A Small Note on the Terror of Uncertainty

Freedom of men under government is to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it; a liberty to follow my own will in all things, where that rule prescribes not: and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, arbitrary will of another man.

John Locke, Second Treatise on Government, section 22 (1689)

This week’s post on Xinjiang and the many things one can do there to be thrown into a political reeducation camp has been picked up by Foreign Policy. The FP version of the article has been published under the title “48 Ways to Get Sent to a Chinese Concentration Camp.”

The material will be familiar to readers of this blog as most of the article is a direct adaptation of an earlier blog post here. However, I did make one significant point in the FP version of the essay that I did not make here:

A central element of this campaign is uncertainty. It is difficult to judge which of these items are official policy and which are simply the result of ad hoc decisions made by local officials. This is likely by design. One Uighur interviewee told HRW how he simply stopped using his smartphone because he could not tell which websites were allowed and which might incriminate him; another described how she stopped talking to neighbors and strangers altogether because she did not want to unintentionally say something that might bring the police to her door. Vagueness breeds fear. Fear makes the people subject to the Communist Party’s campaigns easier to control.[1]

I wish I could claim credit for this particular insight, but as the epitaphs placed at the top of this post evince, it is an old one. It does, however, help make sense of some of the more mysterious items on the list.


[1] Tanner Greer, “48 Ways to get Sent to a Chinese Concentration Camp,” Foreign Policy (13 September 2018)

Leave a Reply to Silva Cancel reply


Mr Greer,

I have been interested in your writings on XJ issues. I have could provide you with some of my own opinions, which is less polished and it might read like a flow of conscious rather than a cohesive article on its own.

1. Regarding the response from US, specifically from Marco Rubio, who clearly hates Chinese people, and the Han race, I couldn't care less about the moral 'outrage' because it is as geopolical as it is none of their business. I don't care less about white evangelical culture nor their people and as a Chinese buddhist, I don't believe in the universalism of religion. I hope their people could follow their great tradition of minding their own business, exemplified by not caring about African Americans, and be confined to their Chistriandom. But I have personally talked to my Chinese friends on why the Ch govt couldn't be less subtle about the whole issue, ie. stop building new buildings at somewhere 100 km away from any civilisations.

2. I have talked to people who live in France, and have noticed that the French people tend to forget about the massacre they have experienced while they were drinking in the bar. I highly doubt Chinese are the same. Kunming and 7/5 are the best rallying call the crack down XJ and the psychological impacts of terrorism lingers on even today. This is not confined to the issues that govt censorship allows to sift through. Many issues that the common man contradict against the govt also lingers on even though they are not widely reported as much (eg milk powder etc). China's experience of "Five Barbarian Tribes Pestering China", Yuan Dynasty, the expsulsion of Dzungar Tribes and Tongzhi Era Hui Rebellion has, even before the XJ issue becomes a major security concern, become a historical justification that China cannot be strong until these peripheral tribes stop being a threat and are tamed. (Look at Republic of China's record in XJ, it is a shame that a governor had to beg when USSR tried to use its central asian republics to influence China, vis-a-vis Little Marco's game.)

3. I agree that the collectivisation of young uyghur / Kazakh males in a confined camp might create a network of future muslim terror orgs / gangs. This has to be dealt with and a strategy has to be enforced upon that threat and until then, none of them should be released. But to say the crackdown is not targeted enough, how come the Xibo people, cousins of the Manchus who also live in XJ are living peacefully without any issues?

4. Conclusion, "the Concept of the Political (der Begriff des Politischen)" has taught me about the raison d'etre for interactions between nation states and the un-schmittian hypocrisy of the likes of islamophobic Little Marco and Mike Pence. And anyone who believe in their mumble jumble is … really covfefe. (also US supported Taliban to weaken USSR, and allowed mujahadeen in Bosnia to defeat stronger Yugoslavia.) I have watched Fox, in what universe would you think that I would consider Laura Ingraham and her species' concern on China's HR genuine? (her interview with John Kelly, clearly Chinese aren't her Volksgenossen, why would she care again?)

5. Han safety matters. We don't want the Parisian experience. If Europe can have AfD, Orban, and Svenskdemokraterna, then why can't Chinese have one?

Thank you very much for your time.

Kind regards,

Stream of conscious is fine.

I cannot speak for Pence, Rubio, et. al. I can only speak for me. I am not a fan of the Party. This is well known. But… this would be wrong regardless of who is doing it. It should be opposed by all people of conscience. Full stop. I sincerely believe that.

Christian universalism is part of the story of why Westerners get worked up about these things. But there is more to it than this. There is a reason Westerners see the Holocaust as one of the central dividing lines in human civilization. If you want to understand why Westerners react they way they do to these like this, turn to the history of Holocaust, its discovery, and the slow reckoning Western intellectuals and politicians had with it during the 50s and 60s. That is where these concerns and these narratives were born.

With that said, I reject the notion that someone in Beijing say "what is happening in Kashgar is out business, and not anyone else's." The vast majority of Chinese have never been within two thousand miles of Kashgar. They are physically closer to Seoul and culturally far closer to Koreans than they are the Uyghur. Not that distance is really what matters. A man cannot murder his wife and then tell his neighbors "mind your own business" when they see the blood stains on the wall.

One other thing that concerns me about all of this: a new and frightening sort of totalitarianism is being born in the sands of Xinjiang. It is naive to think that the mechanisms for control being developed there will not be spread elsewhere. I have a vested interested in ensuring that the kinds of systems and contraptions showing up in Xinjiang do not exist at all. No government can be entrusted with that kind of power. Terrible precedents are being created. In some cases–like the PR codes on the house walls–they are spreading outside of XJ.

But let me ask you a question, since the topic of bad precedents is up: in what circumstances, if any, is it ok for Party members to start doing 批斗大会 again?

@Silva- Not all Chinese recognize the translation. Probably, IMHO, because "Session" is not a very good translation of "大会", HGW probably knows the English term but I just wanted to make sure.