It's stunning country but living there is hell. The Yili grasslands in Western Xinjiang. Photo by Qingbao Meng / Unsplash

Xinjiang, a most perfect dystopia | Borderline #19

“It is the world's most sophisticated surveillance state.”

Isabelle Roughol
Isabelle Roughol

⏱ This is a 3-minute read and a 40-minute listen.

If a novelist had imagined what's happening in Xinjiang, reviewers would have called it fanciful. China has perfected the police state, picking in every literary dystopia and historical totalitarian state what each did "best." There's the Big Brother and Newspeak of 1984 and the predictive policing of Minority Report; destruction of privacy and neighbourly delation reminiscent of the Stasi and cultural annihilation, a hint of the Khmer Rouge. And the usual: propaganda, torture and concentration camps.

We've all heard something's happening to the Uyghurs by now, but we don't know details. It's far, and too few reporters get in. One who is did is Geoffrey Cain, whose book The Perfect Police State is both essential and oppressive reading. He's on the podcast this week.

“We're seeing in real time the testing laboratory for how to create a perfect authoritarian dystopia.”


Long trends that matter and news under the radar, in brief

🇪🇹 Possibly even less reported than the horrors in Xinjiang, are the horrors in Tigray, Ethiopia – shelling of civilian areas, torture, mass detentions and executions based on ethnic profiling. [CNN, CNN again, The Guardian]

🇬🇧 Liz Truss is Britain's new foreign secretary. She's also still minister for women and equalities, since neither women nor foreigners warrant a full-time headcount. [The New Statesman]

🇺🇸 The US will require all applicants for an immigration visa to be vaccinated against Covid-19... which would be great if the US weren't also hoarding vaccine doses for boosters. [NPR]

⚖️ France's former health minister is under formal investigation for "endangering lives" by her inaction in the early days of the pandemic. Is hindsight 20-20 or should she really have known better? This is scaring a lot of people in leadership. [The Washington Post]

🇫🇷 France (again, sorry) granted fast-track citizenship to 12,000 frontline workers. They're health, social, child and elderly care workers, security and cleaning staff, and refuse collectorsd. [The Guardian]


Reading recommendations and slower observations

🔫 Even exile won't keep you safe anymore. It struck me reading Geoff's book: there is hope of escape near or far for the Uyghurs. The Chinese Communist Party watches them in their living room, but it also follows them abroad. Autocrats are increasingly going after dissidents across borders with threats, kidnappings and even assassinations, according to this Freedom House report. Journalists, exiled opponents, activists in diasporas are all at risk. And the likes of Putin, Xi or Erdogan appear immune to the diplomatic consequences.

🎾 Leave Emma Raducanu alone. Some claim her as more English than the queen after she won the US Open, but two months ago they happily stripped three young men of their Britishness for missing a penalty kick. Others have enrolled her in their tribe, a triumph of multicultural Britain with her Romanian father, Chinese mother and Canadian birth certificate. Others yet – every progressive columnist it seems – warn us off the good immigrant trope. In every scenario, the audience decides who she is. Maybe she's just a teenager who played some killer tennis. Let her tell the story she wants.

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Isabelle Roughol Twitter

Journalist, podcaster, media consultant. Telling stories & building better newsrooms. Writes The Lede. Ex- LinkedIn News, Le Figaro, The Cambodia Daily. 🎓 Mizzou '08, Birkbeck '25.