CHINA'S HIGH-TECH PENAL COLONY
By DARREN BYLER
Date & Time
15.12. 2021, 5 PM CET
A cruel and high-tech form of colonization has been unfolding over the past decade in China’s vast northwestern region of Xinjiang, where as many as a million and a half Uyghurs, Kazakhs and Hui have vanished into high-security camps and associated factories. It is the largest internment of a religious minority since World War II. Darren Byler, an anthropologist at Simon Fraser University, draws on a decade of research on the region, examining thousands of government documents and conducting many hours of interviews with both detainees and camp workers. Byler tells the stories of
people like U.S. college student Vera, police contractor Baimurat, camp instructor Qelbinur, Kazakh farmer Adilbek, and truck driver Erbakyt, who show how a sophisticated network of facial surveillance, voice recognition, and smartphone tracking technology, built by private corporations, enabled authorities to blacklist Muslims for “pre-crimes” that sometimes consist only of having installed social
media apps. Their stories narrate a process of surveillance overwhelming life, and push Byler to examine how technological tools that are being built in locations from Seattle to Beijing are being adapted to create forms of unfreedom for vulnerable people around the world.
Darren Byler is Assistant Professor of International Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is the author of In the Camps: China’s High-Tech Penal Colony (Columbia Global Reports 2021) and an ethnographic monograph titled Terror Capitalism: Uyghur Dispossession and Masculinity in a Chinese City (Duke University Press 2022). His current research interests are focused on infrastructure development and global China in the context of Xinjiang and Malaysia.