One Leaf of Time 一叶时间 #3

Earlier today, I was thinking about how I need to write a post today and how I did not feel the time passing until the to-do item popped in my mind. And I realized time is a bit like observer effect or double-slit interference — the amount of time seems to decrease as soon as you try to think about how much time you have. It is kind of a trope observation but captures my inner fear of death surprisingly well.

This week, the New York Times published another detailed report on the sterilization effort of minority women in Xinjiang, China.. It is good, and you should read it, along with their previous report on Re-education camps. There are also anecdotal videos accusing Han teachers of using corporal punishment towards minorities with discriminative language circulating Twitter.

Being a mainland Chinese with many mainlander friends – I often feel pretty powerless talking about this. Partially, this is because of the censorship, and the fear of repercussions from bypassing it. However, a more significant part of the feeling comes from the skepticism from my friends — “Look, do you really believe this?” or “My friend recently went to Xinjiang, she/he says it is great!”. This skepticism seems to be partially brewing from the strong confidence that our personal experience is representative and omniscient — “I don’t think things like this can ever happen. Otherwise I would have heard about it.” “How can the minority be oppressed if they are given so many benefits?”

This to some extents, demonstrated how successful the censorship on Xinjiang is. It is almost like a Catch-22: a lot of reporting on Xinjiang rely on the second-hand account and leaked files because, well, nobody is able to report first-hand there; and people do not believe the limited reports because first-hand reports do not corroborate them. The lack of first-hand and corroborated reports also increases the risk of exacerbated reports and far-fetched reports, which can often be used as evidence of “western bias”/”counter-evidence.” As we have frequently seen in other public events, the most effective strategy is often not straight up to remove/falsify data, but to allowing certain true stories and false reports to be circulated in a controlled manner, which can easily create a post-truth cynical sense that everyone is lying. We also see this in another event with a rippling effect – the mysterious death of a Chengdu high school student in the teacher’s office building.

How can we counter this? Well, I won’t be so powerless if it is easy. I think pointing to the shared experience that the audience can relate to, like the suppression of dialects/stereotypes of minorities in other regions, might be helpful. I believe it is also important to resist the desire of shrinking into a comfortable echo chamber – a self-reinforcing community is unlikely to construct an effective persuasion to other audiences.

The impedance mismatches when talking about Xinjiang often also come from different thresholds of wrongdoing between my friends and me — “They don’t have a job, what’s so wrong about helping them work?” And that speaks to our general tendency of preferring security and stability over individual choices and liberty. Both the dystopian Chinese COVID restrictions and The Epic vs. Apple discussion highlight this – people are willing to accept dystopian controls over their phones in the name of security and view it as a feature, not a bug. Interestingly, this is also often combined with a false sense of individual responsibility and choices – “If you already follow the regulations, why would you have a problem with the system?” “If you use the iPhone/live in the country, you should comply with the regulations, love it or leave it.”

Well, that’s exactly what they are discussing on the court, and I am not super hopeful of the verdict.

See you next week.


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