Hub: How China’s Uyghurs Are Marginalized and Subjugated by the State.. Gulchehra Hoja Recounts Her Harrowing Experience at the Hands of Xinjiang Police

For most Uyghurs in our homeland, the late 1980s and 1990s brought both an economic boom to the region and catastrophic unemployment. This might seem conflicting, but underlying that growth were Han-run companies and Han-run government projects, and very little of the wealth that was generated trickled out into the Uyghur community.

Instead of hiring Uyghurs, bosses would bring in Han workers from China to work on construction crews, energy industry projects, and road building. There were communication problems, because almost none of the Han migrants to East Turkestan spoke Uyghur, and also outright discrimination, because many Han viewed Uyghurs as lazy or unwilling to take orders from a Han boss. As a result, even Uyghur college graduates—some of our best and brightest—had trouble finding work in Ürümchi.

In the meantime, the Han population exploded. By the year 2000, the Han constituted more than 40 percent of the nearly 18.5 million people in East Turkestan. Uyghurs found themselves increasingly marginalized in their own land, especially in the northern and northeastern regions, where Ürümchi is located, and where the Han population was concentrated.

On the pleasant, tree-lined campus of Xinjiang Normal University, I felt relatively insulated from the outside world. Because my family was educated and relatively well-off, and highly respected within the community, I proceeded along under the assumption that my generation would grow up to be successful, independent adults, as our parents had before us.

My cousin had already made something of himself and was working in the government as the deputy chief of staff for the district head of the Saybagh District of the city of Ürümchi. He had a fair amount of power and influence locally, and he always had time to help us with any little bureaucratic issues that came up, such as getting the proper documentation to do anything, from changing an address to enrolling in a new school.

But none of his connections nor those of anyone else in our family protected us from the larger political and social forces operating within China. When I was in my third year of college, something happened that shattered my relative innocence, something that remains a deep scar in my life and that heralded worse things to come.

Uyghurs found themselves increasingly marginalized in their own land.

It was New Year’s 1993. My younger brother was nineteen and a student at the prestigious Xinjiang Medical College, studying to become a doctor. I was in my third year at Xinjiang Normal University. That night, we were both planning to go out for New Year’s Eve, and the house was filled with activity and pleasant anticipation. I was meeting Mehray to go to a party on campus with her. She was so lovely and vivacious that before long I knew we’d have every boy in the room hoping to dance near us.

Kaisar stuck his head into my room just before dinner. He riffled my hair teasingly and asked me if I would iron his clothes. “Come on, Gul,” he pleaded. “I need these for the party tonight, but there’s something I have to take care of first. You want your brother to look his best, don’t you?”

I laughed and agreed to iron his clothes yet again. He was right—I was proud of my handsome little brother, and if he did the ironing the creases would just get worse. He’d grown up to be tall and fit, with a head of thick black hair and eyes that danced when he smiled. But he still liked to pinch my cheek and muss my carefully combed hairdo just as he used to do when we were kids.

“Where are you off to?” our mom called from the kitchen. “I’m cooking. Stay and have a good meal before you go off carousing.”

“I’ll be back soon. Don’t let them eat everything before I get back!” He gave her a loving pat on the cheek and was gone.

I spent the afternoon ironing our outfits, putting on my makeup, choosing and re-choosing my dress, making sure I looked perfect. My brother hadn’t come back, so I took a quick catnap. Our parties always started late in the evening and didn’t end until the next morning, with people singing and dancing to music that went all night.

I had just finished dressing when there was a pounding on the front door. My heart leapt into my throat. No one ever knocked on the door like that. My father was in his study and my mother was still in the kitchen cooking a big meal to celebrate the new year, so I went to the door.

When I opened it, three policemen were standing there: two Han and one Uyghur. The Uyghur officer was familiar from around the neighborhood, but I’d never seen the two Han policemen before. Instantly, my hands started to sweat. We tried to avoid Han policemen as much as possible because they were generally known for their ruthlessness when dealing with Uyghurs. Something serious had to have happened for them to show up at our house.

“Does a Kaisar Keyum live here?” one of the Han officers said, his tone sharp. He tried to push me aside, but I held my ground.

My father rushed out of his study. “What’s going on?”

The policeman showed him a piece of paper. “We have a warrant to search Kaisar’s room. Show me where it is.”

I was confused. My brother had left just a few hours before; he should be back any minute. My mind was racing with possibilities—he must be hurt, a car accident, a fire….

“He’s in big trouble,” the officer said. “You have to let us in.”

“What’s happened?” my father said. “Tell me what’s going on, and then I’ll show you his room.”

One of the Han policeman stuck his face close to my father’s. “You have no idea how much trouble your boy has caused. Your whole family is under suspicion. Do you understand me? Just show me his room.”

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How China’s Uyghurs Are Marginalized and Subjugated by the State