China bans books once considered OK by Uyghurs, and a Uyghur is sentenced to death

TAIPEI (AP) -- The Chinese government has tightened its control over the ethnic Uyghur community. Last year, one man was sentenced to death and three others were sentenced to life imprisonment for textbooks derived in part from historical resistance movements once sanctioned under the Communist Party.

China bans books once considered OK by Uyghurs, and a Uyghur is sentenced to death

AP reviewed the stories and images that were presented as problematic in a documentary by the state media and interviewed people who edited the textbooks. The AP found they were rooted within previously accepted narratives. Two drawings are based upon a 1940s movement that Mao Zedong praised, who founded the communist government in 1949. As the party's mandates have changed, it has partially revised them, with disastrous consequences for individuals and depriving students access to a portion of their heritage.

This chapter is less well-known in the broad crackdown against Uyghurs, and other largely Muslim communities. It has prompted the U.S. to boycott the Beijing Olympics which open Friday. Media, foreign experts and governments have all documented the detention of around 1 million people, the destruction of mosques, forced sterilization, and abortion. China denies any violations of human rights and claims it has taken steps towards eliminating separatism and extremism from its western Xinjiang area.

The Communist Party has gone to great lengths to control the Uyghur community and has attacked textbooks and their officials. This attack comes at a time when President Xi Jinping pushes a more assimilationist strategy on Tibetans, Mongolians, and other ethnic groups. It reduces bilingual education. Scholars and activists worry about the loss of Uyghur cultural history that has been passed down through stories of heroes, and villains over generations.

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David Brophy, a Uyghur historian at the University of Sydney, stated that there is now more rigorous policing of Uyghur historical narratives. "The goalposts are shifting and instead of being viewed as a site for negotiation and tension it is now treated as separatist propaganda."

Sattar Sawut was a Uyghur official and headed the Xinjiang Education Department. A court declared last April that he had led a separatist group to create textbooks that were filled with ethnic hatred, violence, and religious extremism. This caused ethnic clashes to occur in 2009, and he was sentenced to his death. He could be executed but he is not likely to be executed. Death sentences for this reason are often converted to life imprisonment after two years of good conduct.

The textbooks were discussed in a documentary made by CGTN (the overseas arm of state broadcaster CCTV) about what it called hidden dangers in Xinjiang. It lasted a ten-minute segment. The documentary featured what amounts to confessions on camera by Sawut, a former education official, and Alimjan Memtimin who received a life sentence.

Written questions regarding the material were not answered by the CGTN and Xinjiang governments.

As evidence Sawut caused hatred between Uyghurs, China's majority Han population, and Uyghurs, we present drawings from the textbooks.

One man points a gun at another. Memtimin flashes the image over an on-camera statement, which states that they were trying to "incite ethnic hate and such thoughts."

Both men are Uyghurs. Gheni Batur is the one holding a gun for a traitor sent to assassinate his father. Batur was seen as "people's hero", during a 1940s rebellion against China's Nationalist Party. This was due to its discrimination and repression of ethnic groups. Nabijan Tursun is a Uyghur American historian who was a senior editor at Radio Free Asia.

1949 saw the Nationalists be toppled by the Communists. Ehmetjan Qasimi, the then-Uyghur leader, was invited to the first meeting by Mao. He said that his years of struggle were a part the Chinese nation's democratic revolution movement. However, Qasimi was killed in a plane accident on the way to the meeting.

Brophy stated that, despite Mao's approval of the period, Chinese academics have always debated it and that attitudes have shifted towards hostility.

After a string of bombings and knifings by Uyghur extremists in 2013-14, another element of the story was brought to the forefront. They were angry at the harsh treatment received by authorities.

In 1944, the Uyghur movement created a state that was nominally independent, the second East Turkestan Republic. It was supported by the Soviet Union, who had full control.

Recently leaked documents from 2017 show that a Communist Party working group dealing in Xinjiang criticized aspects of the uprising.

The notice stated that the Three District Revolution was a part our people's democratic revolution. However, there were serious errors made in the beginning.

It blamed the Soviet Union for interference and claimed that ethnic separatists had infiltrated revolutionary ranks and "stole power, created a split regime, and made the grave error of ethnic division."

The document stated that Qasimi must be honored for his historical role.

However, the CGTN documentary singles out a photograph of Qasimi in a medal that was the symbol for the second East Turkestan Republic. Shehide Yusup (Xinjiang Education Publishing House's art editor) stated in the documentary that "it shouldn't be in this textbook at any."

Another illustration from the same period shows what appears like a Nationalist soldier pointing a knife towards a Uyghur rebel lying on the ground.

These stories are based on novels by Uyghur writers that were published by government publishing houses. Zordun Sbir, one of the writers is a member the state-backed Chinese Writer's Association. Kunduz, a former editor of the Xinjiang University newspaper, stated that textbooks were only published after approval from high-ranking officials.

Abduweli Ayup, an Uyghur Linguist, stated that the Uyghur stories didn't get much attention when the textbooks were reviewed in 2001. He was a graduate student at the time and had translated some stories into Chinese to help with the review.

Stories depicting the Nationalists were not controversial. The Uyghur editors were more concerned about foreign stories, according to Ayup, an activist now living in Norway. He cited a line from a Tolstoy story as well as a Hungarian poem.

Another story cited CGTN is the Qing Dynasty. It ruled China from 1912 to 1912. Yusup, CGTN's art editor, tells CGTN that this is the legend about seven Uyghur girls. It is all fake. They were held captive by Han Chinese soldiers and jumped to their deaths to defend their homeland. It is meant to incite ethnic hate."

The soldiers weren't Han; they were ethnic Manchu, who founded 1644 the Qing Dynasty. According to the CGTN documentary, the text of the story says that the Manchu soldiers began climbing Mount Moljer from all directions. Maysikhan, a leader of Uyghur girls, saw the Manchus climbing up Mount Moljer and instructed the girls to throw rocks at them.

This story is based upon a local rebellion against Qing Dynasty. In Uchturpan's Xinjiang, a shrine to the seven girls is located. It was partially funded by the city of Uchturpan. Popular are epics, articles, and dramas about this story.

Tursun, the historian, stated that the Chinese government was shocked at the idea of praising the uprising and then criminalizing the inclusion in textbooks.

Officials have increased the number of Chinese instruction in Xinjiang since earlier in the year, particularly after ethnic clashes that occurred in 2009 in Urumqi.

Xi, China's leader has stressed consolidation of the nation. This is a departure from Zhou's "one unified nation with diverse" approach. He sees diversity as a threat for a united nation.

Kunduz was upset that her son, who grew up in Urumqi, had studied more in Chinese than Uyghur. From Sweden, where she lives, she stated, "They want to assimilate, they want us erase them."

Her son still speaks Chinese better than Uyghur to this day.

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