By Artemis Salisbury
March 9, 2022
With the increase in manufactured tensions towards Russia and China as the capitalist ruling class, via the Biden administration, is pushing for the “new Cold War,” it is important to contextualize and analyze the propaganda that led us here. Currently one of the most, if not the most, damning accusations against China in the contemporary time is the claim that the Chinese government is responsible for genocide against the Uyghur population in the province of Xinjiang. Other claims about China are often easy to pick apart, such as the “ghost cities” claim – that China planning for increased development ahead of time is somehow bad, or comes at too high a cost – accusations of genocide are serious and need to be evaluated seriously.
To get a better idea of the nature of these accusations, I interviewed Dr. Asatar Bair, one of the few actual and publicly Marxist professors in America that neoconservatives fearmonger about. Dr. Asatar Bair is an activist, professor, teacher, and author of “Prison Labor in the US: An Economic Analysis” (Routledge, 2008). He teaches economic theory at Riverside City College in southern CA. He has written over 200 articles for the Boursen-Kourier, Austria’s oldest weekly financial newspaper. He has a YouTube channel with his lectures on economic theory: ( http://youtube.com/asatarbair ). In addition to economics, Dr. Bair also teaches meditation and has served as the Executive Director of the Institute for Applied Meditation.
Dr. Bair has gone viral in the past for having productive and nuanced takes on the socialism of the USSR and the People’s Republic of China, and has become a clear subject matter expert on economics and existing socialist projects. In our conversation, Dr. Bair was able to clarify several things regarding the claim that China is committing genocide.
One key piece of context to determine if China’s treatment of the Uyghurs is one or more of the five forms of genocide is birth rates and population trends. As an ethnic minority, the Uyghur people have always been exempted from China’s relatively controversial “One Child Policy.”
Dr. Bair: “It’s a policy that, you know, China enacted; they felt it was important at the time. I think what we know happened as a result of that policy is that the total fertility rate declined quite a bit in China. Now the question is, would that have happened anyway? Because this is an aspect of industrialization. It occurs everywhere that’s been industrialized and it’s called the demographic transition. You know, the total fertility rate is like the average number of children per woman in a society, right? So, you know, in China, before the “One Child Policy,” the policy was about 6 and which is actually kind of a remarkable number. Six. That’s the average number of children per woman.
The United States had had a total fertility rate of about six. You know, back in the early 1800s. When a country is poorer, you know, it’s a response that families have, due to high infant mortality, also to have more children because you know some of them are going to die, sadly, at a very young age. When there’s no social safety net. When there’s no pension program or, you know, much in the way of a government social safety net, your children are the social safety net. There’s all of these reasons to you know have a bigger family and some of these go away as a country gets richer, and especially as there’s more opportunities for women and girls to do something other than, you know.
A falling fertility rate is pretty much universally regarded as a positive, right? What’s also so odd about these claims being made that the Uyghur birth rate is falling and whatever. Well, you know, this is a region that has been seeing 8% per year economic growth, their incomes are dramatically higher than it was not long ago. And you know, you just – again, you just do not see that.
You don’t see the combination of rising life expectancy, falling infant mortality, rising income, no refugees from an area, right? You don’t see that combination and then conclude, oh, there must be a genocide going on, right? Because people flee, you know, people do not like their cultures to be destroyed. You know, like, I mean, people cling to their language and their religion and their culture very, very tightly. And for good reason. So, they will leave. At least, some of them will. And we’ve seen zero of that in Xinjiang.”
Another aspect of the establishment narratives regarding genocide in Xinjiang is that China is also guilty of suppressing Uyghur culture, ultimately “cultural genocide”. Dr. Bair explained that these assertions include claims that you would get locked up for having a beard or wearing a hijab, or even having or naming your child certain names. I was somewhat incredulous at the idea, telling Dr. Bair that it “seems patently ridiculous”. Of course, I also asked him whether or not it was.
Dr. Bair was able to clarify that those kinds of things can land people in Xinjiang on a watch list. But he also stressed that it was important to “understand a little more about the way Islam is practiced by the Uyghurs”.
Dr. Bair: “Islam is not one thing, right? Just like Christianity is not one thing and it’s a little bit like, you know, Islam is not very well understood, and their variations of it are not well understood in the West. You think you can get away with saying kind of ridiculous things about Islam. There are sects of Islam, just like there are sects of Christianity and the beliefs can be quite different, practices can be quite different. Wearing a hijab is not at all common. It’s not part of the native practice of Islam in Xinjiang. Wearing a particular style of beard, right, having certain names, these are just not common. This is because the Uyghurs are a Turkic people. They have a particular language and history.
To say that the Islamic world just has one language even – I mean, that’s not true either. There’s a whole variety of different cultures. It’s, it would be like – the best way that I can kind of explain this is, imagine: there are these kind of crazy fundamentalist sects of Christianity in the US.
Think of an institution like the Westboro Baptist Church. I mean, these are an inflammatory group and, you know, they say “Gays are going to hell” and stuff like this. They’re always protesting. You know, to get media attention or whatever. I mean, imagine if this group actually did terrorist attacks. And then, you know, if the government was like, well, we, we can’t have, you know, let let’s say they had killed hundreds of people, “we’re going to crack down on this institution”.
Imagine if some country then said, “Oh my God, you are persecuting Christians. You are destroying Christianity in the United States.” You’d be like, wait a minute – that’s not Christianity, you know? I mean, there, there are plenty of Christians who hate this church, right? I mean, like, uh, I, you know, I am flummoxed that you would claim – do we claim that that represents me? It doesn’t. You know that these are extremists. And that is the situation in in Xinjiang. They are radical separatists.
They practice a different sect of Islam and, in fact, they often target mosques. They often kill imams because they don’t deem them real Muslims. They don’t deem them as sufficiently pure. So, you know, these separatists are very unpopular in Xinjiang except for a kind of core group of zealots. But, you know, the separatist movement has also been funded by – guess who – the United States.”
As a point of clarification, an imam in Islam has contemporaries in Christianity in the form of a priest or bishop or father. While everything isn’t identical, they serve similar roles in steering and stewarding worship. Additionally, the separatist movement that Dr. Bair mentioned is the so-called “East Turkestan Independence Movement”. The United States has a long history of funding radical terrorist opposition in other countries when it is convenient to the interests of the United States government and her capitalist ruling class, and quickly disavowing them when it is inconvenient. The US did this with Osama Bin Laden, for example.
Dr. Bair: “It is true that having these certain markers will put you on a watch list. But again, these things are not native to Xinjiang region or not native to the way that that Uyghurs practice Islam, they are very much transplants. But you know, because Islam is poorly understood in in a lot of parts of the West, people can be like look at this, if you have a beard, you’re going to jail in Xinjiang. That’s not true.
I mean, if you cared about cracking down on terrorism – and it is true that there’s been hundreds of terrorist attacks in Xinjiang. There’s a real threat there. And they really have clamped down on it.
And you know, they do that by saying, “Well, who are the terrorists?” Do they dress in a particular manner or do they name their children particular things? I mean, imagine if there was a group of fundamentalist Christians who like wore a certain color hat, or something like this, right, to identify themselves or got a certain tattoo. And then you would be like well, look, anybody who’s got that tattoo, we are going to question you, you know, because we’re trying to stop terrorism.”
At this point in the conversation, I pointed out that the US does this routinely, and Dr. Bair corrected me. After all, when the US profiles, it does so on racist grounds.
Dr. Bair: “The crazy thing about this narrative is that it projects US racism and white supremacy on to China, where it does not exist. China does not have that history. It’s a different country. It has a very different sort of history. But, you know, our sort of, I don’t know, like, American exceptionalism / universalism that then says “Well, every country can’t wait to do genocide. There’s just any excuse to do genocide. They’ll do it”
Well, that’s kind of a projection on our part. We have that history, right? We have a history of destroying our native populace and, you know, building schools over their bones, right? I mean that’s the US history. That is not really the history of China, and it’s certainly not the history of the PRC, right, since 1949. It is a kind of, you know, ignorant narrative to just overlay that in over Chinese history.
I think that’s a little bit hard to understand is China is absolutely doing a crackdown in Xinjiang, right? They want to prevent terrorism, right? There is a much heavier police presence. There is surveillance. There is an attempt to figure out, “well, who is doing these terrorist attacks” and some of them are pretty horrific. We’re talking about gangs with people attacking crowds with swords and stuff like this. It’s pretty horrible stuff, right?
People have been killed. It’s like radical terrorism anywhere, right? Trying to advance a political aim by attacking innocent people and, you know, trying to gum things up basically like, you know, and make people afraid to, you know, do whatever.
This is right when these accusations started being made. Now the program was pretty successful.
But it’s different from what we’ve seen, right? Like when we think of a crackdown, like if we think of in the United States context, we think of a crackdown, and who do they round up? They round up poor people, round up people of color. It’s African Americans and Latinos. This is disproportionately who gets arrested, who ends up in prison, who does time. It’s evident, if you just have a passing familiarity with the US justice system.
And so, we look at China as well. Of course, they’re going to do the same thing, right? They’re just going to, you know, paint with a broad brush and lock up every Uyghur. China is not doing that.
They are doing, I would call it a humanitarian crackdown. And I know this sounds kind of crazy. It sounds like a contradiction in terms. Because we again, we’re so used to a crackdown being the opposite of humanitarian, being – “Lock him up. We don’t care. We don’t even care if you’re guilty.” The US locks everyone up like that.
China’s approach is very different. They’re focused quite a bit on like what leftists have always said the prison system should be like in the United States. They said, hey, it should be focused on rehabilitation. You know, you should learn a different way. You should learn skills, rather than, you know, what prison does, of course, is prison destroys your ability to make a living. I mean, it’s harder to get a job as an ex-con. You have this gap in your resume, obviously. You already have a bunch more things against you that you didn’t, you know, have before you went to prison. Right. And you don’t necessarily have any useful skills, right, because those are sort of hard to come by. Maybe you’re able to get that in prison, but probably not.
China is essentially doing the opposite. They send you to vocational schools – they give you education because you know they’re actually taking this leftist-progressive maxim seriously. Which is sto say that some of this violence comes out of just ignorance. Some of it comes out of lack of opportunities. Some of it comes out of, you know, feeling left behind or, you know, seeing others progress and you know, you’re not. You’re not getting anywhere yourself. The seeds of extremism are watered by those kinds of situations. China is saying, well, we need to develop this region more. We need to put more resources into it. We need to help people get the skills. And so, you know, this is that when these accusations first came out in 2017, who said China has concentration camps in China was, like, bewildered by this, and said “no we don’t have concentration camps in China.”
Dr. Bair further elaborated on how the term “concentration camp” comes out of the Holocaust and US history. From “internment camps” for the Japanese in WWII, to the ongoing genocide of America’s First Nations, the US has a long history of genocide as part and parcel of its colonialist expansion and existence. Dr. Bair is not wrong: the idea of concentration camps is a fully USian ideal. After all, the US history of Jim Crow laws and eugenics ultimately inspired some of Hitler and the Nazis’ worst policies and atrocities.
Liberals in the United States love to say that anyone wearing a red, “Make America Great Again” or MAGA, hat is automatically a fascist. Now imagine if people wearing MAGA hats were guilty of hundreds of terrorist attacks and killing people across the US. Dr. Bair made it clear that China admits that they will target their “humanitarian crackdown” based on certain appearances.
Dr. Bair: “The narrative goes around that because people will look at and they’ll say China admits it. They (China) admit that they target people on the basis of their appearance. And it’s like, yeah, OK, sure, they admit that. I mean, you’d be foolish not to. Like I said, if terrorists are wearing a certain color hat, you’re going to look at people wearing that hat, right? That’s sort of just logic, right? Right. Imagine if people wearing the MAGA hat were, you know, actual terrorists, right?
There would be a crackdown, you know, I mean like that’s just that’s sort of—that’s the way you do it. But the question then is like what happens next, right? I mean, are you, you do a crackdown, well or are you sending people to prison and destroying their ability to make a living and making their life a lot worse? You’re actually giving them a chance, right? That is what China is actually trying to do now. They also have prisons. They’re not so warm and fuzzy that they’re like, you know, anyone who tries to commit violence, you know, gets a job.
No, they also send people to prison, right? I mean, but you know, that is if you cut somebody’s head off with a sword, you’re going to do time, right? I think this is like any country, right?
And the crazy thing about suggesting that this is somehow infringing on their culture is that you know, we see photographs from these areas, we see video footage of this, you know, the Uyghur language has a very distinctive script to it, right? It has a very Islamic looking script to it. You can visually see right on the blackboards on the signs and whatever that are in these centers, they’re being taught in the Uyghur language. That’s not all they’re being taught, right, they’re also taught this sort of standard Chinese, right, because China is very concerned about that, right? They’re like, we’re trying to create a society in which we have some shared things, right, like a shared language they want. They want literacy in this shared language, but they’re doing (it) in a very different way, right, like in the United States, we made a very explicit effort to destroy the languages of the native peoples.
Right. And we didn’t make a secret of it. We didn’t hide it. We said we’ve got to destroy their language. You know, we forbade students in, you know, these schools and whatever. I mean, we took the kids away from their parents. And we put them in these schools. We forbade them to speak in their own language. That’s what it looks like when you attempt to destroy a language. You don’t fund the language. You know, you don’t teach kids that language in a state funded institution.
You know, a lot of this is kind of like this, this projection, right? Like the sins of the genocidal West so the East must be doing the same thing.”
Dr. Bair indicated that China is funding the language and culture of the Uyghur people. The people of Xinjiang receive material support, and are taught in both the Uyghur language and standardized Chinese. We also discussed how the contemporary claims about Xinjiang are very similar to the claims made about Tibet in the 80s. Dr. Bair again stressed the importance of looking at “the macro data”. More Tibetans now speak and write their own language than before the People’s Republic of China. The conditions reactionaries want to return Tibetans to by “freeing Tibet” from China come from a time when people were poorer, more ignorant, and had fewer opportunities within far harder, far shorter lives.
Dr. Bair further elaborated that these allegations are designed to give China a bad look on the world stage. In other words, to give them a black eye. After all, the US exports Hollywood and War. We’re the “myth makers of the world”, as Dr. Bair put it.
Additionally, most of the evidence about mistreatment of Uyghurs in China is anecdotal, and often second- or third-hand accounts. This is not to say that anecdotal evidence should e disregarded entirely – simply that it’s not hard, data-based evidence. With a claim as serious as genocide, the evidence needs to be equally serious. And the burden of proof is always on the accuser.
I asked Dr. Bair if these claims might be intended to “dissuade people in the West from moving politically more left towards the ideas of Marxism/communism because China is communist”. He had an emphatic, one-word response: “Absolutely.”
We also briefly discussed China’s market reforms in the context of these anti-communist narratives and policies by the US-dominated West. Dr. Bair explained that China has a mix of state-controlled capitalism and private capitalism, and that Marxists see capitalism as a necessary step in development to socialism. In other words, “state capitalism” is a point on the path to socialism, as development happens in stages. Dr. Bair also explained how, when China was preparing to enter the global market, they wanted to improve their own conditions through more advanced internal production. This is why China offered the West the manufacturing deal that dominates the modern market. China essentially said, “We’ll be your low wage workers, and in exchange we’re going to learn how to produce advanced products; the technology is going to transfer to us as well.” This deal is China essentially trading labor for advanced technical knowledge but on an international level.
Dr. Bair agreed with the idea that the capitalists in the West undermined their own ability to “contain” China by agreeing to this deal. In other words, the market reforms China undertook under Deng Xiaoping successfully bolstered the PRC’s ability to resist global capitalism and US imperialism.
There has never been a genocide marked by an increase in population and living conditions, and there never will be. That is not what genocide is. The evidence available to us, when examined critically, proves the claim that “the People’s Republic of China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs” to be a false, hollow narrative weaponized to make China more vulnerable to imperialism.