Vicky Xiuzhong Xu is a 26-year-old reporter and researcher living in Australia. She was born in China and came to Australia to study abroad. While there she came across a documentary about Tiananmen Square, something she’d never heard about at school in China. She applied to transfer her studies to an Australian university.
At first, Xu believed some of the negative things she was encountering about China must be part of an anti-China PR campaign. She defended China in her classes and even had the symbols from the Chinese flag tattooed on her ankle as a sign of her commitment to her home country (visible in the image above). But eventually, for a journalism class, she decided to interview a dissident who had escaped China. She went into the interview expecting to be able to prove the subject was a liar, but after talking to him she realized what he was saying about being arrested and pushed into forced labor for criticizing the CCP was true.
After that she began reporting critically on China and eventually focused on the detention, reeducation and forced labor of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Because of the success of her work, some of which was published by the NY Times, she has become a target of unhinged attacks on Chinese social media site and in state media.
The flood of attacks posted and re-posted by state-media outlets and nationalist bloggers followed similar themes. Xu, part of a team documenting abuses of Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang region last year, was a traitor, a pawn controlled by the West, or a “female demon.” Queries for her name turn up thousands of results, including videos claiming to reveal details of her dating life, calling her “promiscuous” and “drug infested.”
On Weibo, people have called for her family to be tracked down and ordered to apologize for raising such a daughter. Others said Xu should never be allowed back into China, issuing not-so-veiled threats. “Meet a traitor, kill a traitor,” one user wrote. Her family asked her to change her name for her own safety.
The torrent of abuse targeting Xu, one year after she co-wrote an Australian Strategic Policy Institute report on Uyghur labor in supply chains, is the most extreme example of a growing Chinese campaign to defend its Xinjiang policies and to silence overseas researchers through sanctions and intimidation…
The online onslaught against Xu, named in countless headlines as the unexpected “black hand” behind the West’s anti-China campaign, has continued with tacit if not outright support from Chinese state media. “Even as a Chinese person, she insists on going against China; the doxing of Xu Xiuzhong and trashing of her reputation are in no way undeserved,” said an editorial in the state-run China Daily.
The Chinese attempts to punish anyone who stands up or speaks out isn’t new. Last month the Post published a story about social media attacks, backed by state media, of Swedish clothing chain H&M after H&M said it would stop buying cotton from the Xinjiang region over concerns forced labor was being used to pick it. While critics are targeted, official Chinese sources put out propaganda messages claiming China has done nothing wrong or, like this one, simply telling people to stay out of it.
Mind your own business! HANDS OFF #XINJIANG!
— Hua Chunying 华春莹 (@SpokespersonCHN) March 28, 2021
Last week Xu wrote a thread on Twitter in Chinese about her experiences. Below is the English translation of her tweets. As you’ll see, she says that because state media has decided to attack her as a “slut,” “witch,” “traitor,” and “banshee” she is now going to write about what she’s seen and reported in Chinese and not just in English. Of course Twitter isn’t allowed in China but hopefully some of what she’s saying will filter back onto the country’s own social media sites.
After writing about Xinjiang for three years, I kept asking myself: Why do I write about the Uyghur community? How much risk do you take to write? Is it worth it? I have a few points to say:
First, we must report what happened to the Uighur community, and even if it is difficult, we must write about it. The root of the “education and training centers” that imprison Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities is the complete destruction of Uyghurs and culture by the Han-dominated government. About one million office workers, students, businessmen, civil servants, farmers, 1/
Ordinary Uyghurs who have never dreamed of fighting for independence or against the government were put on black hoods, deprived of all freedom, sent to “education and transformation”, and were tortured and raped in “education and training centers.” I don’t need to talk about who is right or wrong in these things. In my values, as a person, as a Han Chinese who grew up in China and has the advantage of resources, it is impossible to stand idly by. 2/
When I learned about the large-scale detention of Uighurs in Xinjiang in 2017, I was 22 years old. I was a political/media major at the University of Melbourne and worked as a freelance writer for several media such as The New York Times. At that time, friends from reporters said that the authorities would not be too concerned about writing in English, so they always wrote in English and tweeted. Some articles were later translated into Chinese. After I read them, I felt scared. 3/
At the beginning of 2018, when I just graduated from university, I joined the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. At that time, the newsroom did not have the budget to go out for interviews, so I bought my own air ticket to the Uighur community in Adelaide on weekends. Some local Uighurs did not dare to trust me, and were unwilling to tell me more. I watched them angry and crying. As a Han Chinese, I felt that I didn’t even need to breathe. 4/
Walking into their community, looking at the blue East Turkestan flags, I know that those flags symbolize national self-determination, and I know that my resistance to the word “East Turkistan” stems from more than ten years of propaganda and education by the Chinese authorities. , But I was still afraid. There are too many terrible things in Xinjiang. 5/
All I wanted to do at the time was to write down the facts. Even if no one cares what the facts are now and at this moment, at least leave a bottom to history. Today I have been to Adelaide five times, each time I interviewed one by one, and listened to them one after another. Watching the interviewees break into tears when they talked about their relatives in custody, they sat across from them and took notes. Going back to the office to send a letter to the Chinese official for comment, staring at my signature and shaking hands several times, I dare not click to send it. 6/
In 2019, I worked in the Sydney branch of The New York Times. In a report, two Uighur family members in China were sent for “educational transformation”. We asked the Chinese side to comment. We did not expect that as soon as the telegram was sent out, people would soon be released under international pressure. After this article, my relatives and friends in China began to be harassed and intimidated. At that time, a Uighur friend said to me, “You are now like us.” 7/
Later, after I joined the Australian Institute of Strategic Studies, I noticed that China sent a large number of Uighurs to work in the interior. My colleagues and I checked all the way, and invited reporters from The Washington Post to visit the Nike factory in Qingdao. In March 2020, we released the research report “Uyghurs on Consignment”, which pointed out that forced labor against Uyghurs under the “Aid Xinjiang” banner was spread all over the country, and 83 companies including Nike and Apple were involved. 8/
The article pointed out the relationship between every ordinary person in the world and the Uyghur human rights crisis: Everyone may be wearing or wearing forced labor products. This report was reprinted by media all over the world, and its impact far exceeded my expectations and my colleagues’ expectations. I haven’t bought many new clothes or new phones this year, because I feel guilty when I enter the mall and see the brands I have written 9/
At the same time, Guoan [Chinese national security] began to intimidate me and the people around me more and more. People close to me were detained, interrogated, harassed and isolated in China. At the end of 2020, Guoan claimed to be a detective “Thomas” and used a lame machine to translate English and spread pornographic fiction-like “sex life” revelations on the tubing, humiliating me as a slut. 10/
This week, I was accused of being behind the rumors of “Xinjiang Cotton”. I really dare not wear such a big hat. First, I have never written about Xinjiang Cotton—the forced labor report I wrote is in the manufacturing industry; second, in the past year or two, countless other scholars and reporters have written about the forced labor of Uighurs. Because of this, the international community and governments of all countries can reach a certain degree of consensus to sanction related companies and refuse to import related products; 11/
Third, China uses “Xinjiang cotton” to confuse people. In fact, many clothing companies, electrical appliances companies, medical appliance companies, and even food companies have been involved in forced labor in Xinjiang. This issue is far more profound than “Xinjiang cotton”. The Chinese side tried to confuse the issue of forced labor in Xinjiang with the issue of Sino-US competition, completely ignoring the situation that Australia, the United States, Europe, Japan and even some Chinese consumers did not want to buy forced labor products. 12/
One of the reasons why I chose to be a reporter in the first place was because I didn’t have the courage to be an activist or dissident. When working in the news editing room, I dare not express my personal opinions, and only list the data like an endorsement. Now that I have been referred to by dozens of Chinese media as a “witch” and “traitor”, I feel helpless and funny. From the humble “secretly using English to leave history” to the present, it has been promoted by the state machinery as a “devil” who has harmed “tens of millions of Chinese.” 13/
If there was any thought of shutting up and protecting yourself before, of course it would disappear after being attacked by the entire network. I had no choice but to continue writing, writing that the “teaching and training center” was closed, writing that the forced labor was over, writing that it was a waste of time and old age. From my personal level, the right thing is to be done, and the price paid is worth it. Because I did the right thing and harmed the people around me, I owe them and I will pay it back. That’s all, everyone encourages. 14/
If the party didn’t use the propaganda department’s loudspeaker to scold me the banshee, I might never try to write anything in Chinese. Dang’s mother really pushed me to make progress, so I had no choice but to spread what I saw, heard, thought, and thought with everyone in a Chinese translation that I hadn’t used for years. /15
Here’s an interview with Xu from last March about forced labor in Xinjiang.