Uyghurs: Representation and Literature

Image Source: IAS Parliament

Who are Uyghurs?

History has never been kinder to the natives of the occupied region, and today’s world is no different to this phenomenon. The subjugation and marginalisation of people on the basis of race, ethnicity, and religion has been a recurring phenomenon throughout history. The expression of this unspeakable oppression is seen in the resistance shown by people in depicting their pain and agony. Human life has been subjected to dominance and mechanisation based on the oppressor’s choice. It has been witnessed and documented that the oppressor tries to regulate the basic routine of life just to ensure a revolution doesn’t ascend and challenge the mighty empire that they are trying to build. Belief in racial superiority has led to mass destruction, resulting in millions losing their lives at the hands of different governments in the world. The history of the Uyghurs is no different to that of any other colonised region. Targeting the education systems of the oppressed is one of the common ways to assert one’s dominance. The objective is to eradicate any kind of individuality that people may identify with as a whole. ‘Whole’, being a community that has its own beliefs and identity. These beliefs are seen as a source of threat by the oppressor, and they pose a hindrance to the ultimate goal of ruling the mind of the people. In 2014, China announced its policy of “people’s war on terror” and in 2017, the news of “Re-education Camps for Uyghurs’ started to make its way to the surface. There are about 12 million Uyghurs, mostly Muslim, living in Xinjiang, which is officially known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). The Uyghurs have their own language, which is similar to Turkish. They identify more with the central Asian region and see themselves as culturally and ethnically close to this region, leaving the Chinese identity at bay. The Uyghur population makes up half of the total Xinjiang population. In this autonomous region of China, the Xinjiang Province one can hear of oppression on a community through diverse mediums of media and literature.


International Coverage of Uyghurs

On June 18th, 2019, a video was uploaded by BBC Network showing us a projection of camps in China under the banner of “Thought Transformation Camps.” These claimed education camps are also aimed at making Chinese society free from the uncivilized extremist natives who could be potential criminals. In the video, the Chinese officer clearly says that “we cannot wait for them to commit a crime; we have to convict them beforehand so as to stop the crime from happening.” It was only after a vehement denial that China finally accepted that it had built such education camps and, thereby, allowed an extremely controlled visit by journalists into the camps in controlled areas.

In China, the Uyghurs are seen as a threat to the national sovereignty of the Chinese Communist Party, which is the dominant belief, and the opposing individual can be seen as a traitor. Through the study, one can say that China is attacking the native population. The oppressor sees the self-objective as righteous and takes gruesome steps to achieve its goal. There is a structure that follows this oppression by controlling the mind, setting of fear, unimaginable consequences in case of defiance.


Colonizers believed that natives were savages and needed to be managed in order to maintain a civilized society. It shows how colonialism and the abuse that happens lead to the vilification of native culture. The basic cultural practices are made to be something that enables a punishment on natives, and they are perpetually made to leave their culture behind. The question of demonization as a culture is extended to the Uyghurs as well. In his poem “Elegy,” Perhat Tursun writes,

“Among the corpses frozen in exodus over the icy mountain pass,

will you recognize me?

Our brothers we begged for shelter took our clothes. 

Pass by there even now and you will see our naked corpses.

When they force me to accept the massacre as love.

Do you know that I am with you.”

-Elegy by Perhat Tursun


“Let the dark dungeons have their nightmares!

Let my dreams laugh by their side….

Never mind, let my hands be tied,

As long as it is not my heart being burned again,

Whips, please lash my face’

My strangled soul cannot take anymore

The nose is about to break!-

Don’t cry if you hear the news of my “passing”!

Say the cold, the hunger, the thirst,

And the crisis of identity,

Set me free.”

-Returning to the Fire by Hendan


These lines reek of the oppression taking place in Xinjang right now. It also shows us the inter-personalization of oppression. This comes into being when the group that considers itself better, after embedding the idea in institutions, extends its belief in individual human beings. It enables the individual to not see the human being as human but as a subject that can be treated in any way possible, irrespective of the pain and torture that a human body can take. Under this, humans lose their sensitivity towards a fellow human on an inter-personal level.


Oppression everywhere and anywhere is a system that takes shape. While the targeted group is not always very capable of fighting this oppression, it has the capability to express This expression through literature is very powerful as it takes the attention of the masses into a state that removes them from the oblivion of merry times and shows the reality of oppression and how literature as a powerful tool can be expressed to show this oppression.

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Simrah Khan
Simrah Khan, a post graduate student in Comparative Literature from Jadavpur University. She has completed her graduation in German Language and Literature from Aligarh Muslim University. Her areas of interests are Canadian Literature, German Literature, and Migrant Literature. She has a keen interest in dialogue studies, rhetoric and writing and is perpetually working in the field of language and literatures of the world. Miss. Khan is an ardent reader and researcher; she has worked as a Content Writer and a Translator of the German language. She can be reached at


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