UPDATED at 11:05 A.M. on 2017-08-15
Authorities in the capital of northwest China’s Xinjiang region have banned the sale of books by an ethnic Uyghur who served as the region’s first chairman, according to local sources, despite his avowed support for the country’s ruling Communist Party.
Observers said the ban—part of an internal party order issued in April last year, but only recently learned of by RFA’s Uyghur Service—highlights the Chinese government’s mistrust of Uyghurs, regardless of their professed loyalty to the party and state, and suggests an official effort is underway to “erase” Uyghur history from the region and the collective national conscience.
Books by the late Seypidin Aziz, including “A Collection of Poetry,” his memoir “The Epics of Life,” and a biographic memoir of Abdulkeri Abbasof “The Eagle of Tengritagh," have been removed from bookstores in Urumqi following a “special directive” by authorities, sources at several shops in the Xinjiang capital recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service, although they were unable to explain the reason for the ban.
The directive came despite years of service to the Communist Party by Azizi, who served as the first chairman of Xinjiang from 1955-1978 and as vice-chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee from 1993-1998 before his death in 2003.
“All the books by Seypidin Azizi have been removed from the shelves and dealt with,” said the ethnic majority Han Chinese director of the sales center at the official Xinhua Bookstore in Urumqi, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“You can’t buy his books from any bookstore. This is a universal directive—we received a special directive on this matter. I don’t know if the books were recalled for political reasons, but we removed them upon receiving the directive.”
A Han Chinese staff member at the Urumqi New City District Xinhua Bookstore said that “A Collection of Poetry,” “The Epics of Life,” and “The Eagle of Tengritagh" had been removed from the shop’s sales database, as well as all of Azizi’s other books.
“I checked the list of books in the Uyghur language, but his books are not listed,” he said.
“I don’t know the reason for why his books were recalled.”
Another Han Chinese employee at the Urumqi International Book Market sales center told RFA that the books “are not here anymore and can no longer be purchased,” but said he was unaware of why they had been banned.
Staff members at the sales office of Xinjiang International Book City and two other branches of the Xinhua Bookstore on Urumqi’s Friendship Road and Yan’an Road also confirmed that Azizi’s books had been taken off the shelves and could not be found “anywhere.”
Chinese versions of the books are also no longer available in the capital, sources said.
It was not immediately clear if the ban extended to other parts of the country, but the director of sales for the Beijing-based Publishing House of Minority Nationalities, under the central government’s State Ethnic Affairs Commission, confirmed to RFA that it had stopped publishing Azizi’s books.
“The Seypidin Azizi books you have asked about are currently not allowed for sale,” the director said, adding that while his group had previously published the books, it had stopped because “Xinjiang authorities are currently reviewing the books’ contents.”
“Yes, he was the former vice-chairman [of the CPPCC], but his books were recalled and put under political review.”
Ties to Beijing
Azizi’s books have typically been sought out by readers interested in the history of the Uyghur people, and particularly by those researching the second of two short-lived Uyghur republics known as East Turkestan in what is now Xinjiang under Chinese rule.
Azizi was born in 1915 in what was then the Republic of China’s Xinjiang province. After living in the then-Soviet Union, he returned to Xinjiang and helped to instigate the Soviet-backed Ili Rebellion in 1944, which gained control of three key districts in the northwest of the province.
After serving as the Minister of Education in the East Turkestan Republic (ETR) and Commissioner of Education in a coalition government administered by the Ili rebels and the nationalist Kuomintang party from 1945-1948, Azizi joined the Communist Party of China at the end of the Chinese Civil War, ahead of Mao Zedong proclaiming the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in Beijing on Oct. 1, 1949.
He is widely believed to have helped deliver the ETR to the People’s Republic of China in exchange for positions of leadership in the Communist Party, and is largely dismissed by the Uyghur community for his ties to Beijing.
Justin Rudelson, an expert on Uyghur issues and a lecturer at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, told RFA that the decision to ban Azizi’s books despite his pro-party stance signaled Beijing’s intention to whitewash the history of the Uyghur people and their region.
“The main goal is to get rid of Uyghur history, no matter what the content,” Rudelson said.
“Erasing [Azizi] seems like not the first step, but a major step, in erasing Uyghur history. People can’t study their own history if the books are not available.”
Rudelson called Azizi’s books “pro-PRC” and said that banning them was part of a bid by the Chinese government to “control knowledge.”
“These books no longer serve the Chinese government’s current purpose in Xinjiang, so they have no use anymore,” he said.
“[Azizi] was essentially a state-sponsored writer, but there must be something in the books that China is afraid of about the Uyghurs that caused [Beijing] to ban one of the people most loyal to the Communist Party.”
Dumped and buried
Ilshat Hassan, president of the Washington-based Uyghur American Association, called Aziz a “traitor who hand-delivered the independence and sovereignty of East Turkestan to China’s communist dictator Mao Zedong on a golden plate,” and said he is responsible for the persecution Uyghurs currently endure in Xinjiang.
“Once we were the founders and citizens of a republic, but these days we can’t even defend our own language, religion and culture in the fake Uyghur Autonomous Region,” he said.
Uyghurs regularly complain of pervasive ethnic discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule in Xinjiang.
Hassan said that the ban on Azizi’s books “unquestionably proves” that the Communist Party is unwilling to trust Uyghurs and only uses them “for political advantage.”
“After using them, the party just dumps them and buries their memory,” he said.
“China is trying to wipe out the memory of East Turkestan in his books, even though the content is highly pro-PRC and pro-Communist Party.”
Reported by Eset Sulaiman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff and Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.