In This Review

The War on the Uyghurs: China’s Internal Campaign Against a Muslim Minority
The War on the Uyghurs: China’s Internal Campaign Against a Muslim Minority
By Sean R. Roberts
328 pp, Princeton University Press, 2020

Roberts, a leading expert on the predominantly Muslim Uighur minority in China, reports that the frighteningly effective Chinese campaign to eliminate Uighur culture that started with mass internments in 2017 has entered a new phase, with the transfer of much of the rural Uighur population into factory labor both in the western region of Xinjiang and throughout the country. The government is also sending Uighur children to Chinese-language boarding schools, destroying mosques and Muslim shrines, banning religious and cultural practices, and imprisoning members of the Uighur cultural elite. These developments cap a long history of settler colonialism dating back to the mid-eighteenth century. In the 1980s, Chinese leaders considered integrating Xinjiang by tolerating its cultural diversity. But that path was soon abandoned, and after 2001, Beijing used Washington’s declaration of a “war on terror” to justify repression in the region. Harsh Chinese policies have provoked some reactive violence from Uighurs and have driven what is estimated to be tens of thousands of them to join jihadis in Syria. Roberts provides fascinating new details on that relatively marginal phenomenon, revealing that organized Uighur militancy is almost entirely illusory. Beijing’s policy of repressive assimilation has now reached such an intense stage that Roberts labels it “cultural genocide.”