How do you protect a culture that is being wiped out?
For Uighurs, this is more than just a hypothetical. Repressive measures against the ethnic minority have progressively worsened: The Chinese government has corralled more than 1 million of them into internment camps, where they have been subjected to political indoctrination, forced sterilization, and torture.
The targeting of the Uighurs isn’t limited to the camps. Since 2016, dozens of graveyards and religious sites have been destroyed. The Uighur language has been banned in Xinjiang schools in favor of Mandarin Chinese. Practicing Islam, the predominant Uighur faith, has been discouraged as a “sign of extremism.”
Beijing frames these moves as its way of rooting out terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism. But the aim of China’s actions in Xinjiang is clear: to homogenize Uighurs into the country’s Han Chinese majority, even if that means erasing their cultural and religious identity for good. What is taking place is a cultural genocide.
The repercussions bear heavily even on Uighurs living outside the country. Their burden is more than just raising awareness about what is taking place in their homeland—a task many have taken up at great cost to themselves and their families. It’s also about preserving and promoting their identity in countries where few people might know who the Uighurs are, let alone what the world stands to lose should their language, food, art, and traditions be eradicated.