Manga artist documents Uyghur woman’s experiences in Xinjiang ‘re-education’ camp

Qelbinur Sidiq witnessed torture and abuse in two facilities where she taught Mandarin to detainees.
By Gulchehra Hoja and Erkin Tarim for RFA Uyghur
Manga artist documents Uyghur woman’s experiences in Xinjiang ‘re-education’ camp A drawing from Japanese cartoonist Tomomi Shimizu's manga booklet about the experiences of Qelbinur Sidiq in 're-education' camps in northwest China's Xinjiang region.
Shimuzu Tomomi

A famous writer and illustrator in Japan has produced a new manga booklet portraying the experiences of an ethnic Uzbek woman forced to teach Mandarin to mostly Uyghur detainees in 're-education' camps in northwest China's Xinjiang region.

Tomomi Shimizu's latest work builds on her success with her previous booklets on female detainees in Xinjiang, released in Japan to draw attention to the repression of the mostly Muslim Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples in northwest China.

The Japan Uyghur Association in collaboration with the Japan Too’i Educational Film Producing Center has made a short film based on the new booklet to use as course material in classrooms and in the Japanese government to educate students and employees about human rights.

Shimizu has portrayed the experiences of female survivors of the vast network of detention camps in Xinjiang that are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in recent years, in a purported effort to prevent terrorism and religious extremism by members of the predominantly Muslim group. 

Her latest work focuses on Qelbinur Sidiq, 53, also known as Kalbinur Sidik, who taught Mandarin Chinese at an elementary school in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi for nearly three decades, and was forced by authorities in 2017 to teach the language in Xinjiang’s “re-education” camp system.

Sidiq, who was born in Xinjiang, also underwent a forced abortion and sterilization as part of a government campaign to suppress birth rates of Muslim women in the region.

Shimizu, who has published six other manga books detailing the persecution Uyghur women face in Xinjiang, including everyday repression and abuses in the camps, released her latest work in December 2022 based on Sidiq’s testimony at an independent people's tribunal in London in 2021. The tribunal reviewed evidence of China's human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities to evaluate whether it constituted genocide under the Genocide Convention.

“I was shocked when I learned of the Uyghurs' situation and thought it was important to let many people know of their situation to rescue the people in the [internment] camps,” she said. “I also thought that if I illustrated their harsh experiences with easy-to-understand manga, the world would understand it better.”  

Shimizu said she initially hoped that increased global attention to the situation in Xinjiang would make her work unnecessary.

“But after drawing this piece, I felt that the testimonies of these women’s souls needed to be drawn further,” she told RFA.

Sidiq, who now lives in the Netherlands, testified before the tribunal in June 2021 about the abuses she regularly witnessed at the two camps, including torture and rape, contradicting Beijing’s claims that the facilities were voluntary “vocational centers” in which “students” were treated humanely.

In December 2021, the tribunal announced its findings that China committed genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

Shimizu read Sidiq’s testimony at the time, and said she was shocked by it. She knew she wanted to draw it, but was busy at the time. 

But when Sidiq visited Japan in 2022, Shimizu spoke with her about her plan to create a manga story detailing her experiences. 

“She was the only one of the witnesses who saw the inside of the concentration camps whom I met and spoke to in person,” Shimizu said. “The others were scheduled to come to Japan, but canceled due to the coronavirus disaster.”

All of Shimizu’s published works have received positive responses in Japan, though there is demand for more because major media rarely covers the Uyghur crisis, she said. 

“It is necessary to disseminate an English version of the manga booklet and, if possible, publish it as a book,” she said, adding that she publishes her works free of charge and allows them to be used for educational purposes. 

Interest in the Uyghur genocide has grown in Japan since parliament adopted a resolution in 2022 expressing concern over human rights violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Tibet and Inner Mongolia, and calling on the Japanese government to work with other countries to monitor the situations.

About 500 primary and secondary schools in Japan have added manga comics about the Uyghurs’ plight based on the testimony of Mihrigul Tursun, a 33-year-old Uyghur former detainee from Xinjiang, said Ahmatjan Litip, secretary-general of the Japanese Uyghur Association.

“Manga comics are a media tool that play a significant role in Japanese society because readers of all ages, from children to elderly men and women, love to read them,” Litip said.  

“The Japanese people have received these manga comics well, and they went viral on social media,” he said. “We believe the manga comics have achieved a result that we can’t get even if we spend millions of dollars promoting our cause.”

Translated by RFA Uyghur. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin. Edited by Joshua Lipes.


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Thomas Kyhn
Jan 06, 2023 07:39 AM

Perhaps a good idea to mention Shimizu's connection to the Japanese nationalist right (this is obviously not meant as an excuse for China's treatment of the Uyghurs).

See this article from Reuters:

"Shimizu […] appears to be no stranger to politics, having voiced support on her Twitter account for issues generally backed by Japan’s right wing."

"In 2015, she raised doubts about the grounds for criticism that China and South Korea level at Japan, describing former “comfort women” - a Japanese euphemism for the women, many of them Korean, who were forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels - as “lying”."