The Jewish Museum profiled the 19th-century version of the Sacklers — and glossed over the devastation they caused

By , July 13, 2023

Originally published in The Forward.

Lin Zexu in NYC’s Chinatown. Photo courtesy of LuHungnguong/Wikimedia

About six miles south of The Jewish Museum in New York, where an exhibit on the Jewish British merchant family, the Sassoons, is on view until Aug. 13, lies Chinatown’s Chatham Square. In the center of the square is a bronze statue of Qing Dynasty official Lin Zexu. The words “Pioneer in the War Against Drugs” are carved into the red granite pedestal upon which he proudly stands, in recognition of his efforts to rid China of opium in the mid-1800s.

By the time Lin became a government official in the 1830s, an estimated 10% of the Chinese population was addicted to opium (compare that to 3.8% of the U.S. population that abuse opioids today, which we consider an epidemic).

The Sassoon family dominated the opium trade in China, and the exhibit honoring them displays numerous treasures and artifacts they were able to collect, thanks to their opium-fueled wealth. In an age where the Sackler family’s name is being removed from museum buildings because of its ties to the U.S. opioid epidemic, it is no longer appropriate to celebrate artifacts like the ones the Sassoons were able to collect because they profited from China’s addiction without the full context.

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Portrait of David Sassoon. Attributed to William Melville. Oil on canvas; 41 ½ × 33 in. (105.4 × 83.8 cm). Private Collection/The Jewish Museum

Remembering the politics behind a massacre

Thirty-four years later and even in the West, where we are allowed to remember the events surrounding the Chinese government’s June 4th, 1989 massacre of its people, there are things we have forgotten.  We think of the Tiananmen protests as millions of students occupying the Square every day for months.  But the protests had largely died down by the end of May 1989, with just a few thousand people left on the Square.  We refer to Li Peng, Premier at the time, as the “Butcher of Beijing,” but it was Deng Xiaoping who was most eager for blood and had been plotting a military response since early May. 

To help us remember is Michael Fathers and Andrew Higgins’ gripping, and, at only 148 pages, concise classic, Tiananmen: The Rape of Peking, published a few months after the June 4th crackdown.  In 1989, Fathers and Higgins were The Independent’s China correspondents giving them front-row seats to the protests.  More important though, were Fathers and Higgins’ well-connected government sources which allowed for their vivid descriptions of the factional infighting in the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party (“CCP”).  It is this insider knowledge that makes Tiananmen: The Rape of Peking an astonishing read, especially compared to today, where China is increasingly closed off and the inner workings of the Party are a guessing game.  With their focus on the political power plays inside the Chinese leadership, Fathers and Higgins argue that the massacre was intended not just to subdue the Chinese people but to show Party officials that any dissension would be dealt with severely. 

By the late 1980s, the CCP was fractured between two camps: the reformers, led by CCP General Secretary Zhao Ziyang who called for more economic reforms with some societal loosening, and the conservatives, led by Prime Minister Li Peng who wanted to maintain Party ideology.  Deng Xiaoping, retired from government but still in charge of China, was generally a reformer.  But as Fathers and Higgins show, above all else Deng was a political survivor, overcoming multiple Party purges in his lifetime and unseating Mao Zedong’s chosen successor, Hua Guofeng, to become China’s leader after Mao’s death.  A year before the protests, as Fathers and Higgins point out, Deng and Zhao advocated for free market pricing.  When record inflation hit the country as a result, it was Zhao who took the fall, not Deng. Li Peng, who opposed such unorthodoxy, saw his star rise.

Left to Right: Deng Xiaoping, Li Peng and Zhao Ziyang, all in happier times

In Tiananmen: The Rape of Peking, it is Deng’s desire to politically survive that made the massacre in Beijing inevitable.  With 100,000 students marching to Tiananmen for reformer Hu Yaobang’s funeral on April 22 and demanding a dialogue with leadership, Deng saw the student protests as a threat to his absolute authority. Knowing that Zhao, the Party’s Chairman, held a more sympathetic view, Deng bypassed the chain of command, and while Zhao was on an official visit to North Korea, he convened a meeting of the leadership.  Without Zhao, Deng and the conservatives dominated and they approved the publication of Deng’s provocative People’s Daily editorial that unequivocally condemned the student protests and referred to them as “turmoil.”  For Fathers and Higgins,

“The editorial marked a crucial point in the evolution of an official response to the student unrest – the point of no return.  The hardliners [conservatives] had published their manifesto.  So great was judged to be its importance that it was made public before it had been printed in People’s Daily itself.  That, at least, was part of the reason: the other part was more devious.  A copy of the proposed text had been sent that same afternoon to Zhao Ziyang in North Korea….By the time he received the telegram, the text was already being released.”

Tiananmen: The Rape of Peking, p. 37
Students march to Tiananmen on April 27, 1989 (Photo courtesy of Patrick Chovanec: https://twitter.com/prchovanec/status/460373323008835585?s=20)

On April 27th, the day after the editorial’s publication, 150,000 students and Beijing residents marched to Tiananmen Square, demanding that the editorial be withdrawn in addition to general calls for greater freedom.  On May 4th, an important day in Chinese history, tens of thousands of students again marched to the Square.

Zhao though was no political neophyte as Fathers and Higgins brilliantly portray in their chapter that describes his comeback.  Simultaneous with the students’ May 4th protest, Zhao publicly stated that he believed the protests would “calm down” and there would be “no great turmoil in China.”  With Zhao’s speech, it was now public that the Party was far from unified.  “From the point at which Zhao delivered this speech, coexistence with Deng would become impossible” Fathers and Higgins grimly write.

Gorbachev and Deng meet in Beijing, May 15, 1989

Zhao’s speech had its intended effect.  The Square emptied and the students returned to their campuses.  It seemed like the political winds were blowing in Zhao’s favor.  But all that changed in the middle of May when the students, sensing the leverage that Soviet Union president Mikhail Gorbachev’s historic visit to Beijing could provide, began a hunger strike to last through his visit.  2,000 students participated and 10,000 more camped out on the Square in support.  Before Gorbachev’s arrival on May 15, Zhao’s staff pleaded with the students to move their hunger strike to outside Zhongnanhai, the Party’s headquarters. To do otherwise they told the students, could severely damage the reformers’ efforts. But the students did not move their protests and on May 17, during Gorbachev’s visit, over a million people occupied Tiananmen Square.  Joining the students were labor unions, professors, high school students and ordinary Beijingers, discontent with the status quo and excited for change.  May 18 saw another million-strong on the Square. 

With Deng’s loss of face before Gorbachev, Zhao’s strategy had failed.  On May 20, Li Peng declared martial law and Deng called up the military to prepare for a crackdown.  But as Fathers and Higgins point out, by the end of May, the protests had fizzled out. Although the Goddess of Democracy’s arrival on May 30th renewed some interest, only 5,000 students remained on the Square, and most of them were students from other parts of China.  Two of the protests’ leaders – Wang Dan and Wu’erkaixi – had returned to their campuses.  Summer vacation was only two weeks away.  Time was on the leaders’ side.

May 30, 1989 – A sparsely-filled Tiananmen Square

But time was irrelevant to Deng and the conservatives as they readied the PLA to enter Beijing.  As Fathers and Higgins recount, during the day on June 3, PLA troops began to march into Beijing. All were met by thousands of unarmed Beijingers who blocked the roads with either buses, cars or their own bodies. Instead of attacking, the PLA retreated. The people cheered and beckoned the retreating troops back out to celebrate the fact that the army did not turn on the people.  A carnival-like atmosphere permeated the streets of Beijing.

But a little bit before midnight on June 3, in the Muxidi section of Beijing, all of that changed. In their most powerful and heart-wrenching chapter, Fathers and Higgins portray the valiant Beijingers, over 5,000 of them, who tried to stop the troops from closing in on the Square.  The crowd included factory and office workers, journalists and writers, and the children of CCP officials who lived in the high-end apartment complex overlooking the Muxidi intersection.  Just like earlier in the day, unarmed soldiers were sent to disperse the crowd.  Again, these soldiers retreated giving the crowd the sense that the people were victorious. This time though, the troops were replaced by new ones. With their AK-47s, the troops stormed the crowd, shooting wildly. In the first few minutes, deaths were in the double digits according to Fathers and Higgins.  The army’s appetite for blood would continue as it marched down the main boulevard to the Square, meeting crowds of people at each intersection who thought they could stop the PLA. Instead, many were killed, either shot by soldiers or crushed by tanks.  Even in the daylight hours of June 4th and long after the PLA had secured the Square, it continued to shoot into crowds of onlookers, adding to the civilian death toll. 

For Fathers and Higgins, Muxidi shows Deng and the conservative’s diabolical nature.  Sending unarmed troops into Beijing all throughout the day on June 3 was all part Deng’s plan Fathers and Higgins argue: to lure as many people out into the streets as possible so that when the PLA did open fire, casualties were certain.  And it was no accident that the first murders happened before the apartment complexes that housed high-level Party members and their families:

Those who ordered the army into Peking, Deng and president Yang Shangkun, had done so not merely to disperse the mobs from the barricades, but to create a spectacle of forceful repression so shocking that it could not fail to cow anyone within the Party who had dared to sympathize with such defiance.  The decision to open fire at Muxidi, in front of one of the Part’s main residential compounds, was a part of that spectacle. 

Tiananmen: The Rape of Peking, p. 116

Tiananmen: The Rape of Peking is a fast-paced, comprehensive masterpiece that makes a frighteningly compelling argument that Deng Xiaoping, from the very first protests in mid April, wanted a violent crackdown so that his power would never again be challenged. For Fathers and Higgins, Deng is the ultimate villain and thirty-four years later, it is important that we do not forget this. But it is also essential that on this thirty-fourth anniversary of June 4th that we remember some of the heroes of Tiananmen that Fathers and Higgins highlight: those unnamed and unarmed civilians who took to the streets in a courageous effort to protect their city, mistakenly trusting that their government would never open fire on them.

Rating: ★★★★★

Tiananmen: The Rape of Peking, by Michael Fathers and Andrew Higgins
(The Independent/Doubleday 1989), 148 pages

Unfortunately this book is out of print which we hope that the publisher rectifies for the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown next year (2024).  And, with the Chinese people unable to write their own history on this tragic event, we also hope that the publisher publishes a Chinese version (there is an Indonesian translation).  Sometimes things jump the firewall; providing this book in Chinese will allow the Chinese people to learn about their fellow countrymen’s’ valiant efforts thirty-four years ago.

Used copies of Tiananmen: Rape of Peking can be purchased at Thriftbooks, Abebooks and Amazon

Remembering ‘228’ in Taiwan

By , March 10, 2023
Taipei’s 228 Parade, Feb. 28, 2023

Originally published in Commonweal

The Taipei sun was already scorching at ten in the morning, and the tall palm trees lining the street teased us with their shade. We were waiting for the start of the “228” parade, an annual event that commemorates the February 28, 1947 massacre in Taiwan. The crowd was mostly composed of young Taiwanese NGO workers in their twenties and thirties, all dressed in black. We lined up in two columns divided by a long white banner. Then our leader, a petite young woman wearing an oversized black t-shirt and baggy cargo pants, solemnly lifted a green wooden pole. Atop it was a circle emblazoned with an image of the island of Taiwan, the numbers “228” and “和平日” (“Peace Day”) written across it. Silence enveloped us until a recorded dirge began to play. The moment was solemn, like a funeral procession.

For many in the United States, Taiwan means just one thing. The independent island, formally a part of China during the Qing Dynasty, is held up as a counterpoint to the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian dictatorship. But to conceive of Taiwan as nothing more than China’s opposite risks obscuring the island’s most distinctive features, including its dynamic civil society, stellar human rights record, and stable democratic institutions. It also prevents the Taiwanese people from claiming and celebrating their independent identity.

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恭喜发财!Happy Year of the Rabbit!

By , January 17, 2023

Hippity hop!  Sunday welcomes year of the rabbit, putting to rest the ferociousness of last year’s tiger.  The invasion of Ukraine, various mass shootings in the United States, and the assassination of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, the world is ready to silence the tiger’s roar.

With the rabbit’s gentle nature, this year should prove to be much less dramatic. But 2023 is more than just year of the rabbit, it is year of the water rabbit!  Every year has it’s own element and 2023’s element is water.  At the same time each of the 12 zodiac animals has its own inner element and for the rabbit that is wood.  Why is this so good?  Waer helps wood grow which means that the characteristics of the rabbit will be reinforce by the water. 

The rabbit brings peace to the world and the year is usually one of hope.  In addition to the rabbit’s peaceful nature, the water element brings intuition and inner thoughtfulness, allowing people to be more sensitive to those around them.  As a result, the water rabbit should see a world focused on building bridges instead of walls.  Feng Shui master Raymond Lo thinks that the water rabbit could end the conflict in Ukraine but, being the half-glass-empty guy that he is, noted that that doesn’t necessarily mean that the conflict is over, only that it goes underground.  Feng Shui master Marites Allen also sees the year as a good one for world events, with conflicts subsiding and alliance being built.  She also notes that it is a good year for love and romance.

What does year of the rabbit mean for you?  That depends on your zodiac signs.  Check out this write-up on year of the rabbit’s impact on each zodiac sign. 

In the end, Lunar New Year is less about predictions and more about spending time with family and friends and cherishing them throughout the year which I hope many of you do.  For our friends in China, where COVID is running rampant, we will keep you in our thoughts and hope that your families stay healthy and safe.

恭喜发财!(Gong Xi Fa Cai – pronounced gong see fa tsai)

Cracks in the firewall: The recent protests in China

By , January 3, 2023

Originally published in Commonweal

Beijing, China, November 27, 2022 (REUTERS/Alamy Stock Photo)

Three days before China’s twentieth Communist Party Congress in October, a man dressed in an orange jumpsuit and yellow hard hat unfurled two large banners on a highway overpass in northwest Beijing. “No Covid test, we want to eat. No lockdown, we want freedom. No lies, we want dignity. No Cultural Revolution, we want reform. No supreme leaders, we want votes. Don’t be slaves, be citizens,” one of them proclaimed.  “Remove dictator and national traitor Xi Jinping” read the other, a shocking critique of China’s president and the man behind the country’s draconian “zero-Covid” policy. The protester’s statement was all the more surprising because in China the expression of any type of dissent is enough to land a person behind bars.   

Within minutes, police surrounded Peng Lifa and tore down his signs. But Peng’s message was noticed and, in the brief moment before the censors kicked in, photos of the incident flooded China’s internet. Many shared Peng’s frustration with zero Covid, where just a few positive tests have caused entire neighborhoods to be locked down for months, forcing thousands of people—even if they are asymptomatic—to isolate in massive quarantine centers for weeks. Just a few hours later, though, posts of Peng’s action disappeared. China’s algorithms had learned to erase all references to the incident, as if it had never happened.

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Book Review: Louisa Lim’s Indelible City

By , October 6, 2022

Originally published in Commonweal

About three years ago, before the onset of the COVID pandemic, I attended a talk in New York City given by a Hong Kong activist. Back then the city was deep in the throes of massive pro-democracy protests, with millions of Hong Kongers taking to the streets and enduring the sticky summer heat to oppose the increasing authoritarianism of the Chinese government. Despite his obvious weariness, the speaker talked hopefully about the prospective outcome of the demonstrations: the rule of law, freedom of speech, and human rights would prevail over China’s attempt to undermine them. “If we don’t fight for our freedom,” he said, “that is self-destruction.”

Fast forward to now, and even revealing that activist’s name would be enough to land him in prison. Just one year after the protests began, the Chinese government—without consulting Hong Kong officials—imposed a harsh national security law on the city-state. According to the statute’s vague wording, any expression of discontent, countervailing views, or conversations with “foreign forces” could result in a prison term of three years to life. Since the Hong Kong police are increasingly applying the law retroactively, the activist whose talk I attended is still very much at risk—even though he spoke in New York in 2019. For Hong Kongers, accustomed as they are to inhabiting a free society governed by the rule of law, the new law comes as a shock.

How did Hong Kong, a former British colony with an independent judiciary that protected personal freedoms, come to find itself under the heavy dictatorial thumb of Beijing? In her beautiful and timely new memoir, Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong, journalist Louisa Lim does more than simply answer that question. She fills a gap that has long been missing in books about Hong Kong: an account of the city’s long history of defiance, told from the perspective of Hong Kongers themselves.

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Rating: ★★★★½

Author Louisa Lim

Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong, by Louisa Lim (Riverhead Books, 2022), 320 pages. 

China Law & Policy reviewed Lim’s previous book, The People’s Republic of Amnesia, perhaps one of the best books we have read about the 1989 Tian’anmen Massacre.  To read our review of The People’s Republic of Amnesia, please Click Here.


Interested in purchasing the book? Consider supporting your local, independent bookstore. Find the nearest one here.

U.N. Report Calls Out the Chinese Government’s B.S. about “Terrorism” in Xinjiang

By , September 13, 2022
Now former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet

On August 31, 2022, after a year-plus delay, criticism from the human rights community, and a Chinese government-run trip to China to “investigate” atrocities, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued its long-awaited report (“report” or “U.N. Xinjiang report”) about the Chinese government’s human rights violations in China’s predominately Muslim province of Xinjiang.  With high drama, then-Human Rights Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, published the report 13 minutes before she was to step down from her position.

Many have reported on the Chinese government’s extensive lobbying to prevent the report from seeing the light of day so the fact that it was published at all is significant.  But according to Politico, the Chinese government was able to sufficiently water down the report’s conclusions (OHCHR provided China with a pre-publication draft).  And there is much to be critical of: the report states that all these human rights violations “may” constitute crimes against humanity when they clearly do; it glosses over the use of surveillance that makes the whole of Xinjiang – even outside of the internment camps – feel like a prison; there is no mention of possible genocide even though it is obvious that the Chinese government is preventing Uyghur births, a covered act under the Genocide Convention (“imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group”); and the report’s section on family separation shockingly omits any mention of the forced placement of over 800,000 Uyghur children in state-run boarding schools, also a covered act under the Genocide Convention (“forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”).  

Uyghurs practicing their religion in China

Nevertheless, there are some strengths in the report that should not be ignored, most notably OHCHR’s complete rejection of the Chinese government’s statements that its actions in Xinjiang are necessary for national security.  Instead, OHCHR condemned China’s Counterterrorism Law, enacted in 2015, and calls it out for criminalizing the practice of Islam in China.  The Counterterrorism Law, and its corresponding implementing regulations, fail to abide by international human rights norms according to the report.  The definition of terrorism in the law is so vague that it “leaves the potential that acts of legitimate protest, dissent and other human rights activities, or of genuine religious activity, can fall within the ambit of ‘terrorism’. . . .”  OHCHR saves its strongest criticism for the law’s definition of extremism.  First the report notes that under international and U.N. practices, only “violent extremism” is to be punished; the Counterterrorism Law fails to make that distinction.  Instead, by defining extremism through “ideas,” “thoughts,” “clothing,” and “symbols,” it also punishes the mere practice of religion.  But even worse than the vagueness of the law, is that its implementation is even more nebulous.  In reviewing available Xinjiang judicial decisions that used the term “extremism,” OHCHR found that courts often labeled acts as extremist without explaining how those acts fulfilled the legal standards, leaving the OHCHR with the only conclusion that in China all Islamic religious behavior is “extreme.” 

Chen Xu, China’s Ambassador to the UN at Geneva

These might seem like small points but the Chinese government constantly bats away criticism of its human rights violations in Xinjiang as necessary to prevent terrorism. So countering these false assertions is imperative.  Just look at the Chinese government’s response to the report.  The majority of its 122-page response is about the need to stamp out terrorism in Xinjiang.  But if OHCHR is now calling this b.s., other countries can no longer accept China’s excuses. 

Another positive is the report’s clear command that member states not send Uyghurs and other Chinese Turkic Muslims back to China, even if the Chinese government demands that they do.  Although the report makes no mention of genocide and only mentions crimes against humanity as “may” be happening, one has to wonder – if things weren’t so bad, why would OHCHR be telling countries not to send Uyghurs back to China?  OHCHR repeatedly states that sending Uyghurs back would violate the prohibition against refoulement (the forcible return of refugees or asylum seekers to a country where they are liable to be subjected to persecution) which means something pretty bad is happening in Xinjiang even if OHCHR does not want to slap a label on it.

Finally, perhaps the report’s most significant contribution is that even with its watered-down conclusions, OHCHR has put out such damning facts concerning the arbitrary detention, sexual violence, torture, and forced birth control perpetrated against Uyghurs that the world can no longer look away.  Expect this report to roil to the Human Rights Council (HCR) over the next few months, emboldening those countries who have long called on the HCR to do more and causing other countries that once might have defended China to no longer do so. 

Uyghurs protesting outside of China.

Performance Review: Everybody is Gone – Capturing some of the horrors of Xinjiang

By , August 8, 2022

There was nothing ordinary about the ticket check.  As soon as I approached the counter, the usual giddiness of seeing an opening night performance vanished. Separated from my friends, I was met with the angry scowl of a woman in a military uniform who took my ticket and barked at me: “Name!” “Elizabeth” I said. “Do you have singing talent!” “No.” “Do you have managerial experience!” “Yes.” With one last suspicious glare, the woman flicked my ticket back at me and shouted “go,” pointing in the direction of an open doorway.  I sheepishly scurried to the next room.

Thus marked the beginning of Everybody is Gone, an immersive art performance that does an astonishing job at conveying a little bit of the horror of being Uyghur in China. Co-created by Uyghur artist Mukaddas Mijit and U.S. journalist Jessica Batke, Everybody is Gone just concluded its opening run last week in Berlin and hopefully will secure funding for future performances, including in the United States.  

As the Chinese government seeks to push it’s authoritarian ways abroad, recently stating that the Taiwanese people need to be “re-educated” after Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island, Everybody is Gone allows the audience to experience what “re-education” means in the Chinese context. Since 2017, the Chinese government has been using the term “re-education” to justify its mass human rights violations in the Uyghur autonomous region of Xinjiang: the internment of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims without any judicial process or legal basis; suppressing the Muslim religion, the dominant religion of Uyghurs and others in Xinjiang; criminalizing ties abroad; forcing Uyghur families to have a Han Chinese party member live with them; forcibly limiting Uyghur births; sending Uyghur children to boarding schools; and constant surveillance and use of algorithms to punish Uyghurs for essentially being Uyghur.

Photo courtesy Everybody is Gone/The New Wild

My re-education began when I entered the next room where I was met by another silent, angry guard who grunted at me to join a group in the far corner of the room.  Lined up in two rows, audience members were commanded to provide definitions of words that the combat-boot-wearing guard held up on an index card.  “You,” the guard hissed, pointing to the audience member standing next to me. “What does this word mean?”  As I stood looking straight ahead, hoping not to be noticed, my neighbor mumbled some sort of inadequate response to the meaning of “motherland.”  “Give me your ticket” shouted the guard, taking my neighbor’s ticket and scribbling something on it, then moving to another audience member – “You!” – demanding she define the word.  After she gave a definition, the guard made my neighbor repeat it and then sent him off to another group.  When one of my friends was asked to define the word “globalization,” she became tongued-tied even though she works in international banking.  Should I help her?  Or would that just make things worse?  Similar thoughts raced through my mind when the guard suddenly turned to me and asked “did you come here with others.”  Do I tell the truth?  Or would that get my friends in trouble?  But if I don’t tell the truth, wouldn’t they know? 

How quickly the audience became paralyzed with fear is perhaps the most shocking part of the show, and about ourselves.  Eye contact ceased.  When an audience member was ordered to provide a false self-criticism, no one stood up to defend her.  How to keep the guards pleased so as to avoid being pulled out for public humiliation became one’s primary focus.  And while it may have just been a fluke that Everybody is Gone’s opening run was in Berlin, ultimately it was the perfect city to host what has been held to be an ongoing genocide of the Uyghur people.  Berlin is filled with museums that explain the Nazi’s rise, the terror of living under such a regime and the horrors of the concentration camps.  These tours take you to the places where the events happened, and by standing in these places, you try to imagine what it must of felt like and how, if you were in a similar position, would you survive.  But with the ongoing crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, the world cannot go to where the crimes are being committed.  Everybody is Gone bridges that gap a bit.  Using leaked government documents of camp protocols and the testimony of Uyghur refugees who have escaped abroad, Everybody is Gone allows the audience to feel a little bit of the horror of living in Xinjiang right now. 

Photo courtesy Everybody is Gone/The New Wild

The show ends with a village meeting, where the audience must sit there silently as Party chiefs drivel on about strengthening the motherland and attempt to make examples out of “good” audience members and “bad” ones.  It is at this point where it becomes obvious that the nameless country of Everybody is Gone, with its hot pink flag, is China.  As I sat there, exhausted from the tension of the last hour and hoping to avoid being dragged on to the stage, all I kept thinking was what a colossal waste of time and resources this indoctrination is. Instead of allowing people to go to work, raise their families, and find other ways to better themselves and society, they have to experience the stress of being part of a targeted group.  And this doesn’t even capture the full extent of the psychological torture or even touch upon the physical torture of solitary confinement, forced sterilizations and other abusive methods going on in Xinjiang.  After the live performance concluded, the screens on each side of the room filled with the faces and voices of Uyghur refugees, telling of the pain and misery they have endured.  Some keep their faces hidden because if they show themselves, their family members still in Xinjiang will feel the repercussions.  These testimonies can also be watched on Everybody is Gone’s informative website here.  Also on the website is a database of reliable source material, including Chinese government documents, about the myriad human rights violations in Xinjiang.

Everybody is Gone is not for the faint of heart.  It is a stressful hour-and-a-half and even though it only captures a little of what are Uyghurs experiencing, it is enough to remind the world that it must act to stop China’s genocide against the Uyghurs.  In the beginning of 2022, the Chinese government’s crimes against humanity and genocide were filling headlines.  With the war in Ukraine, the Brittney Griner situation, Taiwan tensions and other events, the news cycle has lost sight of what is happening in Xinjiang.  But as Everybody is Gone reminds us, it is still ongoing; human beings are still suffering and the Chinese government is still trying to destroy a people. 

On one of my last days in Berlin, as I walked with a friend, gold Hebrew lettering atop a building we were passing flickered in the afternoon sun.  Not expecting to see Hebrew, I stopped to look more closely.  We were in front of Berlin’s New Synagogue, one of the city’s few Jewish structures that survived Kristallnacht but whose congregation largely did not.  On the front of the synagogue, was a plaque written in German but which ended with the phrase, all in caps, “VERGESST ES NIE.”  My friend, looking at the plaque, said the German phrase aloud.  I asked her what it meant.  “Never forget” she said. Everybody is Gone takes these words seriously, forcing its audience to not forget what is happening Xinjiang and in doing so, demand that we act in time so that the Uyghurs do not experience the same fate of the New Synagogue’s members. 

Rating: ★★★★½


Everybody is Gone ran in Berlin from July 27, 2022 to August 2, 2022.  Currently, it has not posted any new shows as it was only funded for the seven-days in Berlin.  We hope that it is able to find funding to continue.  Check Everybody is Gone’s website for future announcements. 

A Threat to Justice Everywhere: China’s Persecution of the Uyghurs

By , February 22, 2022

Originally published in Commonweal

Early last December, a group of nine British lawyers and human-rights specialists gathered in a wood-paneled room under the glass dome of Church House, near Westminster Abbey in downtown London. They were there to do what the United Nations and its member states have so far failed to accomplish: conduct a thorough review of five years of evidence regarding the Chinese government’s persecution of its minority Muslim Uyghur population in the province of Xinjiang, a sprawling semi-autonomous territory in northwest China. On December 9, after hearing days’ worth of live testimony and poring over thousands of pages of expert reports, as well as published regulations of the Chinese government and other leaked documents, the independent Uyghur Tribunal pronounced its verdict. It found the Chinese government guilty of crimes against humanity and genocide of its Uyghur population.

Such an important determination should not have taken this long, nor should the judgment have fallen to a people’s court. Since 2017 the world has known—through media reports, academic studies, and witness testimony—that the Chinese government has summarily interned more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang concentration camps. . . .

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恭喜发财! Happy Year of the Tiger!

By , January 30, 2022

Enough with the head-down, slow-and-steady hard work of the year of the Ox. On Tuesday, the world will shake off its yoke and welcome the king of all beasts: the tiger!  Powerful, daring, bold, expect 2022 to be exciting and positive.  Even Raymond Lo, normally the Debbie Downers of feng shui masters, is excited!  As Lo points out, this isn’t just any ordinary tiger year. With 2022 being a water year, this is year of the water tiger!  And why does this make Raymond Lo burst with positivity?  Because the tiger’s inner element (every zodiac animal has its own internal element) is wood, and water is supportive of wood.  With such supportiveness, Lo sees a strong economic recovery, conflicts being resolved and more harmony in the world. 

But he does note that there is a chance that, like a tsunami, water could flood the wood and we will see elements of destruction.  Marites Allen, known as the “Philippine Feng Shui Queen,” echoed this sentiment, stating that the tiger, with its competitive personality, will cause people to have a short fuse.  On a more macro scale, we could see greater human rights violations and greater income inequalities Allen said.

For those who have missed traveling the last two years, both Lo and Allen agree that tiger years always mean more traveling.  But, in returning to his glass-half-empty self, Lo did say that because of this increased travel, there will be increased traffic accidents.  Be warned.

But overall, the sentiment for year of the water tiger is positive, with the Way Fengshui Group in Singapore telling Her World magazine that tiger years can “turn crazy dreams into glorious reality.” So dream crazy and dream big.

Of course, how you fare during year of the water tiger depends on how your birth sign interacts with the tiger.  Her World magazine has a list of predictions for each of the 12 zodiac signs in this upcoming year (click here to look up your sign)

Ultimately though, Lunar New Year is less about predictions than it is about celebrating with cherished family and friends over good food and fun.  For our friends in China, where COVID is popping up, our thoughts are with you and we hope that you can take solace knowing that there will be more positive times to come, at least according to Raymond Lo.  加油.  And of course,恭喜发财 ! (gong-see-fah-tsai – “may you be happy & prosperous!”)

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