An excerpt from Bloodline ,
a novel by Uyghur author Patigül set in Xinjiang
Translated from the Chinese
by Natascha Bruce
In China: Big Data Fuels Crackdown in Minority Region, Human Rights Watch reports on how hi-tech is being used to systematically monitor citizens’ behavior in Xinjiang, one of the PRC’s most multiethnic regions:
Since August 2016, the Xinjiang Bureau of Public Security has posted procurement notices confirming the establishment of the “Integrated Joint Operations Platform” (IJOP, 一体化联合作战平台), a system that receives data on individuals from many different sources. Kashgar Prefecture appears to be one of the first areas where the system is complete and in regular use.
These notices reveal that the IJOP gathers information from multiple sources or “sensors.” One source is CCTV cameras, some of which have facial recognition or infrared capabilities (giving them “night vision”). Some cameras are positioned in locations police consider sensitive: entertainment venues, supermarkets, schools, and homes of religious figures. Another source is “wifi sniffers,” which collect the unique identifying addresses of computers, smartphones, and other networked devices. The IJOP also receives information such as license plate numbers and citizen ID card numbers from some of the region’s countless security checkpoints and from “visitors’ management systems” in access-controlled communities. The vehicle checkpoints transmit information to IJOP, and “receive, in real time, predictive warnings pushed by the IJOP” so they can “identify targets… for checks and control.”
The IJOP also draws on existing information, such as one’s vehicle ownership, health, family planning, banking, and legal records, according to official reports. Police and local officials are also required to submit to IJOP information on any activity they deem “unusual” and anything “related to stability” they have spotted during home visits and policing. One interviewee said that possession of many books, for example, would be reported to IJOP, if there is no ready explanation, such as having teaching as one’s profession.
As part of the global One Belt, One Road publicity campaign, China’s media is publishing a bevy of articles introducing major oasis cities along the ancient Silk Road, including this one focusing on Xinjiang’s Aksu (一带一路上的阿克苏: 新型全球化的城市样本). Here’s a pic from the article, showing modern-day Aksu residents dancing.
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 Freedom, here.
Hong Ke’s novel, Urho (乌尔禾, 红柯著), is set during the 1960s in the Zungharian Basin at the edge of the Gurbantünggüt Desert. This remote and rugged area of Xinjiang was once a favored hunting ground for the Mongol Khans when they ruled Cathay. A Han soldier back from the Korean front — dubbed “Hailibu” by the locals after the legendary Mongolian hero graced with the gift of understanding animal speech — runs a sheep ranch for the Xinjiang Construction Corps.
** Excerpt **
It was the tail-end of summer, and Hailibu hadn’t imagined that the boy would grow so intimate with the lambs. This was Hailibu’s error. He had forgotten that Weijiang’s affinity with the animal world was rapidly deepening.
Before the traditional time for setting sheep free — late autumn — had arrived, Weijiang set free a pair on his own.
This caused Hailibu considerable consternation. It was one thing for an old man to perform such a ritual, but perhaps this act of charity was best not performed by a child. Alone deep in the wilderness, Hailibu pounded his head.
Hailibu spoke with Weijiang’s father, suggesting the boy leave the sheep ranch. The man imagined his son must have stirred up some trouble. Yet when Hailibu explained about the boy’s releasing sheep into the wild, Weijiang’s father just laughed.
“Freein’ a sheep, is that such a big thing?” said the father. “When that boy’s momma had him in her belly, she let hares go. At our place, they used to come and go whenever they pleased. I don’t know how many hares we freed, me ’n her. Hedgehogs too. Like fresh meat delivered to our door, but we saw ’em off in fine health.”
“So somebody let a pair of your sheep go, and you feel bad, right?” he queried Hailibu. “I’ll give you ’nother two to make up for it.”
“The hell you will! Let’s have a drink.”
The pair sat down on the kang and finished off a bottle of liquor. Hailibu felt relieved.
* * *
Time passed, but Hailibu remained uneasy. Having made arrangements for the ranch, he mounted his horse and began roaming the steppe. He rode to Toli and Hoboksar in North Xinjiang. He listened wistfully to urtyn duu, the famed Long-Song of the Mongolians, and to folk songs sung by Aken, Kazakh minstrels who play the stringed dongbula.
Hailibu visited the most respected Elder on the steppe. A virtual encyclopedia of the grasslands, the old man could narrate ancient legends for months on end. Among these tales, however, few mentioned a child setting sheep free.
This weighty matter on Hailibu’s conscience didn’t escape notice. “Guest from afar,” said the Elder, “Speak what is on your heart. Otherwise it will freeze over.”
Hailibu explained that a boy at his ranch had freed a pair of sheep on his own.
The old man was unfazed. “How far can they go, sheep released by a youngster?” Before the old man could utter another word, Hailibu began to tremble and prepared to kneel.
“They were released by one child, so they shall be taken in by another,” announced the Elder, matter of factly. At which point, Hailibu prostrated himself with a thud.
“Fathers are like that,” chuckled the Elder. Two young Kazakhs lifted the visitor off the ground. Hailibu clambered into his saddle like a drunkard.
“Can he ride that way?” asked one of the young men as Hailibu’s horse departed. “He’s falling asleep. Better bring him back!”
“A horseman doesn’t sleep in a tent or on a prairie,” said the Elder. “For him, the steadiest bed is a saddle.”
Hailibu was indeed exhausted. On the steppe, there is a custom: When a man reaches the limits of his fatigue, in his stupor he climbs into his saddle, releases the reins and lets his steed take charge. Dreams know no boundaries, nor does sleep. This carefree, directionless rambling is a gift from the Heavens, when a Spirit takes brief possession of the body.
“Like a bird, a gazelle, a deer or a wild stallion,” said the Elder to the young men. “That’s a life worthy of envy.” [end]
Like to read the full Chapter 3 from Hong Ke’s Xinjiang-based novel? Contact Ms. Wang Ting (email@example.com) at Beijing October Arts & Literature Publishing House.
Take Wang Gang’s 《英格力士》, for instance. This semi-autobiographical novel set in Xinjiang during the Cultural Revolution was snapped up by Penguin, and rendered in English by Martin Merz and Jane Weizhen Pan as . . . English. See my Growing up Han in Fictional Xinjiang for a combined book review and interview with the translators. The novel has since also appeared in French (English) and Spanish (El profesor de inglés) .
I assume the purchase and publication of Wang Gang’s work was a market-driven decision by Penguin. But late last year, his novel was launched in Turkish at the Istanbul Book Fair. The driver in that instance may have been somewhat more political. It was one of just two Chinese novels that were translated into Turkish and published in time for the fair thanks to a joint project subsidized by Turkey and China. The other was a relatively unknown work by Tie Ning (How long is forever?), who happens to be favorably placed; she’s top honcho at the state-run China Writers Association.
Given that only a handful of contemporary Chinese novels have appeared in Turkish, I can’t help but ponder the symbolism of choosing a Xinjiang-born Han author’s novel as an introduction to 21st-century Chinese literature. The novel is set in Xinjiang, the home of some ten million Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking, traditionally Muslim people who have ancient ties with the Turkish. But the novel itself focuses almost exclusively on the Han community there; there are no Uyghur male characters in it.
Irony of ironies, Wang Gang’s novel was translated from the English-language English, not his Chinese original. The first casualty may have been the book’s title in Turkish that couldn’t be much more mundane: Ingilizce, the proper Turkish term for the English language. The original novel was entitled 英格力士, however, which is closer to a phonetic transcription of the word as you would find it in a dictionary, e.g., “ing-glish”, a more notable title that positions the word as alien to the speaker. As you can see from the Spanish and French titles above, Ingilizce is a more orthodox translation from the, uh, English.
At any rate, keen to see how a novel about the Cultural Revolution would be rendered in Turkish, I commissioned an English-to-Turkish literary translator here in Istanbul to review the Turkish book as well as comment on how it compares with the English rendition. The review—in English—follows below. Here’s her Turkish review Çin Edebiyatından Kültür Devrimine Ergen Gözüyle Bakış: Wang Gang’ın İngilizce Romanı .
What’s more convincing to the masses than propaganda out of Beijing? Discreetly massaged copy from the New York Times, evidently.
The New York Times‘ Howard W. French recently visited Korla, discovering that despite the oil boom in this “sleepy oasis” in Xinjiang, “not everyone is enjoying the benefits of the town’s new wealth.”
And just who might “not everyone” be? Well, you would have to have read the English article, ‘cuz the Chinese version ain’t gonna tell ya…