Violent Paternalism: On the Banality of Uyghur Unfreedom

By Darren Byler

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Abstract

Since 2016 over one million Chinese civil servants have been ordered to spend a series of weeks visiting assigned Turkic Muslim “relatives.” These mostly Han urbanites have been tasked with instructing Uyghur and Kazakh farmers in political ideology and subjecting them to tests of Chinese nationalism and Han cultural assimilation. When they occupy the homes of their Turkic “relatives” they assess whether or not they should be sent into the mass “reeducation” camp system. Drawing on ethnographic field research, interviews and state documents, this essay argues that the systematic normalization of state-directed violent paternalism has produced a new kind of banality in Turkic minority experiences of unfreedom.

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