August 20, 2018
By Jerome Cohen
Earlier this month, Josh Rogin wrote in the Washington Post, Ethnic cleansing makes a comeback — in China, which provoked quite a lot of discussion, especially with regard to Rogin’s use of “ethnic cleansing” in describing China’s continuing campaign to abuse hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs in “re-education camps“ in the Xinjiang region as well as other efforts to destroy the social and religious life of Uyghur communities.
Police patrolling the old town in Kashgar, Xinjiang. Photograph: Tom Phillips for the Guardian
Should we use ethnic cleansing to describe this horrendous situation? It is important to “rectify names” (zhengming), but there are so many aspects to this repression that it is not possible to find words that can adequately encapsulate it. What, for example, about reports that large numbers of Uyghurs from certain areas are being displaced and sent elsewhere outside of Xinjiang?
I personally believe, despite the views expressed otherwise, that we should not confine “ethnic cleansing” to its past notorious uses, for what is taking place is the attempted destruction of an ethnic group. This attempt has about as good a chance of success as the attempts to “convert” LGBT people to heterosexuals, and perhaps that is where we should look for better vocabulary!