China’s Other Minority, Seen by One of Its Own – Rebiya Kadeer’s memoir paints a vivid picture of her path to becoming the most prominent dissident among the Uighur people of western China, By HOWARD W. FRENCH
It is the awkward fate of China, more than any other country, to be arriving late to any number of parties where most other revelers are either long gone or leaving, having declared the celebrations déclassé. Such is the case with China’s booming smokestack economy and with its ardent new fling with the automobile, with its desire for a deep-water navy built around aircraft carriers, and with its ambition for a space program that will land on the Moon.
China is also just beginning to grapple with the creation of what most in the developed world would recognize as a modern legal system and acceptable standards for human rights, and it is in much the same position with its cobbling efforts to reinvent the welfare state.
Most anachronistic of all, though, is the country’s treatment of its two largest minorities, the Tibetans and Uighurs, both old, non-Han indigenous civilizations that claim meaningful autonomy in China’s vast, resource-rich and sparsely populated west. Our Western legacy of land expropriation and slaughter of native peoples by European settlers and imperial armies may give us little to cluck about, but in today’s world the rights and interests of native peoples have rightly won greater recognition.
In this memoir, “Dragon Fighter,” part defiant political tell-all, part engrossing personal saga, Rebiya Kadeer paints a vivid picture of her life as a mother of 11 and a businesswoman who spent nearly six years in prison on her way to becoming the Uighur people’s most prominent dissident.
Since its Communist revolution of 1949 China has employed a brimming catalog of tactics to bring its western region to heel. These include invasion; disappearing of political leaders; gerrymandering to disperse minorities across new, eccentrically redrawn provinces, flooding the cities with subsidized Han immigration; limits on worship, government control of clergy, desecration of temples and harsh repression.
Even Westerners who pay relatively little attention to China will be at least vaguely familiar with the plight of Tibetans, whose religious leader, the Dalai Lama, has been lionized by the Nobel committee and received at the White House.
Such is not the case with the Uighur, a central Asian people who are distant relatives of the Turks and native to what China calls the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, or the New Frontier, an area three and half times as large as California, whose indigenous people look all but set to join the ranks of history’s great, overrun losers.
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