Roderic Day
Editing: Nia Frome

The Xinjiang Atrocity Propaganda Blitz (2021)

51 minutes | English | Art & Propaganda China The Crew


State Department “Leftists”

On July 26, 2020 I sat down for two hours and laid out on Twitter why I was skeptical of accusations that China was committing a genocide against the Uyghur people in its western province of Xinjiang. [1] I spoke out, despite lacking professional credentials, because I was frustrated that journalistic outlets that supposedly presented themselves as “left-wing” and “socialist” appeared to be actively covering up glaring holes in the narrative.

My tipping point was a note written by Janan Ganesh on the Financial Times (of all places!) articulating a sentiment I shared:

Another implication of the consensus is that dissent is becoming a political no-no. There is a dark past to contend with here. It is forgotten that McCarthyism’s breakthrough had little to do with Russia. It was that alleged loss of China. American diplomats were hounded by their own lawmakers. [2]

This unobjectionable historical account reminded me, by way of contrast, of an intervention I had read by Mehdi Hasan in an interview for The Intercept in 2019:

Nury Turkel: Probably, but I give a lot of credit to others, Pompeo, Sam Brownback and Mike Pence, and some senators like Rubio. And today, you know, this interesting Washington environment. David Nunes agrees with Adam Schiff on the Uighur issue. The bill received 407 votes in the House.

Mehdi Hasan: So the Uighurs managed to bring Democrats and Republicans together in a way that no other issue. [sic]

Nury Turkel: Exactly, you can look around, you’ll be hard pressed to find one issue that can even receive 220 votes, let alone 407 votes.

Mehdi Hasan: So, you’ve got those votes on Capitol Hill, important legislation was passed. It’s still a mountain to climb. We don’t know how the Chinese are going to respond in the medium to long run. [3]

Although I did not hold The Intercept in any high esteem, I still found this egregious. According to Hasan, the participation of the likes of Pompeo and Pence in such an initiative merits kudos, rather than questioning. Readers and listeners were not informed that Nury Turkel was a DC lawyer working for the U.S. State Department as a Commissioner for the United States Commission for International and Religious Freedom[4]

This pattern repeated itself again and again. British soft-left journal NovaraMedia proudly pleaded “The Uighur people are being persecuted by the Chinese state. The left must not be too afraid of siding with western imperialists [!!!] to act in solidarity.” [5]

DemocracyNow!, another prominent leftist news source, was evidently not too afraid to host Adrian Zenz as an “Independent researcher and expert on China’s minority policies in Xinjiang and Tibet” in an interview titled “Child Separation & Prison Camps: China’s Campaign Against Uyghur Muslims Is ‘Cultural Genocide.’” [6]

In reality, Adrian Zenz works for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, a U.S. State Department front based in Washington DC. [7] In an interview with the Wall Street Journal about his motivations, he clarified: “I feel very clearly led by God to do this. I can put it that way. I’m not afraid to say that.” [8] The Wall Street Journal was more forthcoming about how Zenz had written “a book re-examining biblical end-times” than DemocracyNow!.

That same interview features Rushan Abbas, whom Amy Goodman refers to as “a Uyghur-American activist.” From her own page at ISI Consultants:

[Abbas] has extensive experience working with U.S. government agencies, including Homeland Security, Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Justice, and various U.S. intelligence agencies. […] She was also employed at L-3, as a consultant at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, supporting Operation Enduring Freedom during 2002-2003 and as a news reporter at Radio Free Asia. Ms. Abbas has also worked as a linguist and translator for several federal agencies including work for the U.S. State Department in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and for President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush. [9]

This information should have been relayed to Democracy Now! listeners, but it wasn’t.

Elsewhere, even further away from the mainstream and the limelight, diminutive grassroots communist journals were buttressing the same narrative. Chuǎng does not even have a Wikipedia page. On its “About” page it describes itself thus:

闯 Chuǎng: The image of a horse breaking through a gate. Meaning: To break free; To attack, charge; To break through, force one’s way in or out; To act impetuously. 闯关 (chuǎngguān): to run a blockade. 闯座 (chuǎngzuò): to attend a feast without being invited. […] 闯 Chuǎng will publish a journal analyzing the ongoing development of capitalism in China, its historical roots, and the revolts of those crushed beneath it. Chuǎng is also a blog chronicling these developments in shorter and more immediate form, and will publish translations, reports, and comments on Chinese news of interest to those who want to break beyond the bounds of the slaughterhouse called capitalism. [10]

Although Chuǎng is small, its blockbuster article on the plight of the Uyghurs, “Spirit Breaking” by Adam Hunerven, was one of the first that I came across on the far-left recesses of the internet that describe themselves as “socialist.” It was a huge hit. Unlike WSJ or even The Intercept fare, this one used extremely wounded anti-capitalist language. It reveled in introducing authentic terminology, it reflected self-awareness of masculinity in how the male author was open about their tearful sensitivity. The citations are packed with references to Zenz and the U.S. State Department, but the prose itself is unmistakably “far-left”:

His knee was touching mine. His shoe was touching mine. Among Uyghur men, having an intimate friend means sharing the same space and sharing each others’ pain. Nearby a Uyghur woman was shaking apple trees, while two other women filled bags with small stone-sized apples (Uy: tash alma). I looked away from Alim so that I wouldn’t cry.

Many Uyghurs repeated such claims. They described beatings, torture, disappearances and everyday indignities that they and their families suffered at the hands of the state. At times these stories seemed to be partial truths, but many times the level of detail and the emotional feeling that accompanied these stories made them feel completely true. […]

Rumors of organs being harvested from young men accused of terror crimes are a part of daily conversation. Uyghurs worry that these stories are true or may become true. They worry that the biometric data that has been taken from them is part of some sort of systemic elimination process. [11]

Of course, anyone aware of Falun Gong propaganda would immediately recognize the organ harvesting story. The article essentially repackaged the kind of stories trafficked in the far-right Epoch Times or QAnon websites, but with lefty terminology. [12]

Adam Hunerven does not exist. The author of the essay is Darren Byler, writing under an alias, who is simply repurposing his doctoral thesis but formatted for the web. [13] Why would he use an alias? Well, Darren Byler is a Kissinger Institute fellow, which is somewhat at odds with Chuǎng’s stated goal of opposing capitalism:

The Wilson Center is pleased to announce the members of the inaugural 2020-2021 Wilson China Fellowship class, a new China-focused non-residential fellowship supporting the next generation of American scholarship on China. It is made possible by the generous support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. This class of 16 Wilson China Fellows includes scholars and practitioners working on a diverse range of policy-relevant issue areas vital to understanding the rise of China and its implications for the United States and the world. […]

Darren Byler; Postdoctoral Researcher, Center for Asia Studies, University of Colorado, Boulder; “Chinese Technologies of Population Management on the New Silk Road.” [14]

Elsewhere, when discussing matters with explicitly right-wing outlets like The Spectator, Darren Byler strikes a different tone, one wholly unbothered by any qualms anti-capitalists may have with official findings regarding Canada’s ongoing genocide of indigenous people:

“After I testified in front of the Canadian House of Commons, the Chinese government might have put me in a different ‘category’ on their blacklist” Darren Byler said with a smile on his face. “I possibly became an enemy of the state.” [15]

Interestingly, this reveals that the “Adam Hunerven” alias was not meant to disguise him from the Chinese government, whose attention he clearly embraces. Who was it meant for, then?

Readers of Chuǎng respond with indignation when discovering that the author of one of their favourite bits of “communist” analysis was written by a U.S. propagandist. It’s such a small indie joint, and they’re nobodies. Why would anyone target them?

The Blitz

Though it became a quick shorthand for the Nazi war strategy in the Second World War, there is no evidence that the term blitz, short for blitzkrieg [lightning war], was ever adopted by German forces for internal use. The term was mostly used by journalists on every side of the war to describe a certain war strategy, such as The Blitz of the United Kingdom in 1940 and 1941: a massive German aerial attack against British industrial towns.

The idea was that Germans were attempting to achieve quick and decisive victories by going all-out with massive up-front attacks, rather than a slow build-up and consolidation. In this way they would hit as many fronts as needed simultaneously (literally “lightning strikes”), all in service of building awe and momentum for further action.

The Blitz therefore refers to hubristic Nazi failure, rather than its success.

“Pivot to Asia”

The way American entertainment media tracks and supports State Department foreign policy goals at any given time is awe-inspiring. It is hard to imagine a more disciplined consent-generation propaganda machine. I grew up with the infamous “War on Terror,” and off the top of my head I can recall the following media items: Counter-Strike (1999), Three Kings (1999), Rules of Engagement (2000), 24 (2001-2010, 2014), Black Hawk Down (2002), Jarhead (2005), Flight 93 (2006), World Trade Center (2006), The Hurt Locker (2009) [6/9 Oscars], Generation Kill (2008), Homeland (2011-2020), and Zero Dark Thirty (2012) [1/5 Oscars].

To focus on a single videogame franchise, the Middle East was featured, from 2006 onwards, in Call of Duty 2, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Call of Duty: Heroes, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, Call of Duty: WWII and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019). Children have been virtually massacring people in the region for over a decade, perhaps an entire generation.

Over the past decade, though, deserts and jeeps disappeared from the scene, smoothly but perceptibly. Today we are awash with period pieces reminding us of the perils of “totalitarianism” and the Soviet menace. From Charlize Theron’s Atomic Blonde (2017) blandly facing off with KGB agents, to HBO’s grotesque Chernobyl (2018) inventing Soviet reality in service of a cautionary tale about lying, to the pimps and honeypots from Jennifer Lawrence’s salacious Red Sparrow (2018), to the cartoonish and poorly-received antagonists of Stranger Things Season 3 (2019), to the steely but respectable rivals in Queen’s Gambit (2020), the Soviets are back!

The obsolesence of the “Evil Muslim” narrative, and the desperate need to bury it in order to accommodate new official enemies in the national psyche, is perhaps most transparent in United States of Al, a wacky new sitcom by the creator of Two and a Half Men Chuck Lorre, centered on the friendship between Riley, a Marine combat veteran struggling to readjust to civilian life in Ohio, and Awalmir (Al), the Afghan interpreter who served with his unit and has just arrived to start a new life in America. [16] We have always been at war with Eastasia!

News media follows the same pattern as entertainment media. Long gone are the days when Chinese citizens were depicted as impotent victims of the Communist Party. [17] Polling of Chinese citizenry by Dalia Research reveals that “73% of Chinese consider China to be democratic, whereas only 49% of Americans believe the same about the U.S.,” [18] Harvard’s Ash Center concludes after a landmark 13-year study that “Chinese citizen satisfaction with the government has increased virtually across the board,” [19] Blackbox Research and Toluna find “China gets top score as citizens rank their governments’ response to the coronavirus outbreak,” [20] Eurasia Group Foundation finds “28% of Chinese respondents reported an unfavourable view of the US, up from 17% a year earlier, while the number reporting a favourable view fell to 39% from 58%,” [21] and NYU professor Philip Alston writes, in his final report on global poverty as UN Special Rapporteur, in a section titled “China’s outsized contribution”:

Much of the progress reflected under the Bank’s line is due not to any global trend but to exceptional developments in China, where the number of people below the International Poverty Line dropped from more than 750 million to 10 million between 1990 and 2015, accounting for a large proportion of the billion people ‘lifted’ out of poverty during that period. This is even starker under higher poverty lines. Without China, the global headcount under a $2.50 line barely changed between 1990 and 2010. And without East Asia and the Pacific, it would have increased from 2.02 billion to 2.68 billion between 1990 and 2015 under a $5.50 line. [22]

This reality of a government that leads by consent rather than repression, of Chinese people who are content with “moderate prosperity” rather than starry-eyed about American largesse, necessitated the birth of a new myth. And so propaganda shifted gears, and the Chinese population ceased to be portrayed as victims, and instead became “Han supremacists,” hellbent on liquidating all difference and homogenizing the whole world in their image.

As it pertains to Xinjiang, let’s go back in time from salacious reporting such as The Washington Post’s “In China, every day is Kristallnacht” (2019), Haaretz’s “A Million People Are Jailed at China’s Gulags” (2019), and the New Yorker’s “Inside Xinjiang’s Prison State” (2021). They all simply recycle the same handful of bankrupt sources discussed earlier with increasing production values and more strident proclamations. [23] The blitz of dramatized atrocity stultifies and guilts the reader into compliance, despite substantiation remaining as scant as ever.

As recently as 2017, Foreign Policy magazine scolded China for infringing on the free speech of Islamophobes:

A Chinese regulation would prohibit online insults based on religion. Some decry it as antithetical to Communist values. […] In the draft change, authorities added a clause that, by the Chinese standard of social control, may seem innocuous: “Anyone who produces content in publications or online platforms that contain insults or prejudice against a religion or ethnicity may be subject to administrative detainment from 10 to 15 days.” [24]

In 2014, the same magazine published writing by an ethnic Uyghur man working in Beijing:

In order to give us a better education, my parents moved several times in Hotan until they found a neighborhood that had studious children. In Hotan, it was really hard to learn Chinese (because about 96.4 percent of the population is Uighur). Until I went to middle school in 1998, I only knew a few Chinese characters, like “me,” “you,” “him,” and “love.” In 10th grade, I had a crush on a neighbor Uighur girl who was also learning Chinese, and I wrote “I love you” to her. That was my first time writing Chinese characters.

Because none of my siblings went to Quranic school, to this day my mother’s brothers and sisters won’t even talk to her. Even when they run into her occasionally, they say things like, “We need a translator to talk to your children,” implying that her children are quasi-Han, even though all of us can speak perfect Uighur. My siblings and I are also ostracized by our relatives. We have more than 30 cousins on my mother’s side but none of them would play with us when we were little. They called us kuffar. This has caused my parents a great deal of anguish and pain. [25]

Foreign Policy is a staunchly liberal publication. Founded by Samuel P. Huntington, it endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016. No friend to China, it nevertheless offers the following context:

Over the past two months, the relationship between China’s estimated 10 million Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking people, most of whom follow some form of Sunni Islam, and the majority Han population has deteriorated after a series of violent incidents allegedly involving knife-wielding Uighurs in inland China. The bloodiest incident was the March 1 attack in southern Yunnan province, where four assailants killed 29 and injured more than 140 at a crowded train station. [26]

This stands in stark contrast to the cavalcade of “exile” testimony claiming intervention was unprompted and unnecessary. Compare to The Intercept in 2021:

The order came through a police automation system in Ürümqi, the largest city in China’s northwest Xinjiang region. The system had distributed a report — an “intelligence information judgment,” as local authorities called it — that the female relative of a purported extremist had been offered free travel to Yunnan, a picturesque province to the south. [27]

The rightward shift is unmistakable. In The Intercept’s account, any “purported” terrorism is simply a weaponized figment of the imagination of the Chinese state.

Further back still, in 2010, U.S. portrayals of regional dynamics appear exactly inverted. China was not the enemy yet (Obama’s “pivot to Asia” would not occur until 2011), and the marching orders were still focused on quashing sympathy for the victims of U.S. occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as “targeted” killings in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and other nations. In this context, NPR published what reads today like a paean to Islam in China:

As she leads the service, Yao stands alongside the other women, not in front of them as a male imam would. But she says her role is the same as a male imam. “The status is the same,” Yao says confidently. “Men and women are equal here, maybe because we are a socialist country.” […] Controversy still rages in the Muslim world about whether women can be imams. In 2006, Morocco became the first country in the Arab world to officially sanction the training of female religious leaders. […] In central China, most Muslims support the female mosques, but there is some resistance closer to China’s border with Pakistan and Afghanistan, closer to the harder-line Wahhabi and Salafi influences. [28]

This is not praiseworthy journalism, however. The objective was to demonize Pakistan and Afghanistan in service of U.S. imperialism, publishing flattery of China was just the means to achieve it. That said, it is unimaginable that something like this would be published today in Jacobin, let alone NPR.

Sinophobes and Antisemites

As a kid I always wondered what was up with the rise of Nazi Germany. How come all those people bought such over-the-top myths about Jewish people eating babies, despite no evidence to support it? [29] Where was the academic opposition? Were “educated” gentiles saying nothing on behalf of Jewish people?

Living in Canada in 2021 put these questions to rest. Acceptable opinion, fit for print and polite society, ranges from utterly unrestrained Sinophobic hatemongering (baseless accusations of bat-eating, organ-harvesting, etc.) to, at the opposite “extreme,” ambivalent fence-sitting. The left-liberal camp never seems to find enough time or energy to forcefully challenge Sinophobic allegations. In an echo of the run-up to the “War on Terror,” people express fear that opposing racism too decisively will make them appear biased towards China. It’s a strange thing: people hand-wring about the proliferation of pro-China propaganda, yet cannot name a single network or pundit associated with that view.

Canadian liberals perform a national ritual of shame and guilt over their treatment of indigenous people, but it never translates into meaningful reparations or action. The Xinjiang atrocity propaganda blitz offers something valuable to Canadians: instead of improving the situation at home, they can therapeutically attack China. The more horrific the imagined crimes we project onto that far-away country, the more minor and forgivable our actions appear. Our collaboration with U.S. aggression is transmuted into a form of atonement. This is routinely laid bare by Canadian pundits:

Have the U.S. or Canada done what China did to Hong Kong or Tibet, and want to do to Taiwan? There are a ton of faults in our treatment of Indigenous people, and the U.S. is failing, but it’s not a comparison at the moment. [30]

And Canadian politicians:

Canadian Greens are calling for the 2022 Olympics to be relocated from Beijing due to ongoing genocide against Uighurs. Canada should consider whether it is feasible to offer itself as an alternative host, given our experience and venues. [31]

This is how liberal Canadians cope with guilt, homegrown or imposed, over living on stolen land. [32] Over broken and disrespected treaties, sadistic police violence in the form of “starlight tours,” and recent flashpoints of violence against the Wet’suwet’en nation (to build a pipeline) and the Mi’kmaq nation (over fishing rights). Hearing these well-heeled Canadians speak of China transports us to an alternate reality where the explosive 2019 national inquiry’s report documenting the ongoing genocide of indigenous people in Canada never even existed[33] Denial and projection go hand-in-hand.

When analyzing modern propaganda, it is essential to pay attention not only to what is being said, but also to what is pointedly not being said. After all, antisemitism and modern Sinophobia bear a lot of similarities, which is precisely what the insistence on a supposed China-Nazi link is intended to deflect from.

My historical education portrayed evildoers as sadistic bullies, and victims as angels. More specifically, I was taught about innocent Anne Frank fearfully writing in her diary, and lurid details about the psychopathology of Nazi leadership. This engendered indignation in me: “I just wouldn’t do that, I wouldn’t bully the weak!”

What I later learned was that the threat was portrayed, not only in Nazi Germany but everywhere in the West, as “the Judeo-Bolshevik Menace.” Propaganda featured Soviet tentacles invading Germany and Leon Trotsky, a prominent Soviet Jewish leader, was often its face. It was only natural that eventually even the children would be seen as larval enemies. However, the “real” threat came first, a threat that few disputed for fear of being labelled Communists themselves.

The degree to which antisemitism was fully normalized in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1917 is well-captured by this unhinged screed from Winston Churchill writing for a mass audience, at the Illustrated Sunday Morning Herald, in 1920:

In violent opposition to all this sphere of [pro-English, patriotic] Jewish effort rise the schemes of the International Jews. The adherents of this sinister confederacy are mostly men reared up among the unhappy populations of countries where Jews are persecuted on account of their race. Most, if not all of them, have forsaken the faith of their forefathers, and divorced from their minds all spiritual hopes of the next world. This movement among the Jews is not new. From the days of Spartacus-Weishaupt to those of Karl Marx, and down to Trotsky (Russia), Bela Kun (Hungary), Rosa Luxemburg (Germany), and Emma Goldman (United States), this world-wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality, has been steadily growing. It played, as a modern writer, Mrs. Webster, has so ably shown, a definitely recognisable part in the tragedy of the French Revolution. It has been the mainspring of every subversive movement during the Nineteenth Century; and now at last this band of extraordinary personalities from the underworld of the great cities of Europe and America have gripped the Russian people by the hair of their heads and have become practically the undisputed masters of that enormous empire.

There is no need to exaggerate the part played in the creation of Bolshevism and in the actual bringing about of the Russian Revolution, by these international and for the most part atheistical Jews, it is certainly a very great one; it probably outweighs all others. With the notable exception of Lenin, the majority of the leading figures are Jews. Moreover, the principal inspiration and driving power comes from the Jewish leaders. Thus Tchitcherin, a pure Russian, is eclipsed by his nominal subordinate Litvinoff, and the influence of Russians like Bukharin or Lunacharski cannot be compared with the power of Trotsky, or of Zinovieff, the Dictator of the Red Citadel (Petrograd) or of Krassin or Radek — all Jews. In the Soviet institutions the predominance of Jews is even more astonishing. And the prominent, if not indeed the principal, part in the system of terrorism applied by the Extraordinary Commissions for Combating Counter-Revolution has been taken by Jews, and in some notable cases by Jewesses. The same evil prominence was obtained by Jews in the brief period of terror during which Bela Kun ruled in Hungary. The same phenomenon has been presented in Germany (especially in Bavaria), so far as this madness has been allowed to prey upon the temporary prostration of the German people. Although in all these countries there are many non-Jews every whit as bad as the worst of the Jewish revolutionaries, the part played by the latter in proportion to their numbers in the population is astonishing. [34]

Talk of “Good Chinese vs. Bad Chinese” is rampant today, of course, but I’d argue we are already past this stage. I’m not only speaking of brownshirts murdering Asian women, I’m also speaking of the aforementioned The Intercept darling Mehdi Hasan reacting to a cute video of Chinese children practicing coordination with a pointed, context-free “WTF.” [35] I’m speaking of Matt Yglesias, founder of liberal magazine Vox, commenting on Twitter that he was “coming around to the view that anti-China politics could be the unifying national project we need.” [36]

I was not taught that Nazi Germany wrote its Nuremberg Laws looking to America for a model to follow. [37] I was not taught about the British origin of concentration camps in the Second Boer War, or about the inhuman atrocities committed by King Leopold II of Belgium in the Congo. Nazism is neatly packaged away as something confused Germans did, part of an ill-defined totalitarian phenomenon geographically limited to Eastern countries like Russia and China. I was not taught the dissenting perspective of Black writers like Frantz Fanon, who pointedly asked “What is fascism but colonialism at the very heart of traditionally colonialist countries?” [38]

I imagine in Nazi Germany “regular” Germans gawked at Jewish children reading diligently for school, and their minds roiled with anxiety about a future in which they would “take over.” I imagine there was a lot of talk about “stopping them before it’s too late.”

Contrary to what I was taught at school, fascism describes not an incomprehensible mass delusion, but the rational consequence of capitalists constructing a scapegoat to divert the attention of angry, deprived masses. Fascism requires sustained and expensive campaigns of wall-to-wall hate propaganda. Not only is there no evidence of sadistic violence against Muslims in China, there is no evidence of public propaganda against Muslims in China either. Faced with inconvenient facts like the aforementioned banning of hate speech in social media, affirmative action policies in universities, massively popular Uyghur superstars, and decisive COVID-19 response in the region, the U.S. insists on the rubbish notion of a “stealth” genocide, without photographs or refugees. This only makes sense if we completely ignore the fact that having a public national enemy to rally around, the role Yglesias posits China could serve to unite Americans, was the point of antisemitism in Nazi Germany.

Additionally, China is booming, so there’s no need for scapegoats. And if they ever need someone to scapegoat? Well, they have the United States and capitalism.

Architects of Imperialism

My research of this subject has always been guided by a set of key proclamations from some of the biggest shapers of anti-communist policy in history.

The first of these is Winston Churchill, once again, who in 1902 laid out clearly what colonizers need to achieve in order to subdue China:

I think we shall have to take the Chinese in hand and regulate them. I believe that as civilized nations become more powerful they will get more ruthless, and the time will come when the world will impatiently bear the existence of great barbaric nations who may at any time arm themselves and menace civilized nations. I believe in the ultimate partition of China — I mean ultimate. I hope we shall not have to do it in our day. The Aryan stock is bound to triumph. [39]

The second is U.S. statesman George Kennan, an architect of U.S. Foreign Policy so influential that he is still refered to as one of the “Wise Men.” In 1948 he wrote in a top secret memo:

We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction. […]

All of the Asiatic peoples are faced with the necessity for evolving new forms of life to conform to the impact of modern technology. This process of adaptation will also be long and violent. It is not only possible, but probable, that in the course of this process many peoples will fall, for varying periods, under the influence of Moscow, whose ideology [Communism] has a greater lure for such peoples, and probably greater reality, than anything we could oppose to it. All this, too, is probably unavoidable; and we could not hope to combat it without the diversion of a far greater portion of our national effort than our people would ever willingly concede to such a purpose.

In the face of this situation we would be better off to dispense now with a number of the concepts which have underlined our thinking with regard to the Far East. We should dispense with the aspiration to “be liked” or to be regarded as the repository of a high-minded international altruism. We should stop putting ourselves in the position, of being our brothers’ keeper and refrain from offering moral and ideological advice. We should cease to talk about vague and — for the Far East — unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better. [40]

What does this look like in practice? How did the U.S. historically contain “Moscow’s ideology”? How did it maintain a “position of disparity”? Another “giant” of U.S. Foreign Policy, Polish-born American diplomat Zbigniew Brzezinski, volunteers an answer in the form of a concrete case study of how the U.S. operates generally and how it weaponizes the region of Afghanistan in particular:

According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahideen began during 1980. That is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. But the reality, closely guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention. […] We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would. […] That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, essentially: “We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war.” Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war that was unsustainable for the regime, a conflict that bought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire. […] What is more important in world history? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some agitated Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war? [41]

To whatever extent anyone is skeptical whether these admissions fully capture the modern strategy on China, it is reasonable to demand at least an equivalent set of resources describing an alternative rationale. In my opinion, this is the count on which the mainstream narrative has been most deficient. At every turn it refuses to attribute the barest rationality (let alone morality) to Chinese actors. It doesn’t trouble itself to explain why decision-makers would endanger the future of the Belt & Road Initiative [42] by indulging in utterly depraved sadism (skin flaying, mass rape, organ harvesting, hair harvesting, force-feeding pork and beer), instead banking on racist stereotypes of irrational savagery.

The Real Xinjiang Story

The real Xinjiang story is not so difficult to understand:

  1. The rise of Xi Jinping and the Belt & Road Initiative posed a serious challenge to American supremacy much earlier than they were expecting, so [43]
  2. the U.S. amped up their funding of terrorism in the region, as per the “Afghan Trap” doctrine outlined by Brzezinski, but [44]
  3. instead of sending in the PLA, repeating the error of the Soviets, China reacted by building schools and vocational programs instead. [45]
  4. As a result, the U.S. and its allies desperately pivoted to accusing them of “genocide,” despite lack of evidence. [46]

I’ve yet to see this basic understanding seriously challenged.

Some argue that it’s not realistic to imagine that so many Westerners would collaborate in pushing a lie as big and reckless as the Xinjiang atrocity propaganda blitz. However, going along with that narrative means accepting the necessary implication that Chinese people manage an even bigger lie, so there’s a contradiction there. In truth, the idea that a coterie of propagandists is waging another spectacular propaganda campaign strains belief far less than the persistent notion that Xinjiang (and China generally!) is being operated as an unfathomably gigantic “Potemkin Village” designed to trick Westerners.

After all, that coterie of propagandists has pulled it off countless of times before. There is no reason to suspect the U.S. would spend less energy and fewer resources on demonizing Saddam Hussein, a man who used to be their anti-communist hatchet-man in the region, than they will on China. Consider the following proven lies against Saddam Hussein, preceding his overthrow in 2003:

  • Nayirah Testimony,
  • The Human Shredder,
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction, and
  • Links to 9/11, Osama Bin Laden, and Al Qaeda.

Now consider that, with China, the stakes are much higher. China is economically, militarily, and ideologically a more formidable rival. Our skepticism should be commensurately higher. Surely, from the perspective of a propagandist, however many stories were invented about Saddam Hussein, it would be expedient to make up at least as many about China (more realistically, an order of magnitude more). So, which have you identified?

On Evidence and Expertise

Over the past few months researching this subject, I’ve pondered whether it is hubristic on my part to weigh in despite not having formal training. I’ve never been to China, nor do I have experience speaking the relevant languages. That said, I think I did a good job diving deeply into the existing “evidence.” I identified factual problems and contradictions, I blew the cover of people like Darren Byler, and I even got BBC-cited expert Jim Millward, a professor at Georgetown University, to modify a nonsensical “witness account” they rubber-stamped. [47] However, I had a good amount of time to devote to this endeavor, and I honestly don’t think it is realistic that most people will have the time to read all of it, let alone start contributing on their own.

This is why I think it essential that we reconsider how we engage. Instead of simply consuming whatever is churned out for us by the media, caught perpetually off-guard and struggling to catch up, we must begin to put together a predictive theory of why the stories we hear are being told. Most of us are in no position to evaluate if a given translation is accurate or not, if a given witness testimony is true or not, but we are in a position to evaluate if the rationale being attributed to the guilty party makes sense or not. We are in a position to engage in the much derided whataboutism, and wonder why we heard so much about Hong Kong and not so much about Bolivia. Why we hear about Xinjiang and not Yemen.

And if we are ever told that there is no sensible explanation, that we should stop asking questions, that Xi Jinping and the Chinese are simply inscrutable in their Confucian logic, that we are not able to comprehend such alien peoples so we shouldn’t even try… well, I think that constitutes an admission in itself.

To whatever extent I’m nobody, these experts aren’t anybody either. Being published by a recognizable brand doesn’t make anyone deserving of any respect a priori. And, as it turns out, though I’m not an expert on China, I am an expert on U.S. propaganda, since I’ve had 3 decades of lived experience with it. For all that we hear about the fearsome Chinese propaganda apparatus, it’s apparent that it isn’t that sophisticated: there’s blacklists and catchphrases. We need to start watching out for the negative space around this bright spotlight, the quiet churning of a U.S. propaganda machine so suffocating of dissent that most people deny its very existence.

[1] Roderic Day, July 2020. Xinjiang thread on Twitter. [web] 

[2] Janan Ganesh, July 2020. “America’s eerie lack of debate about China.” Financial Times. [web] 

[3] Nury Turkel interviewed by Mehdi Hasan, December 2019. “Why Don’t We Care About China’s Uyghur Muslims?” The Intercept. [web] 

[4] Profile of Commissioner Nury Turkel at the United States Commission for International and Religious Freedom (USCIRF). [web] 

[5] Ben Towse, August 2020. “Neither Washington nor Beijing: The Left Must Stand With the Uighurs.” NovaraMedia. [web] 

[6] Amy Goodman featuring Rushan Abbas and Adrian Zenz, July 2019. “Child Separation & Prison Camps: China’s Campaign Against Uyghur Muslims Is ‘Cultural Genocide’.” DemocracyNow! [web] 

[7] About page for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Accessed March 2021. [web] 

[8] Josh Chin, May 2019. “The German Data Diver Who Exposed China’s Muslim Crackdown.” Wall Street Journal. [web] 

[9] Rushan Abbas, Consultant at ISI Consultants. [web] 

[10] About page for Chuǎng. Accessed March 2021. [web] 

[11] Adam Hunerven, 2019. “Spirit Breaking: Capitalism and Terror in Northwest China.” Chuǎng. [web] 

[12] Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins, August 2019. “Trump, QAnon and an impending judgment day: Behind the Facebook-fueled rise of The Epoch Times.” NBC News. [web] 

[13] Darren Byler, 2018. Spirit Breaking: Uyghur Dispossession, Culture Work and Terror Capitalism in a Chinese Global City. Doctoral Dissertation at the University of Washington. [web] 

[14] March 2020. “The Woodrow Wilson Center Announces the Inaugural 2020-2021 Wilson China Fellowship Class.” Wilson Center. [web] 

[15] Flora Yan, July 2019. “One Academic’s Fight for the Rights of Uighurs.” The Spectator. [web] 

[16] March 2021. Trailer for United States of Al. [web] 

[17] Sun Feiyang and Roderic Day, February 2021. “Another View of Tiananmen.” Red Sails. [web] 

[18] Ben Schott, June 2020. “China Is More Democratic Than America, Say the People.” Bloomberg. [web] 

[19] Edward Cunningham, Tony Saich, and Jessie Turiel, July 2020. “Understanding CCP Resilience: Surveying Chinese Public Opinion Through Time.” Harvard University. [web] 

[20] Karen Gilchrist, May 2020. “China gets top score as citizens rank their governments’ response to the coronavirus outbreak.” CNBC. [web] 

[21] He Huifeng, March 2021. “China’s millennials, Generation Z leading nation away from Hollywood films, American culture, U.S. brands.” South China Morning Post. [web] 

[22] Philip Alston, July 2020. “The parlous state of poverty eradication: Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.” Report submitted to the 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council. [web] 

[23] For example, the changing horror story of key witness Sayragul Sauytbay became so untenable that it even led professional propagandists like Ben Mauk from the New Yorker and Vicky Xu from ASPI to distance themselves in May 2021. [web] [web] Tursunay Ziyawudun’s story also kept changing. [web] 

[24] Ma Tianjie, March 2017. “When Marx Meets Islam.” Foreign Policy. [web] 

[25] Chi Zhang, May 2014. “One Uighur Man’s Journey Goes Viral.” Translated by Rachel Lu and Bethany Allen for Foreign Policy. [web] 

[26] Chi Zhang, May 2014. “One Uighur Man’s Journey Goes Viral.” Translated by Rachel Lu and Bethany Allen for Foreign Policy. [web] 

[27] Yael Grauer, January 2021. “Revealed: Massive Chinese Police Database.” The Intercept. [web] 

[28] July, 2010. “Female Imams Blaze Trail Amid China’s Muslims.” NPR. [web] 

[29] “Blood Libel” at The Holocaust Encyclopedia. [web] 

[30] Bruce Arthur, Toronto Star pundit with 146k followers on Twitter. [web] 

[31] Annamie Paul, leader of the Green Party of Canada. [web] 

[32] Alex V. Green, February 2020. “Canada is fake.” The Outline. [web] 

[33] Justin Brak, June 2019. “‘It’s so important for him to say it’: Pressure mounts for Trudeau to admit present day genocide.” APTN News. [web] 

[34] Winston Churchill, 1920. “Zionism vs. Bolshevism: A Struggle for the Soul of the Jewish People.” The Illustrated Sunday Morning Herald. [web] 

[35] Mehdi Hasan, August 2020. Twitter. [web] 

[36] Matt Yglesias, June 2018. Twitter. [web] 

[37] James Q. Whitman, February 2017. “When the Nazis wrote the Nuremberg laws, they looked to racist American statutes.” Los Angeles Times. [web] 

[38] Frantz Fanon, 1961. The Wretched of the Earth

[39] Winston Churchill, 1902. “A Midnight Interview.” The Winston Churchill Society. [web] 

[40] George Kennan, February 1948. “Report by the Policy Planning Staff.” U.S. Office of the Historian. [web] 

[41] Zbigniew Brzezinski, January 1998. “The Brzezinski Interview.” Le Nouvel Observateur. Transcribed for the University of Arizona. [web] 

[42] Lee Jones and Shahar Hameiri, August 2020. “Debunking the Myth of ‘Debt-trap Diplomacy’.” Chatham House. [web] 

[43] November 2009. “Portrait of Vice-President Xi Jinping.” U.S. Embassy in Beijing leaked cables on Wikileaks. [web] 

[44] December 2020. National Endowment for Democracy on Twitter. [web] 

[45] August 2019. “Statement on Education Project in Xinjiang, China.” World Bank. [web] 

[46] Ewelina U. Ochab, December 2020. “International Criminal Court Will Not Take Further The Case Of The Uyghurs.” Forbes. [web] 

[47] In August 2020 John Sudworth wrote a piece on the arrest of Uyghur model Merdan Ghappar for the crime of drug trafficking. [web] To support his claim that these were trumped charges and part of a genocidal campaign, Sudworth cited Professor Millward from Georgetown University as an “expert.” In the linked document which calls the charge into question, Professor Millward writes: “In 2018 [Merdan Ghappar] was arrested for selling five grams of marijuana and served 16 months in prison. (People close to Ghappar say this was a false charge — Merdan made a lot of money as a model, and had no reason to sell drugs.)” [web] Upon having the absurdity of this logic pointed out by me, Millward quietly modified the document on his website, and replied to me on Twitter: “The original was correct conveying what I was told by BBC.” [web] This is a good illustration of how “journalists” and “experts” can circularly quote each other to invent narratives out of thin air.