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An Outsider’s Inside Look at Xinjiang

Project type:

Personal essay

China Hands Magazine:


After graduating college, I taught a year of English at a university in China’s Xinjiang Province. As a “hunxue,” or “mixed-blood,” I was regularly mistaken as a member of Xinjiang’s local Uighur minority, which led to the most overt racism I’ve ever experienced.

As my year in Xinjiang came to an end, I attempted to capture the experience—embedded within the complex and highly fraught dynamics of the CCP’s presence—in a carefully worded personal essay. As I was dutifully warned by a scholar of the region, I should be wary not to draw any unwanted attention to myself.

The current state of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang has fallen into one of obfuscation and despair. Following the essay’s cross-publication in The Huffington Post, I received several emails from Uighers who’d managed to leave the province. They thanked me for sharing my experience and told me their own stories, emphasizing their inability to return home.

Reading this now, I wish I’d been able to interview actual Uighurs, in both the university city and other regions of Xinjiang (though this would have been a challenge for various reasons, safety chief among them). I also find some of my writing heavy-handed—a reflection, perhaps, of my greater comfort writing about lighthearted rather than serious topics.

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