Some foreign observers tend to regard Chinese state propaganda as cobwebs, intricately woven webs of deception that one must brush away to reveal the underlying truth. Yet, an examination of the delicate threads that comprise the web may shed light upon even the darkest corners of Zhongnanhai. Propaganda can provide insight into the greatest ambitions and worst fears of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Such insights are particularly valuable for those seeking to understand the current situation in Xinjiang (East Turkestan). Here, the state engages in a heavy propaganda campaign to win the support of the local population, chiefly Uyghurs and other Central Asian ethnic groups. The most critical and reoccurring themes focus upon fostering ethnic unity; social harmony and stability; patriotism; economic development; territorial integrity; and close relations between the military and the people. Propaganda is an inextricable part of CCP patriotic education campaigns. Propaganda is omnipresent in public spaces, found everywhere from municipal buildings to schools, roadways, buses, and town squares.
Although the outside world is keenly aware of the integral role that propaganda plays in protecting and promoting Chinese interests in Xinjiang, foreigners rarely have the opportunity to ascertain how the relationship between state and society is negotiated at the grassroots level. How do locals in different regions tend to view their personal relationship with the state? How do they express their own ethnic and religious identity? To what extent does the educational background, profession, or social status of Uyghurs and members of other ethnic groups affect their opinions on governance and the Chinese Communist Party? How do locals receive, interpret, and respond to state propaganda? What is the current state of relations between Chinese, ethnic minorities, and the state security apparatus?
In a series of short articles, I will share personal observations, experiences, and conversations from around Xinjiang that elucidate these abstract themes in a more concrete way. At the same time, due to the sensitive political nature of the subject under discussion, I must pay due diligence in protecting my sources. Seeking answers to these questions is a critical task for not only myself, but also for other scholars in the field. I nevertheless hope that these articles will provide the reader with fresh information and insights into modern-day Xinjiang.
Graham Adams specializes in the study of ethnic minority policy in the People’s Republic of China. His name has been changed to protect his identity.