Photo courtesy: Abduweli Ayup
By Abduweli Ayup
On March 1, the Chinese regime held a press conference in Beijing. The government spokesperson reiterated that Uyghur school textbooks had incited young Uyghurs to participate in the three evil forces: terrorism, separatism, and extremism. In thirteen years, twenty-five million copies of these books had been in circulation.
China has in recent years detained more than a hundred Uyghur intellectuals for simply compiling Uyghur language school textbooks that the local CCP educational department had already screened. Sattar Sawut, who had approved the books, was sentenced to death. Alimjan Memtimin, Tahir Nasir, and Abdurazaq Sayim received life imprisonment.
In 2015, before the mass internments of Uyghurs, the Chinese regime recruited Uyghur scholars to revise Uyghur language school books to promote Chinese cultural identity among the Uyghur students to eliminate the Uyghur ethnic identity. The education department published the revised books in September 2015.
The former editions of Uyghur textbooks compiled in the 2000s got banned. In September 2016, the regional education department banned the use Uyghur language in the education system.
When I heard about the plans to amend the Uyghur textbooks, I was already in detention. I knew that something terrible was about to happen.
Around June 2014, the police arrested Alimjan Memtimin, the vice head of the educational department of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. He ended up in the same detention center where I was. I heard that the textbooks had caused many problems for him and would lead to the arrests of many Uyghurs.
Memtimin told of the publication of the new textbooks and the ban on the earlier books. According to him, the books had raised suspicions, and the authorities had labeled them as a source of the three evil forces. He also warned that hundreds of scholars would be in danger, and no one could escape.
I knew Mr. Memtimin personally. We had both had graduated from Minzu University and majored in the same field. Memtimin’s arrest in 2014 started a nightmare for Uyghur scholars.
During the following years, the authorities arrested thousands of Uyghur teachers and hundreds of scholars for the refreshed content of the books. The authors had only participated in the government-mandated editorial work.
In October 2016, the police arrested Yalkun Rozi, then Abdurazaq Sayim, and Tahir Nasir the supervisors of the book revision.
Rozi was one of the chief editors in charge of organizing the publication of Uyghur student textbooks. The books were inspected strictly by long-standing communist officials and experienced professors who were also communist party members. The former head of the literature department and other professors of Xinjiang university were members of the inspection team.
Rozi’s detainment in 2016 marked the start of mass arrests of Uyghur intellectuals in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Chinese regime uses the textbook as the pretext to accuse hundreds of Uyghur scholars as inciters of separatism, terrorism, and extremism.
The textbooks that had been in use since the 2000s disappeared from the basket of Uyghur language teaching materials. No explanation was given at the time.
Out of the blue, in April 2021, Memtimin, Sawut, Sayim, and Nasir showed up on the Chinese state television and confessed what they had promoted terrorism, extremism, and separatism.
The regime also detained millions of Uyghurs. The primary targets were those that had used these Uyghur textbooks. During the last thirteen years, up to two million Uyghurs have studied from these books, according to the CGNTV propaganda video released April 2021.
I (Abduweli Ayup) had translated the evaluation letter for the books in the 2000s when I was studying for my master’s degree at Xinjiang University. My master advisor Abdukerim Rahman, a member of the inspection team headed by Sattar Sawut, originally wrote the letter Uyghur, and I translated it into Chinese.
I remember that all Uyghur writings selected for the textbooks had to be translated into Mandarin first for the Han Chinese inspectors to be able to read them. The inspection team included Han and Hui scholars fluent in Uyghur. The compiling of new textbooks was a national project orchestrated by the Chinese ministry of education. The amendments in Uyghur were based on the revised Mandarin translation, as two versions required inspection.
In 2009, one of the revised books included one of my articles. I later heard that the government had arrested all the other Uyghur authors of articles, fiction, and poems. Some of them probably found out the reason for their arrest only when they got sentenced.
Between 2000-2005, the Chinese government also ordered the revision of Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tibetan, and Mongolian textbooks. However, the Chinese authorities only targeted Uyghur books and their authors by accusing them of containing poisonous ideologies and being a source of three evil forces: extremism, terrorism, and separatism.
Madeyuan, a Hui professor of the Xinjiang University, was among the Hui/Han scholars who participated in the revision project. Interestingly none of those Han and Hui scholars were arrested.