The Death Trap of Difference, or What the Uyghurs Understand

In that tower built of skulls you will find my skull as well they cut my head off just to test the sharpness of a sword. When before the sword our beloved cause-and-effect relationship is ruined like a wild lover Do you know that I am with you  PERHAT TURSUN, “ELEGY”  June 1988 was an unforgettable month for the Uyghurs. A group of Uyghur students noticed an insulting slogan, presumably written by a Chinese person, on one of the walls of a public toilet in Xinjiang University: “We will turn your men into slaves and your women into whores!” This incident quickly triggered a mass protest of Uyghur students against the Xinjiang authorities, which just as quickly suppressed it. The protest was described by the Chinese government as an act of secession, a serious crime against the sovereignty of the Chinese state. The Uyghurs considered the inscription a gross insult, foreshadowing many insults and calamities to come.  Politically, for the Uyghurs, the incident heralded the end of the quasi-liberal atmosphere under the leadership of Hu Yaobang, the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the 1980s, who tried, but ultimately failed, to implement the autonomous laws that were promised by the CCP to the Uyghurs, along with the Mongols, the Hui, the Zhuangzu, and the Tibetans, in the 1950s. With this humiliation and the others that they experienced daily, the Uyghurs were roughly awakened from the illusions of socialism’s promise of autonomy to face a merciless colonial reality that offered them a stark choice — notional autonomy or nothing at all. Since then, the scope of the notional autonomy for the Uyghurs has gradually dwindled, leaving room for more confusion, frustration, and resistance against Chinese rule, and then for much worse.  For some Uyghurs, the graffiti incident in

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