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State of Dispossession: Colonial Ecologies and Carceral Development of the Grasslands in Northwestern China

State of Dispossession: Colonial Ecologies and Carceral Development of the Grasslands in Northwestern China

Lecture by Guldana Salimjan, Simon Fraser University

Thursday, May 12, 2022
11:00 AM - 12:00 PM (Pacific Time)
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This presentation lays the historical context for the ongoing human rights violation in Xinjiang, Northwest China, and examines it from the perspectives of environmental racism. In the Cold War era, Han Chinese settler agriculturalization, militarization, and nation-building projects along the Sino-Soviet border began the seventy-year dispossession of Indigenous pastoral nomadic communities, most of whom are Muslims. In 2012, the Chinese state began using the discourse of ecology to promote an "ecological civilization" program which targeted pastures for conservation. In Xinjiang, this state-led environmentalism combined with a wave of state violence and arrests targeting Muslims under the pretext of "counterterrorism." The "People's War on Terror" accelerated the dispossession of Xinjiang's Indigenous nomads through coercive grassland reclamation, ecotourism development, and mass extralegal detention for "stability maintenance." I argue that these environmentalist efforts, co-opted by capitalist expansion and the authoritarian Party-state, are reproducing and reconfiguring racial and ethnic hierarchies, colonial epistemologies, and ecological imperialism. In China's case, the ecological future promised by the state comes at the expense of displacing and removing Indigenous communities from their ancestral lands. 

Guldana Salimjan is the Ruth Wynn Woodward Junior Chair at the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at Simon Fraser University. Guldana is an interdisciplinary scholar who researches settler colonialism and the production of knowledge related to the environment, racialized bodies, and minoritized communities. Her research has been published in journals such as Central Asian Survey, Asian Ethnicity, Human Ecology, Made in China, and Lausan. Her writings can also be found in the books Xinjiang Year Zero and Afterlives of Chinese Communism: Political Concepts from Mao to Xi. Guldana co-directs the Xinjiang Documentation Project hosted at UBC Vancouver, a database that actively bears witness to the ongoing extralegal detentions and associated crises in Xinjiang. She also curates an art project called Camp Album to foreground the creativity and dissidence of people facing political oppression. 

Sponsor(s): Program on Central Asia, Center for Chinese Studies