The Xinjiang Gold Rush, Uyghur Scavengers and a Kind of Freedom

In a discussion of Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World — about Southeast Asian refugee immigrants and white Vietnam War vets picking mushrooms in Oregon — Darren Byler is struck by the way the mushroom pickers speak of freedom. He writes:

In a corner of China, several thousand kilometers from the Yunnan forests Tsing writes about in the second half of her book, I have lived with another group of pickers. They are Uyghurs who scavenge the dry river valleys near Yaken and Hotan on the border with Afghanistan for jade. Armed with hoes, these young Muslim men sort through rocks for months, avoiding the thousands of Han settlers and state-owned corporations that have come in the Jade Rush that has overtaken their homeland. After filling a fanny pack with stones they go to the city, dodging the many police checkpoints that stand between them and the regional capital Ürümchi. If they are seen by the police, they will be sent back or arrested. They will be caught up in the so-called People’s War on Terror, which targets young Uyghur men and thrives on indefinite detention and labor camps. Yet if these young men do manage to arrive in the city, they too, like the mushroom pickers, speak of a kind of freedom.

Read Byler’s full essay, Salvage Freedomhere.

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