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  • Thomas Sweeney

2017 Xinjiang Province

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

Xinjiang Province is a beautiful place, and it’s tragic what is happening to the Uyghur population there. When I rode across the province in 2017, I caught glimpses of the unrest everywhere, but its scope and severity didn’t quite register. It wasn’t until the following fall, when I read a BBC News article about the situation, that I understood the scope and severity of the oppression: the forced labor, the reeducation camps, the mass sterilizations, and the myriad other crimes against humanity. It is so bad that, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill on July, 14th, 2021, banning the import of Xinjiang cotton.


The following excerpts are from 2017. More available at https://www.lisbontoshanghai.com/blog


The road signs were the first clue that something was amiss. They were written in a mix of Chinese and Arabic.


‘Interesting how small the Arabic letters are,’ I said to myself.


I considered the letters for a moment. Forty-six percent of the people in Xinjiang province were Uighurs, a Turkic people whose primary religion is Islam. The Chinese characters stood prominently above the diminutive Arabic writing.



In their brightly colored cotton clothes and round skullcaps, the Uighur people were unmistakable. Their Turkic facial features contrasted with the Asian eyes and high cheekbones of the newly transplanted Han Chinese inhabitants of the city.



As I pedaled, I noticed something odd. At gas stations across the city, tall bands of barbed wire surrounded each facility, and security guards checked drivers’ IDs as they pulled up to a pump. The state of affairs in this westerly province was far from serene.


As in other ethnic regions like Tibet and Inner Mongolia, Han Chinese have inundated the Uighur homeland. Religious suppression and forced assimilation had, in recent years, driven Uighur separatist groups to commit terrorist attacks in both Xinjiang province and elsewhere in China, including a knife attack at a Xinjiang gas station the previous February. The Chinese government responded by increasing security in the region, thereby heightening tensions all around.


‘That explains all the X-ray machines and metal detectors,’ I thought as I surreptitiously pulled out my camera and snapped photos of several random gas stations.

The article "China Has Created a Hellscape in Xinjiang Province" is a good starting point to learn more about the situation.

#cyclingmemoir #bicycletouring #bicycletrek #somacycles #bicycletrek


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