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Surviving the Crackdown in Xinjiang, in Mandarin

In early April, The New Yorker published “Surviving the Crackdown in Xinjiang,” about a brutal “People’s War” that the Chinese authorities are prosecuting against their own citizens in Xinjiang, a borderland territory in the country’s far northwest. It follows the story of Anar Sabit, an ethnic Kazakh who left China, in 2014, to build a new life in Canada; three years later, she returned to her home town, in Xinjiang, to attend to a family emergency, only to be swept up in a wave of mass arrests and consigned to a reëducation camp. She was among hundreds of thousands of ethnic Kazakhs and Uyghurs who were forced into camps in the region in the years that followed.

This system of detention—the latest manifestation of the Chinese government’s long-standing suspicion of Xinjiang’s Muslim Turkic peoples—was launched in conjunction with a program of all-pervasive societal surveillance, draconian restrictions on faith and culture, destruction of heritage sites, and stringent enforcement of family-planning regulations. (In 2018 alone, birth rates in Xinjiang plummeted by nearly a third.) These are all facets of an overarching policy that appears to meet the conditions of genocide, as the Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin defined the term during the Second World War.

The humanitarian crisis that the Chinese Communist Party has engineered in Xinjiang remains in effect. But speaking about it candidly inside China is virtually impossible. Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, attacks on freedom of expression have escalated across the country. An anonymous Chinese Twitter account, @SpeechFreedomCN, has documented thousands of cases in which the authorities have punished people for speech, even for what appear to be offhand comments. Earlier this week, the account noted that “Liaoning man Sun detained for 10 days for some ‘inappropriate remarks’ he posted in WeChat along with state leader’s photo.” On Thursday, there was this: “Hangzhou man Zhang detained for 7 days for sharing via WeChat a photo of some cops attending a competition, and writing ‘Dogs gathering.’ ” Merely passing along rumors on social media can result in prison sentences. Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the Global Times, an English-language Communist Party newspaper for international readers, explained the state’s philosophy earlier this year. “Free speech cannot impact or jeopardize the country’s governance,” he wrote. “This is the bottom line.”

Within China, reliable information about the state’s policy in Xinjiang is particularly hard to come by, even as that policy has harmed and distorted the lives of millions of people. Almost as soon as The New Yorker published “Surviving the Crackdown in Xinjiang,” people online began to translate it into Mandarin, either in whole or in part. One group on Twitter launched a crowdsourcing effort and called for volunteers to select specific paragraphs to work on, writing, “We’re not asking for a lot—just as long as the sentences make sense.” Days after the story was published, full amateur translations began to appear—one of them, on a forum hosted by an institution in Beijing. As the translations were proliferating, The New Yorker was already taking steps to commission an official Chinese version, to insure that an accurate rendition is available for anyone who wishes to read it in Mandarin. You can find it here:

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