7 Chinese acrobats defect to Canada

Interesting story of exploitation, despair and courage:

Seven of 13 performers defected last week after performing with the Xinjiang acrobatic troupe in Toronto and Ottawa. As Uighur Muslims, they say they detested being used by China’s Communist regime in its propaganda to cover up grotesque human rights violations against the ethnic minority group. “We performed for the government and they used us to create this image of ethnic unity. We didn’t have a choice. We had no right to oppose,” said juggler Dilshat Sirajidin who, at 40, is the oldest of the five men and two women.

The seven are now in hiding in Toronto, where they’ve filed claims for refugee status, a process that can take years. All of them are married and have children at home in China; this must have been an incredibly painful decision.

UPDATE: Here’s a good follow-up article on the heroism of the defectors and the alleged human rights violations against Uygurs in China.

The Discussion: 11 Comments

Interesting, Richard, as the SCMP this morning painted the story differently, saying, in effect, that several of these defectors were being held in Toronto against their will by separtists.

The Chinese government had assured the defectors that they would be “welcomed” back to China “without penalty.”

Which is correct?

February 8, 2004 @ 8:34 pm | Comment

It’s especially interesting when you consider that Uighur separatists are, broadly speaking, ideologically allied with groups like al-Qaeda.

It’s so hard to know whom to root for sometimes…

But anyway, Uighurs aren’t the only ones fleeing China — just look at the dozen or so shellfish-harvesters from Fujian who recently drowned in England.

February 9, 2004 @ 1:10 am | Comment

“several of these defectors were being held against their will.”

In Canada???

February 9, 2004 @ 1:39 am | Comment

Those who risk everything seeking freedom are almost always worthy of support, vaara.

February 9, 2004 @ 1:47 am | Comment

Not sure about SCMP article — have already seen several articles about this, none mentioned they were being held “against their will.” That would sure make it another story altogether.

February 9, 2004 @ 6:47 am | Comment

That Uighur – Al-qaeda link is largely fiction. Uighur separatism undeniably includes classic terrorist actions, but there are pretty major differences between the Uighur motivations and Al-qaeda’s that make tying them together pretty risky.

Uighurs are certainly Muslim, but they’re not a fundamentalist society, and aren’t looking for an Islamic state. They’re not connected to pan-islamist movements (with the probable exception of ETIM), nor has Bin Laden been waving their flag in any of his speeches.

Uighur resistance is based on a preexisting national identity (annexed in 1759, pretty constant separatist feelings since then) and the CCP’s 50 year program of cultural assimilation, with it’s accompanying discrimination and human rights abuses (generally not disputed).

Of course, there’s a Uighur blog. I haven’t read much of it yet, but it’s waving a pretty big anti-human rights abuses flag. There’s also a new blog based in Xinjiang that’s looking at these issues a bit.

February 9, 2004 @ 8:36 pm | Comment

So tell us, Dan, are you our resident Uighur scholar? You certainly seem to know your stuff.

February 9, 2004 @ 9:00 pm | Comment

Thanks for the plug Dan. You’re right on the money; the Uighurs aren’t a fundamentalist society at all – practically every Uighur I talk to says they support Bush fighting Saddam, and they don’t say it to be polite. The Islam out here was spread by Sufis, though they call themselves Sunnis (not to mention they’ve got some vestigial buddhism, like burial flags).

There were twelve Uighurs identified in Guantanamo bay, but by and large they really aren’t players in Al Qaeda. Uighurs generally don’t seem to think much about that stuff and the greater Muslim world doesn’t really think much about them either.

Dan also linked to terrorismanswers and hrw, which are fantastic and we can’t read them here in Xinjiang (or Beijing, I imagine).

the Uygur letter blog is run by my friend Stephen Sullivan, an Australian who has basically made it his full time job to write on the web about Uighurs.

There were two other articles by the Star before the one where they interviewed these guys.

February 9, 2004 @ 9:36 pm | Comment

Not an expert, this meme has just stuck in my mind over the past couple years as I prepared to come to China. I figured some due diligence was appropriate, especially at this site. Sorry if it came off like a homework assignment ๐Ÿ™‚

February 10, 2004 @ 11:02 am | Comment

No Dan, very interesting. Thanks.

February 10, 2004 @ 4:43 pm | Comment

Yes, thanks for the info. The “Musing” blog deserves a wide readership, esp. among the “all Muslims are evil” crowd who seem to dominate the online discourse these days.

February 11, 2004 @ 3:28 am | Comment

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