Op-ed: Northeastern’s first Uyghur student denounces China’s mistreatment of his people


Photo courtesy of Ablikim Emet

A child feeds doves in Kashgar, a historic city in the Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Kaiser Mejit, contributor

I moved to Boston from Urumqi, the so-called capital of the Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, in late 1997. I arrived in the United States as the first Uyghur student at Northeastern University. As the only Uyghur in Boston at the time, I expressed my feelings of loneliness in The Northeastern News. My piece caught the attention of international business professor Sheila M. Puffer, and she invited me to speak about my experiences to one of her classes. Upon entering the classroom, I noticed she had distributed my piece to her students. I began by asking the students if they could identify the “four M’s.”

Through my university education and personal experience I learned about these “four M’s,” which are the four main concepts that apply to the Chinese economy: huge manpower, cheap materials, China’s growing market and lastly, money, or profit the investors would get in return. Back then, I was optimistic China was moving in the right direction with its reform and Open Door Policy. Having studied Chinese economics and lived in Shanghai for one year in the mid-1990s, I witnessed the fast-changing city as well as the aspirations of young students in Shanghai. I was convinced China’s economic growth would be extraordinary in the years to come. However, I could not have foreseen China’s unprecedented and wholesale mistreatment of my people, the Uyghurs, a Central Asian people with a long history and rich culture.

I still vividly remember telling Professor Puffer’s class of young students about potential opportunities in China. It is emotionally and rationally tragic for me to talk to Husky alumni about the existential threat my people are facing under Chinese government after 22 years.  

The injustices Uyghurs are facing and China’s deceptive depiction of its treatment of Uyghurs on the world stage remind me of the story behind the Chinese word 矛盾, or máodùn, which translates to “contradiction.” I learned this word during my first year of college at Xinjiang University in Urumqi. The word derives from an ancient Chinese myth, “His Spear Against His Shield,” in which a craftsman contradicts himself. Like the craftsman, I never imagined that contemporary China would be so contradictory in its actions when it comes to the Uyghurs.

China set up Confucius Institutes globally to teach Chinese language and culture, spreading the great philosopher’s teachings, yet the country contradicts those same principles. Confucius says: “Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses.” China did not forget injuries, but instead forgot kindness.  

China’s rule over the Uyghurs since 1950 has never been without oppression, although there was a brief period of partial respect for the Autonomous Region in the early 1980s. Uyghurs are discontent with Chinese leadership for not honoring its promise of granting autonomy to the Uyghurs. Naturally, some disgruntled Uyghurs advocated for independence after seeing China’s harsh crackdown against their legitimate grievances. The U.S.-led war on terror contributed to the rise of Islamophobia in the West following 9/11, thus providing China an opportunity to further oppress the Uyghur people. Since April 2017, China has put millions of innocent Uyghur and Kazak people into concentration camps.

Chinese leaders’ called for an attack on the Uyghur population with “absolutely no mercy” as revealed in leaked documents, which brought me to the realization that China completely disregarded Confucius’ teachings of mercy and kindness. Instead of diffusing the tense ethnic relationship with dialogue and reconciliation, state propaganda machines began portraying Uyghurs as the enemy of the state. The Chinese public suddenly started to hate the already oppressed Uyghurs and began supporting the Chinese officials advocating for this oppression. As a result, Uyghurs have become one of the biggest victims of state-sponsored extremism and terrorism in the 21st century.  

China touts its wisdom on the global stage by saying, “A single flower does not make spring. Hundreds of flowers in full blossom bring spring to the garden.” Yet it is those same leaders who viciously work to wither the cultures, languages and customs of Uyghur and Kazakh people. The arrests of Uyghur scholars like Rahile Dawut and Yalqun Rozi and the abandoning of Uyghur and Kazakh languages at schools are proof — China only allows one flower to blossom.

China lectures others on building a community with a shared future for mankind through international cooperation, but internally disregards the basis of that principle. How can China convince the world when it is jailing its own citizens based on their race and faith with total violation of international laws?

China’s actions against innocent ethnic groups are a crime, and they do not bode well for the country’s future. History proved that when a dominant ethnic group tries to erase a vulnerable one, it results in the decline of the country’s power.

Not only did China cause colossal and historic damage to the Uyghur people, but also tarnished its image globally. People must recognize China’s torture of the Uyghurs and start questioning the authenticity of their promotion of a shared future for mankind. Just like wise ancient Chinese people knew the “contradiction” of that craftsman, wise people of today’s world must acknowledge the contradiction in contemporary China.

As Northeastern’s first Uyghur student, I am grateful for the opportunities this great university has afforded to me. I can attest to these injustices, and I implore my fellow Huskies to stand up for Uyghur and Kazakh people by urging the Chinese government to dismantle concentration camps. Northeastern students should raise awareness about these injustices to end the forced labor, free the millions of innocent ethnic people and let them live in peace with human dignity.

Kaiser Mejit obtained his master’s degree in economics from Northeastern University and is a graduate of the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University.