Christian Shepherd on Xinjiang and China’s changing ethnic policy


Play episode:

This week on the Sinica Podcast, Kaiser and Jeremy speak with Christian Shepherd, the Beijing correspondent for the Financial Times. They discuss his debut long-form piece for the FT, Fear and oppression in Xinjiang: China’s war on Uighur culture, dive into the policy drivers behind the assimilation efforts being carried out by the central government in Xinjiang, and discuss his experiences while reporting from the region.

What to listen for on this week’s Sinica Podcast:

16:22: In an effort to forcefully assimilate Xinjiang into greater China, public signage in Uyghur has been replaced with Mandarin Chinese, and bookstores have been emptied of Uyghur-language texts. Christian noticed the same trend in legal language: “If you look at policy documents now, in Xinjiang and other regions, there has been that shift [to Mandarin]. The use of hanyu [汉语 hànyǔ, Mandarin Chinese] is diminished. Instead, it’s all guoyu [国语 guóyǔ, national language].”

The linguistic replacement is also occurring in schools. Christian states: “In fact, in the schooling system, the emphasis is on that national language, instead of [on] the idea of there being multiple languages that were on an equal status.”

34:26: Have there been any legal efforts to change the language within the Chinese constitution regarding minority policy? Christian explains: “I think there’s a real desire on the part of the Party to continue to pay lip service to the idea of being the champion of minority rights. Clearly, that is what is talked about through all government propaganda, and you see it in billboards all over Xinjiang about how Xi Jinping cares about the rights of the individual, [about] minorities, and about fostering ethnic unity and how that will lead to one great big family nationally.”


Jeremy: The Planet Money podcast, particularly episode 939, The Working Tapes of Studs Terkel.

Christian: Under Red Skies, by Karoline Kan, and the work of Darren Byler, including his column at SupChina and his blog, Living Otherwise.

Kaiser: A documentary, The Brink, by director Alison Klayman.

This podcast was edited and produced by Kaiser Kuo and Jason MacRonald.