Posts tagged: China

35 Years After a Massacre: How the World Remembers

China Law & Policy remembers the Tiananmen massacre, 35 years ago on June 4.

Thirty-five ago this week – on the night of June 3 into the early morning hours of June 4, 1989 – the Chinese government did the unthinkable: it opened fire on its own people, killing hundreds if not thousands of unarmed civilians in the Beijing streets surrounding Tiananmen Square. That violent crackdown marked the end of the months-long, student-led, peaceful protests in the Square, protests that sought to bring reform to China.

While the world marks the anniversary, on mainland China, it’s as if the event never happened. Thirty-five years of censorship of the Tiananmen protests and massacre means that those alive at the time know not to talk about it and those born after have almost no knowledge of the event. In Hong Kong, which used to host one of the largest commemorations of the June 4th massacre, since 2022, when Beijing tightened its grip on the autonomous region, it is now a crime to remember.

But even under China’s repressive regime, there are still some who brave to acknowledge and record the truth. Yesterday, the Christian Times, a Hong Kong newspaper that usually features an annual Tiananmen commemoration article at this time of year, published its paper with a blank front page, with only a few characters stating that “cannot be published due to circumstances.” And as the China Unofficial Archives highlighted on Friday, there are number of Chinese people who have documented what happened the spring of 1989, providing links to the 31 entries it has on the 1989 pro-democracy protests and the June 4th incident. 

And this is why we must remember and memorialize this event. The west has ironically become the repository of China’s modern history, including the events of June 4, 1989. While these works cannot be published in China, we must continue to support efforts to house the Chinese people’s own interpretation of their history such as the China Unofficial Archives, and endeavor by former China reporter Ian Johnson to house these “underground histories.” Eventually, the Chinese people will demand that they be allowed to learn their own history and the West’s repository of knowledge will be an important first step.

China Law & Policy remembers the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre on June 4, 1989.

恭喜发财! Happy Year of the Wood Dragon!

By , February 6, 2024

On February 10, we say goodbye to the introspective, more pensive rabbit and greet the most prized of all the Chinese zodiac signs, the dragon. But not just any ordinary dragon; 2024 ushers in the year of the wood dragon. Buckle up because it is going to be a wild ride!

In addition to being associated with a zodiac animal, each year is also associated with one of the five elements (earth, wood, water, fire, metal). This year’s element is wood. While the dragon is an auspicious sign, it is also a volatile one, offering fast-paced opportunities that could yield tremendous successes or abysmal failures. The wood element – which fuels flames – enhances the intensity of the dragon. Expect the possibility of great transformations that positively impact the course of world events. In the last wood dragon year, 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Beatles arrived in America, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. But there were also great upheavals. The U.S. radically ramped up its involvement in Vietnam and students began protesting en masse; Nelson Mandela, after giving his “I am prepared to die” speech, was sentenced to life by a South African court; the second most powerful earthquake – registering a 9.2 on the Richter scale – occurred in Alaska; and three civil rights workers, a part of the 1964 Freedom Summer, were brutally murdered in Mississippi.

But we should keep hope that the wood dragon will usher in peace and positivity in the world as the dragon is not just the most revered animal of the Chinese zodiac, it is also the kindest. When the Jade Emperor, ruler of heaven and earth, created the Chinese zodiac, he decided to create a 12-year cycle calendar, with an animal representing each year. Instead of just choosing his favorites, he challenged the animals of the world to a race. The first 12 to arrive at his palace on the other side of the river would become part of the zodiac. The dragon came in fifth. Shocked, the Jade Emperor asked the dragon how that could have happened given that he can fly. The dragon told him that he had gotten waylaid. First, he had to stop to help provide rain to a village of farmers whose crops were dying from draught. Then, as he was about to fly across the river, he saw the rabbit clinging on to a log in a sad attempt to cross the river. “I had to help the rabbit” the dragon told the Jade Emperor. “So I blew gently on the log to make sure the rabbit would safely arrive on the other side of the river.”  

For the dragon, power should be used to help others, not dominate over them. And that fits with some of the most famous dragons: Bruce Lee; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Joan of Arc; John Lennon; Adele; and Pelé. With the wars in Ukraine and Gaza and the U.S. presidential election, hopefully this characteristic of using power to help others will dominate in the year to come. Heavens knows we need it.

What does the wood dragon have in store for you? That all depends on your own Chinese zodiac sign. Fortunately, the aptly named website, The Chinese has listed its Lunar New Year predictions for the 12 zodiac signs. You can read what is in store for you here (remember those born in late January to early February should look up the precise date of the lunar new year for your birth year to make sure you have the right zodiac sign).

Ultimately the lunar new year is less about predictions than it is about spending time with family and friends. So to our East Asian friends who celebrate the lunar new year, 恭喜发财! (Gong Xi Fa Cai – pronounced gong see fa tsai and meaning “wishing happiness and wealth”).

The Human Toll of a Cold War: “Agents of Subversion” and “Lost in the Cold War”

By , January 4, 2024

Few Americans know the story of John “Jack” Downey, the United States’ longest-held prisoner of war who served over 20 years in a Chinese prison. But given the current broken relationship between the U.S. and China, it’s important to understand Downey’s ordeal and the human toll of the last Cold War. Fortunately, two new, thought-provoking books, Lost in the Cold War: The Story of Jack Downey, America’s Longest-Held POW, written by John T. Downey with explanations by China political scientist Thomas Christensen and a moving epilogue by Downey’s son, John Lee Downey, and Agents of Subversion: The Fate of John T. Downey and the CIA’s Covert War in China, by China historian John Delury, recounts Downey’s story and the repercussions of trying to “win” a cold war.

Downey’s story starts with America in 1950. Communism was spreading across the world and many in D.C. were looking for someone to blame for the “loss” of China to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) the year prior. Senator Joseph McCarthy settled upon the China hands at the State Department, hauling them before the Senate to accuse them of being Communist sympathizers. By October 1950, the CCP had entered the Korean War, turning the tide against the Americans forces. For the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”), overthrowing the CCP through covert action became a priority. Initially, the CIA used Chinese operatives, agents it called “the Third Force” because of their lack of allegiance to the CCP or the prior party that had governed China, the Kuo Min Tang (“KMT”). With only minimal training, the CIA would clandestinely air drop these Third Force agents into a village in China, hoping they could go on to form a successful resistance movement against the CCP. But after the corruption of the KMT and years of war, most Chinese were not interested in overthrowing the CCP. Of the CIA’s 212 Third Force operatives it dropped in China, 111 were captured and 101 killed. 

But these abysmal numbers did not stop the CIA. Instead, it hatched an even more absurd plan:  send American agents into China to try to help these Third Force operatives. In November 1952, the CIA sent two of its American agents into Chinese airspace over Manchuria to physically pick up one of these Third Force operatives: Jack Downey, only a year out of Yale University and with no knowledge on China, and agent Richard “Dick” Fecteau, also a recent grad with zero China knowledge. Their plane was to fly low over a meeting point, with Downey and Fecteau holding out a long hook that the operative was to attach to his vest, and as the plane ascended, Downey and Fecteau would pull the hook up into the plane, bringing the Third Force operative with it. But the operative had already been discovered by the CCP weeks earlier, had flipped, and CCP forces were awaiting Downey and Fecteau’s plane. As soon as the plane was low enough, CCP forces shot it down, killing the pilots and capturing Downey and Fecteau. 

For two years, the Chinese government kept secret the capture of these two Americans. The CIA presumed the two dead and sent letters to their families to that effect. But in 1954, when Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai made public that the two were very much alive and had been convicted of espionage, with Downey receiving a life sentence and Fecteau twenty years, the U.S. government went into crisis mode. But instead of admitting the truth, that they were in fact spies, the U.S. government concocted the story that the two had been civilian employees of the army and their flight from South Korea to Japan had been blown off course into Chinese airspace due to a storm.

For the next twenty years, the U.S. government maintained this fiction to the world and to its own people even though between 1954 and 1966, there were at least two opportunities to free the men.  All that the U.S government would have to have done was to admit that the two were CIA operatives. Then-Secretary of State John Foster Dulles refused. To him, such an admission would be a victory for the Communists and every Administration went along with his decision. It would not be until the early 1970s, and the formation of a new China policy by President Richard Nixon, that there would be any movement. With warming relations between the two countries, Fecteau was freed on December 1971, but Downey, always viewed by the Chinese as the mission’s leader, only received a reduction in his life sentence. Finally, at a press conference about Vietnam POWs in January 1973, Nixon admitted that Downey was a CIA agent. Two months later, on March 12, Downey would cross the Chinese border into Hong Kong, finally a free man.

Lost in the Cold War is Downey’s memoir of the mission, recounting his zealousness in signing up for the CIA during his senior year at Yale (“Suddenly, my life had purpose”), his training, his capture, and then how he mentally and physically survived close to twenty-one years in a Chinese prison. Written in secret and only discovered by his family after his death in 2014, Downey’s writing style is engaging, making his ordeal into a page-turner. Interestingly, he harbors little resentment against the Chinese government, accepting that a life sentence was appropriate for what he did – unlawfully fly into Chinese airspace with the intent to overthrow the CCP. There is also no ill-will toward the U.S. government even though years of his life were wasted because of Dulles’ belief that negotiating with Communists was below him.  Although Downey doesn’t express any anger, the reader cannot help but feel it for him. When Downey returns to Connecticut in 1973, he visits Yale; it was his memories of Yale, where he was a popular star athlete, that sustained him through prison. But all he finds on campus are ghosts. When he reunites with some college friends he sees that Yale is long behind them. “They had homes, jobs, wives, and children to enjoy and worry about. To them, the years at Yale were a distant memory.  To me college was yesterday. . .In many ways, I was still twenty-two.”  When he visits his sick mother, she firmly grasps his hand, unable to let go of the son she had to fight her own government to bring home.

Jack Downey crossing the border to Hong Kong

How could the U.S. government allow this suffering to continue for 20 years and what was it all for?  That is where Christensen’s chapters become important. For the majority of Americans today – two-thirds of whom were born either in the waning days of the Cold War or after it was over – the Cold War is nothing more than a plotline in a movie. Christensen reminds us that at the time, both the U.S. government and the American people really believed that every last resource had to be used to fight Communism. What we perceive as immoral choices today – letting Downey and Fecteau rot in a Chinese prison – were perceived as necessary to protect America. But even with this perspective, the failure to put a human life first still seems unnecessarily harsh. Downey’s son, whose moving epilogue is beautifully written and presents Downey as a kind, if somewhat tortured father, is much less forgiving. When he recounts the “celebration” the CIA held for his father and Fecteau in 2010, his tone is biting and rightfully so, reminding the reader of the human toll of all this. 

Delury’s Agents of Subversion is an important supplement to Downey’s memoirs, artfully putting Downey’s story into the larger narrative of the United States’ changing society in the early 1950s. It starts with the intellectual battles that were brewing in post-World War II America, between those who thought the U.S should focus on its own domestic issues and those who believed that any means that could eliminate Communism from the world should be used. Ultimately those who wanted to take on Communism through subversive and covert operations  – especially John Foster Dulles and his brother, Allen Dulles who was the CIA’s director at the time – won the day. 

Further, by using original Chinese language sources, Delury shows that instead of fermenting revolution in China, the CIA’s efforts had the opposite effect: they justified Mao’s fear that the United States was seeking to undermine his rule, and validated his suppression and surveillance of the Chinese population. Delury also recounts the U.S. government’s response to the failed mission, its subsequent cover up, the constant pressure of Downey’s mother to free her son, and the road to Fecteau and Downey’s release after Nixon takes office. With deep research and a well-written narrative, Agents of Subversion is an important contribution to the intellectual history of the United States in the 1950s as well as its policy toward China. 

In 2013, the CIA awarded Jack Downey (L) and Dick Fecteau (R) its highest award.

Today, the U.S.’ China policy seems to be circling back to a cold war mentality of the 1950s and 60s, with increasing anti-China rhetoric coming from both sides of the aisle. There are aspects of the current Chinese regime that undermine a lawful and human rights-respecting world order that the U.S. must combat, but a complete vilification of the country does not serve that goal. And, as in the case with Jack Downey, it may even cause us to lose sight of our own values. Lost In the Cold War and Agents of Subversion are timely reminders that when ideological stakes are running high, our government is not above lying to its own people or forsaking its own citizens.

Lost in the Cold War: The Story of Jack Downey, America’s Longest-Held POW, by John T. Downey, Thomas Christensen and, John Lee Downey (Columbia University Press, 2022), 344 pages.

Rating: ★★★★½

Agents of Subversion: The Fate of John T. Downey and the CIA’s Covert War in China, by John Delury (Cornell University Press, 2022), 408 pages.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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

*******Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly referred to Eugene McCarthy instead of Joseph McCarthy. This has now been corrected. Apologies.

Want to Reset China-US Relations? Bring Back Fulbright China

By , November 30, 2023

Restoring the Fulbright Program could be a gateway to alleviating tensions and closing the China expertise gap.

by Colleen O’Connor & Elizabeth M. Lynch

Originally published in The Diplomat

The recent meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in California was heralded as an initial attempt to thaw relations. As part of that broader effort, both sides expressed interest in expanding educational exchanges. China’s announced goal of hosting 50,000 U.S. students in the next five years looks wildly ambitious compared to the current 211 Americans studying in mainland China today, but ten years ago, as many as 15,000 studied there annually. 

The drastic decline of American students in China is creating an expertise gap that threatens the United States’ long-term ability to navigate the complexities of the China-U.S. geopolitical landscape.  CLICK HERE to continue reading this article.

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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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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What’s Biden’s plan when our athletes protest and get detained?

By , December 12, 2021

Last Monday, the White House announced that, because of the “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses,” President Joe Biden will not be sending any diplomatic, government or other official representatives to the Beijing Winter Olympic Games.  With the U.S.’ announcement, other countries and territories have followed suit. New Zealand, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Scotland, Kosovo and Japan all have announced similar diplomatic boycotts.  To its credit, Lithuania preceded the United States in announcing a diplomatic boycott by three days.

But in light of the Chinese government’s ongoing persecution of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims – the unlawful internment of one to three million in camps (and yes, it is unlawful under Chinese law), the criminalization of their religion, the restriction on Uyghur births, the constant destruction of their mosques and other religious grounds, the seizure of Uyghurs’ passports, and the dehumanization of Uyghurs – a diplomatic boycott is not enough.  Our athletes’ participation in the shadows of what the U.S. government has declared a genocide and U.S. corporations’ Olympic sponsorship will make the Beijing Winter Games come off as business as usual.  We don’t look back on Berlin 1936 because we sent our diplomats to attend the Nazi’s Olympics.  We look back on the Berlin Summer Games because we allowed our athletes to perform before a regime that we knew was persecuting and dehumanizing its Jewish population.  And in allowing for business as usual, we demonstrated our lack of commitment to protecting Germany’s Jews and gave the Nazi government the imprimatur of global legitimacy.  With just a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing 2022 Winter Games, expect the same result which, if history is a guide, does not bode well for the Uyghurs.   

Additionally, leaving the moral responsibility to do more on the shoulders of our athletes is not only unfair to them, it is also dangerous.  Many of our athletes are in their late teens to mid-twenties, peak age to take on causes and protest.  In March of this year, likely recognizing their athletes’ proclivity to activism and the U.S.’ tradition of free speech, the U.S. Olympic Committee permitted demonstrations at the U.S. Olympic trials.  At this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, U.S. shot-putter Raven Saunders, while on the medal podium, held up her arms in an “x” in protest for the oppressed of the world.

Tibetan flag

But such protests in Beijing could result in severe consequence for our athletes under Chinese law.  Disrespecting the Chinese flag is a crime under Chinese Criminal Law (Article 299) and anything touching upon Tibet or Xinjiang, such as unfurling or wearing a Tibetan or East Turkestan flag or symbol, could be deemed inciting separatism (Article 103) or inciting ethnic hatred (Article 249).  Similar with any show of support for an independent Taiwan or for protestors in Hong Kong.  Even writing #WhereIsPengShuai could easily fall under the Chinese government catch-all, anti-activist criminal prohibition against picking quarrels and provoking troubles. (Article 293(4): “making disturbances in public places. . . .”).  Even if the Chinese government doesn’t want to throw the book at a foreign athlete, there is always administrative detention – a 15-day prison sentence without trial – as a result of “disturbing public order” that could be a good way to prove its point.

East Turkestan flag

The fact that the world will be watching should not afford any comfort. The past few years have shown that the Chinese government has no qualms in using its legal system to prove a political point.  For almost two years, the Chinese government detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in retaliation of Canada’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou.  American citizens and siblings Victor Liu and Cythnia Liu, who went to China to visit family, were forbidden from leaving for over three years, likely as a way to pressure their businessman father to turn himself in on fraud charges.  Even the United States Department of State has noted the political use of the legal system , warning Americans traveling to China that the “government arbitrarily enforces local laws, including by carrying out arbitrary and wrongful detentions and through the use of exit bans on U.S. citizens and citizens of other countries without due process of law.”

So what’s the Biden’s administration’s plan when one of our athletes is detained or not allowed to leave China?  Has the U.S. Olympic Committee informed athletes’ parents and family what it will do when their relative goes missing?  The Biden administration and the U.S. Olympic Committee need to be honest with our athletes and their families that protesting in China could have real consequences and if they do protest, communicate now what the U.S. government will do for them.  It’s funny how our choice to engage in a diplomatic boycott also puts us, the bastion of free speech, in the awkward situation that to ensure our athletes’ return, we have to tell them not to protest against some of the gravest human rights violation in the world today.  Perhaps a more complete boycott – athletes, corporate sponsors, media coverage – would have been the better choice, both morally and for the safety of our athletes. 

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