Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Humans Made This Planet Hell. Hopefully We Can Help Some Species Adapt

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Humans Made This Planet Hell. Hopefully We Can Help Some Species Adapt

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

This week the UN released a horrifying report—by hundreds of authors around the world—warning that a million species of plants and animals face extinction in the next few decades. That’s one in four species on this planet that could soon disappear. Virtually every human activity—agriculture, energy production, fishing, urbanization—is conspiring to destroy life on Earth as we know it.

The scale of the problem is difficult to comprehend, let alone solve without eliminating all humans. But on the same day that the UN dropped its alarming report, another group of scientists published research that could help conservationists fight the most important battle in Earth’s recent history.

The study involved two cryptic species of bat—meaning they look nearly identical, yet have distinct genetics—living in Europe, which is expected to transform dramatically under the weight of climate change. The researchers found separate populations within these two species by looking at their DNA. What they discovered was that those populations’ genetic differences made them better suited to their particular environments.

“We can identify, first of all, parts of the genome that are associated with climatic conditions,” says Orly Razgour, a molecular ecologist at the University of Southampton and lead author on the new paper in the journal PNAS. “The second step, we look at these specific regions only, and within them we can divide our individuals into those that are more adapted to warm and dry conditions, and those that are more adapted to cold and wet conditions.”

Matt Simon covers cannabis, robots, and climate science for WIRED.

What’s new in this study isn’t the existence of populations with subtly different genetics within a species. The new bit here is the potential to exploit specific regions of the genome that might code for climate resilience to inform conservation efforts. Theoretically, this genetic diversity would make the bats more resilient to climate change, because a population that’s more adapted to arid conditions can interbreed with a population that’s less so, in essence “gifting” the cold-adapted population the genes necessary to survive a warmer world.

Using this data, the researchers could model projected range losses in the bats, and found that the losses were less severe when considering a species as distinctly adapted populations, as opposed to one genetically homogenous population across an entire range. “What this really means is that we may be overestimating for some species projected range losses,” says Razgour. “When we think about which species we need to prioritize under climate change, we may not actually be prioritizing the right ones, because we’re not taking into account the adaptive potential of some species.”

This is where things get much more complicated on a number of levels. For one, generation times are a big consideration when it comes to the adaptability of species. One of the reasons bacteria are so deft at developing resistance to antibiotics is that they reproduce extremely rapidly—E. coli, for example, divides every 20 minutes. New bacteria with the lucky mutations that keep them alive pass those mutations along to their descendants, while their less-lucky compatriots perish.

The same principle is behind climate-related genes spreading through a bat population, only on a much slower scale. “If the generation time of these bats is one to two years,” says Razgour, “and you have one young per year, it takes a very, very long time for anything to spread through the population.”

Problem number two is mobility. You’d assume that bats would be among the most mobile creatures, what with the wings and all, but that’s not necessarily the case. If climate change affects the growth of forests in these forest bats’ European range, that could further isolate the hot-loving and cold-loving populations, keeping them from breeding. And consider an inherently immobile species like an earthworm, and how much difficulty it’d have shifting its population to more habitable areas as the climate rapidly transforms.

Even if the bats are able to mix and adapt to a warmer climate, that’s just one consideration for their survival in the coming decades. The warm-weather bats might bring with them the genes required to survive a warming planet, but mixing with cold-weather bats might make the population less suited for survival in other ways. “Maybe these individuals are better adapted to the changing climate, but they’re not necessarily better adapted to other environmental conditions in these areas,” says Razgour. “So we don’t really know what will be the consequences of that.”

This brings us back to the horror of the UN biodiversity report: Species the world over aren’t just facing climate change, but a galaxy of other threats. Bats alone are up against deforestation, pollution, and urbanization too. The UN report “shows the importance of considering adaptive genetic variation because many organisms will not be able to shift their ranges in response to climate change,” says Razgour, “due to the extensive land use changes and fragmentation that has already occurred and is continuing to occur across the globe, especially in the most biodiverse regions.”

Even if a species is able to move into a new habitat and adapt, individuals might find themselves struggling to secure resources. This bat work, for instance, shows that the two cryptic species could be forced to overlap in their distribution, and would therefore compete for food. “That means that interspecific competition is likely to be something quite major that will affect species distribution, and perhaps their ability to survive,” says Razgour.

The problem is ultimately that no species lives in a vacuum. “The stage is the environment and the species are the players,” says Sophie Parker, an ecologist and senior scientist at the Nature Conservancy. “You need to have the stage in order for the players to have somewhere to be, to interact with one another and tell their stories.”

So how do we give the species of the world a stage on a planet we have so thoroughly spoiled? When it comes to climate change, we have to reduce emissions drastically, and immediately. When it comes to managing ecosystems, one strategy known as “room to roam” is a relatively low lift with a big impact. “Protecting places we know are important for movement of species is an important part of allowing species to adapt to climate change,” says Parker. “That includes riparian corridors and places along the coast but also broad swaths of natural land along mountains that allow for that type of movement.”

Matters grow all the more precarious on islands, home to 40 percent of endangered animals on this planet. Here, a single invasive species like a rat can wreak ecological havoc, tearing through bird and reptile eggs in particular. When those populations dwindle, genetic diversity falls as well, making those species more vulnerable to other threats like disease.

Methodically remove that invasive species, though, as the group Island Conservation has done with poison-dropping drones, and those endangered species will bounce back. “As populations continue to grow, there’s often more genetic variability that can develop and persist in those populations, which helps them adjust to any future scenarios, including different climate scenarios,” says Erin Hagen, the group’s director of conservation.

So yes, we humans have seriously imperiled life on Earth—the new UN report makes that clear in the most terrifying detail yet. But with better understanding of the genetics of threatened populations, we might still save some species from doom.


More Great WIRED Stories

Read More

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Inside China’s Surveillance Crackdown on Uyghurs

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Inside China’s Surveillance Crackdown on Uyghurs

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

The woman remembers the first time she got a smartphone.

It was 2011, and she was living in Hotan, an oasis town in Xinjiang, in northwest China. The 30-year-old, Nurjamal Atawula, loved to take pictures of her children and exchange strings of emoji with her husband while he was out. In 2013, Atawula downloaded WeChat, the Chinese social messaging app. Not long after, rumors circulated among her friends: The government could track your location through your phone. At first, she didn’t believe them.

In early 2016, police started making routine checks on Atawula’s home. Her husband was regularly called to the police station. The police informed him they were suspicious of his WeChat activity. Atawula’s children began to cower in fear at the sight of a police officer.

The harassment and fear finally reached the point that the family decided to move to Turkey. Atawula’s husband, worried that Atawula would be arrested, sent her ahead while he stayed in Xinjiang and waited for the children’s passports.

“The day I left, my husband was arrested,” Atawula said. When she arrived in Turkey in June 2016, her phone stopped working—and by the time she had it repaired, all her friends and relatives had deleted her from their WeChat accounts. They feared that the government would punish them for communicating with her.

She was alone in Istanbul and her digital connection with life in Xinjiang was over. Apart from a snatched Skype call with her mother for 11 and a half minutes at the end of December 2016, communication with her relatives has been completely cut. “Sometimes I feel like the days I was with my family are just my dreams, as if I have been lonely all my life—ever since I was born,” she said.

Atawula now lives alone in Zeytinburnu, a working-class neighborhood in Istanbul. It’s home to Turkey’s largest population of Uyghurs, the mostly Muslim ethnic minority native to Xinjiang, a vast, resource-rich land of deserts and mountains along China’s ancient Silk Road trade route.

Atawula is one of around 34,000 Uyghurs in Turkey. She is unable to contact any of her relatives—via phone, WeChat, or any other app. “I feel very sad when I see other people video chatting with their families,” she says. “I think, why can’t we even hear the voice of our children?”

For Uyghurs in Xinjiang, any kind of contact from a non-Chinese phone number, though not officially illegal, can result in instant arrest. Most Uyghurs in Turkey have been deleted by their families on social media. And many wouldn’t dare try to make contact, for fear Chinese authorities would punish their relatives. It’s just one of the ways President Xi Jinping’s government maintains a tightly controlled net of surveillance over the Uyghurs in China, and it has a ripple effect on Uyghurs living all over the world.

Zeytinburnu, the Istanbul suburb where Atawula lives, lies behind the city’s winding expressways, and is dotted with restaurants and cafés serving Uyghur cuisine: wide, slippery noodles, lamb kebabs, and green tea. The Uyghur separatist flag—a light blue version of the Turkish flag—is a common sight. It’s a banned image in China, representing East Turkestan, the name for Xinjiang despised by the Chinese government that almost all Uyghurs here give to their homeland.

Xinjiang—meaning “new frontier” in Chinese—was brought under the Communist Party of China’s control in 1949. During the latter half of the 20th century, Uyghur independence was a threat that loomed over the party’s agenda. The government tried to stamp out separatism and “assimilate” the Uyghurs by encouraging mass migration of Han Chinese, China’s dominant ethnic group, to Xinjiang.

During the ’90s, riots erupted between Uyghurs and Chinese police. In a white paper published in March, the Chinese government defined the riots as “inhuman, anti-social and barbaric acts” perpetrated by separatist groups. Amnesty International, meanwhile, described the 1997 protests in Gulja, Xinjiang, as a peaceful demonstration turned massacre, quoting exiled Uyghur activist Rebiya Kadeer. “I have never seen such viciousness in my life,” she said. “Chinese soldiers were bludgeoning the demonstrators.”

After the 9/11 attacks, the Chinese government took a page from George W. Bush’s war on terror and began targeting separatist groups in Xinjiang. In 2009, bloody ethnic riots broke out between Uyghurs and Han Chinese in Urumqi, the Xinjiang capital. Police put the city on lockdown, enforcing an internet blackout and cutting cell phone service. It was the beginning of a new policy to control the Uyghur population—digitally.

The WeChat Lockdown

In recent years, China has carried out its crackdown on Islamic extremism via smartphone. In 2011, Chinese IT giant Tencent holdings launched a new app called WeChat—known as “Undidar” in the Uyghur language. It quickly became a vital communication tool across China.

The launch of WeChat was “a moment of huge relief and freedom,” said Aziz Isa, a Uyghur scholar who has studied Uyghur use of WeChat alongside Rachel Harris at London’s SOAS University. “Never before in Uyghur life had we had the opportunity to use social media in this way,” Isa said, describing how Uyghurs across class divides were openly discussing everything from politics to religion to music.

By 2013, around a million Uyghurs were using the app. Harris and Isa observed a steady rise in Islamic content, “most of it apolitical but some of it openly radical and oppositional.” Isa remembers being worried by some of the more nationalist content he saw, though he believes it accounted for less than 1 percent of all the posts. Most Uyghurs, he said, “didn’t understand the authorities were watching.”

This kind of unrestricted communication on WeChat went on for around a year. But in May 2014, the Chinese government enlisted a taskforce to stamp out “malpractice” on instant messaging apps, in particular “rumors and information leading to violence, terrorism, and pornography.” WeChat, alongside its rival apps, was required to let the government monitor the activity of its users.

Miyesser Mijit, 28, whose name has been changed to protect her family, is a Uyghur master’s student in Istanbul who left Xinjiang in 2014, just before the crackdown. During her undergraduate studies in mainland China, she and her Uyghur peers had already learned to use their laptops and phones with caution. They feared they would be expelled from university if they were caught expressing their religion online.

Mijit’s brother, who was drafted into the Xinjiang police force in the late 2000s, warned her to watch her language while using technology. “He always told me not to share anything about my religion and to take care with my words,” Mijit said. She did not take part in the widespread WeChat conversations about religion. If her friends sent her messages about Islam, she would delete them immediately, and performed a factory reset on her phone before coming home to Xinjiang for the university vacation period. Her precautions turned out to be insufficient.

A Surveillance State Is Born

Video by Coda

The monitoring of Uyghurs was not limited to their smartphones. Mijit remembers first encountering facial recognition technology in the summer of 2013. Her brother came home from the police station carrying a device slightly bigger than a cellphone. He scanned her face and entered her age range as roughly between 20 and 30. The device promptly brought up all her information, including her home address. Her brother warned her this technology would soon be rolled out across Xinjiang. “All your life will be in the record,” he told her.

In May 2014, alongside the WeChat crackdown, China announced a wider “Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Terrorism.” It was a response to several high-profile attacks attributed to Uyghur militants, including a suicide car bombing in Tiananmen Square in 2013 and, in the spring of 2014, a train station stabbing in Kunming followed by a market bombing in Urumqi. Authorities zeroed in on ethnic Uyghurs, alongside Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang.

After being subjected to daily police checks on her home in Urumqi, Mijit decided to leave Xinjiang for Turkey. When she returned to China for a vacation in 2015, she saw devices like the one her brother had shown her being used at police checkpoints every few hundred feet. Her face was scanned by police the moment she arrived at the city gates. “I got off the bus and everyone was checked one by one,” she said. She was also greeted by devices affixed to the entrance of every supermarket, mall, and hospital.

Amina Abduwayit, 38, a businesswoman from Urumqi who now lives in Zeytinburnu, remembers being summoned to the police station and having her face scanned and inputted into the police database.“It was like a monkey show,” she said. “They would ask you to stare like this and that. They would ask you to laugh, and you laugh, and ask you to glare and you glare.”

Abduwayit was also asked to give DNA and blood samples to the police. This was part of a larger, comprehensive campaign by the Chinese government to build a biometric picture of Xinjiang’s Uyghur population and help track those deemed nonconformists. “The police station was full of Uyghurs,” Abduwayit says. “All of them were there to give blood samples.”

Finally, Abduwayit was made to give a voice sample to the police. “They gave me a newspaper to read aloud for one minute. It was a story about a traffic accident, and I had to read it three times. They thought I was faking a low voice.”

The voice-recognition program was powered by Chinese artificial intelligence giant iFlytek, which claims a 70 percent share of China’s speech recognition industry. In August 2017, Human Rights Watch found information indicating iFlytek supplied voiceprint technology to police bureaus in Xinjiang province. The company opened an office in Silicon Valley in 2017 and remains open about working “under the guidance of the Ministry of Public Security” to provide “a new experience for public safety and forensic identification,” according to the Chinese version of its website. The company says it offers a particular focus to creating antiterrorism technology.

Human Rights Watch believes the company has been piloting a system in collaboration with the Chinese Ministry of Public Security to monitor telephone conversations. “Many party and state leaders including Xi Jinping have inspected and praised the company’s innovative work,” iFlytek’s website reads.

Halmurat Harri, a Finland-based Uyghur activist, visited the city of Turpan in 2017 and was shocked by the psychological impact of near-constant police checks. “You feel like you are under water,” he says. “You cannot breathe. Every breath you take, you’re careful.”

He remembers driving out to the desert with a friend, who told him he wanted to watch the sunset. They locked their cellphones in the car and walked away. “My friend said, ‘Tell me what’s happening outside. Do foreign countries know about the Uyghur oppression?’ We talked for a couple of hours. He wanted to stay there all night.”

To transform Xinjiang into one of the most tightly controlled surveillance states in the world, a vast, gridlike security network had to be created. Over 160,000 cameras were installed in the city of Urumqi by 2016, according to China security and surveillance experts Adrian Zenz and James Leibold.

In the year following Chen Quanguo’s 2016 appointment as regional party secretary, more than 100,000 security-related positions were advertised, while security spending leapt by 92 percent—a staggering $8.6 billion increase.

It’s part of a wider story of huge domestic security investment across China, which hit a record $197 billion in 2017. Around 173 million cameras now watch China’s citizens. In the imminent future, the government has laid out plans to achieve 100 percent video coverage of “key public areas.”

For Uyghurs, “the employment situation in Xinjiang is difficult and limited,” said Zenz. A lot of the good jobs require fluency in Chinese—which many Uyghurs don’t have. Joining the police force is one of the only viable opportunities open to Uyghurs, who are then tasked with monitoring their own people.

China’s Uyghur Gulags

Video by Coda

The government’s efforts to control the people of Xinjiang were not only digital; it also began to imprison them physically. In August 2018, a United Nations human rights panel said it believed one million Uyghurs were being held in what amounts to a “massive internment camp shrouded in secrecy.”

At first, China denied the existence of the camps entirely. But then, in October 2018, the government announced it had launched “a vocational education and training program” and passed a law legitimizing what they termed “training centers.”

In a September 2018 report, Human Rights Watch found human rights violations in Xinjiang to be of a scope and scale not seen since the Cultural Revolution and that the creation of the camps reflected Beijing’s commitment to “transforming Xinjiang in its own image.”

Gulbahar Jalilova, 54, a Uyghur clothes retailer from Kazakhstan, spent one year, three months and 10 days in detention centers and camps in Urumqi. She now lives in Istanbul. According to her arrest warrant in China, issued by the Urumqi Public Security Bureau, she was detained “for her suspicious involvement in terrorist activities in the region.” Police accused her of money laundering via one of her employees in Urumqi, who was also arrested. Jalilova denies the charges, saying that they were a mere pretext.

Jalilova was taken to a kanshousuo, one of the many temporary detention centers in the Xinjiang capital. Over the next 15 months, she was transferred to three different jails and camps in Urumqi. She is precise and exacting in her memory of life in detention: a 10-by-20 foot cell, with up to 50 people sitting in tightly packed rows, their feet tucked beneath them.

Jalilova, who has struggled with her memory since being released in August 2018, keeps a notebook where she has written down all the names of the women who were in the cell with her. She also notes the reasons for their arrest, which include downloading WhatsApp—a blocked app in China—storing the numbers of prominent Uyghur scholars, and being caught with religious content on their phones.

She remembers how the cell was fitted with cameras on all four sides, with a television mounted above the door. “The leaders in Beijing can see you,” the guards told her. Once a month, Jalilova said, the guards would play Xi Jinping’s speeches to inmates and make them write letters of remorse. “If you wrote something bad, they would punish you,” Jalilova said. “You could only say ‘Thank you to the Party’ and ‘I have cleansed myself of this or that’ and ‘I will be a different person once I am released.’”

She was set free in August 2018 and came to Turkey, no longer feeling safe in Kazakhstan, where the government has been accused of deporting Uyghurs back to Xinjiang.

Escape to Turkey

Though no official statistics for the camps exist, the volunteer-run Xinjiang Victims Database has corroborated more than 3,000 Uyghur, Kazakh, and other Muslim minorities’ testimonials for their missing relatives. It shows that around 73 percent of those recorded as being in detention are men.

It follows that the majority of people who have escaped Xinjiang for Turkey in recent years are women. Local activists estimate 65 percent of the Uyghur population in Turkey is female, many separated from their husbands.

Some Uyghur women made their clandestine escape from Xinjiang by fleeing overland, through China and Thailand to Malaysia, before flying to Turkey. In Zeytinburnu, they live in a network of shared apartments, making whatever money they can by doing undocumented work in the local textile industry, as tailors or seamstresses.

The women who arrived without their husbands are known among other Uyghurs as “the widows.” Their husbands are trapped in Xinjiang, and they do not know if they are alive, imprisoned, or dead.

Kalbinur Tursun, 35, left Xinjiang in April 2016 with her youngest son Mohamed, the only one of her children who had a passport at the time. She left her other children and husband in Xinjiang. She was pregnant with her seventh child, a daughter called Marziya whom she feared she would be forced to abort, having already had many more children than China’s two-child policy allows.

When Tursun first arrived in Turkey, she video-called her husband every day over WeChat. Tursun believes Chinese police arrested him on June 13, 2016—as that was the last time she spoke to him. She was then told by a friend that her husband had been sentenced to 10 years in jail as a result of her decision to leave. “I am so afraid my children hate me,” she said.

Turkey is seen as a safer place to go than other Muslim-majority countries, including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, whose leaders have both recently dismissed the Uyghurs’ plight. Uyghurs have come to Turkey in waves from China since the 1950s. They are not given work permits, and many hope they will eventually find refuge in Europe or the United States.

Though Turkey has traditionally acted as protector for Uyghurs, whom they view as Turkic kin, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been reluctant to speak up for the Uyghurs in recent years as trade relations with China have improved. (By the same token, the Trump administration has declined to press China on human rights issues in Xinjiang as it negotiates a trade deal with Beijing.)

On February 9, 2019, Hami Aksoy, a spokesman for Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, broke the diplomatic hush. “It is no longer a secret that more than one million Uyghur Turks incurring arbitrary arrests are subjected to torture and political brainwashing in internment camps and prisons,” Aksoy’s statement read.

Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, rebuffed these claims two days later, calling the statement “a groundless accusation based on lies.” She highlighted the threat of “three evil forces”—terrorism, extremism and separatism—in China and abroad.

As a result of China’s policy in the region, Hua said, Xinjiang residents “now have a stronger sense of security, happiness, and fulfillment… the radiant smile on the faces of local people is the most eloquent response to those rumours.”

Hua also underlined the terrorist threat Turkey faces as a multi-ethnic country. “If it adopts double standards on counter-terrorism, it will only end up hurting itself as well as others,” she said.

Amina Abduwayit, the businesswoman from Urumqi, was afraid to speak freely when she arrived in Turkey in 2015. For the first two years after she arrived, she did not dare to greet another Uyghur. “Even though I was far away from China, I still lived in fear of surveillance,” she said. Though she now feels less afraid, she has not opened her WeChat app in a year and a half.

Others tried to use WeChat to contact their families, but the drip-feed of information became steadily slower. In 2016, findings by Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, a research center that monitors methods of information control, showed how the app was censoring its users by tracking their keyword usage. Among the search terms that could trigger official suspicion are any words relating to Uyghur issues such as “2009 Urumqi riots,” “2012 Kashgar riots,” and anything to do with Islam.

In Zeytinburnu, seamstress Tursungul Yusuf, 42, remembers how phone calls and messages from relatives in Xinjiang became increasingly terse as 2017 went on. “When we spoke, they’d keep it brief. They’d say, ‘We’re OK, safe.’ They’d speak in code—if someone was jailed in the camps, they would say they’d been ‘admitted to hospital.’ I’d say ‘understood.’ We could not talk freely. My older daughter wrote ‘I am helpless’ on her WeChat status. She then sent me one message, ‘Assalam,’ before deleting me.”

A kind of WeChat code had developed through emoji: A half-fallen rose meant someone had been arrested. A dark moon, they had gone to the camps. A sun emoji—“I am alive.” A flower—“I have been released.”

Messages were becoming more enigmatic by the day. Sometimes, a frantic series of messages parroting CPC propaganda would be followed by a blackout in communication. Washington, DC-based Uyghur activist Aydin Anwar recalls that where Uyghurs used to write “inshallah” on social media, they now write “CPC.”

On the few occasions she was able to speak with relatives, she said “it sounded like their soul had been taken out of them.” A string of pomegranate images were a common theme: the Party’s symbol of ethnic cohesion, the idea that all minorities and Han Chinese people should live harmoniously alongside one another, “like the seeds of a pomegranate.” By late 2017, most Uyghurs in Turkey had lost contact with their families completely.

Resilience, Resistance, Resolve

In a book-lined apartment in Zeytinburnu, Abduweli Ayup, a Uyghur activist and poet, coaches Amina Abduwayit, the businesswoman who fled Xinjiang after police took her DNA. They’re filming a video they plan to upload to Facebook. Ayup films her on his smartphone, while she sits at a table and recounts how her home city of Urumqi was a “digital prison.”

Abduwayit describes how they were afraid to turn the lights on early in the morning, for fear the police would think they were praying. She then lists all the members of her family whom she believes have been transferred to detention centers.

Abuwayit is just one of hundreds of Uyghurs in Turkey—and thousands across the world—who have decided to upload their story to the internet.

Since this time last year, a kind of digital revolution has taken place. The Finland-based Uyghur activist Halmurat Harri believes he was the first person to film a testimonial. “I want freedom for my parents, freedom for Uyghur,” he said in a cell phone video recorded in his bathroom in Helsinki last April, before shaving off his hair in protest. “Then I called people and asked them to make their own testimony videos,” Harri said.

Videos filmed on smartphones from Uyghur kitchens, living rooms, and bedrooms began appearing on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Ayup described how at the beginning, people would “cover their faces and were afraid of their voices being recognized,” but as 2018 progressed, people became braver.

Gene Bunin, a scholar based in Almaty, Kazakhstan, manages the volunteer-run Xinjiang Victims Database, and has cataloged and corroborated thousands of testimonials from Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minorities targeted in Xinjiang.

Bunin noticed that unlike private attempts to make contact, public exposure of missing relatives seemed to push the Chinese authorities to respond. This is particularly true for cases where victims had links to Kazakhstan, where the government has been exerting pressure on China to release ethnic Kazakhs. “There’s evidence the Chinese government is willing to make concessions for those whose relatives give video testimonies,” Bunin said.

He was told of people being released as little as 24 hours after their relatives posted testimonies online. “It’s a strong sign the Xinjiang authorities are reacting to these videos,” he said.

China has recently stepped up its defense of practices in Xinjiang, seemingly in response to broader Western attention. In March, Reuters reported that China would invite European diplomats to visit the region. That followed a statement by Xinjiang governor Shohrat Zakir that the camps were in fact “boarding schools.”

Harri recently started a hashtag, #MeTooUyghur, encouraging Uyghurs around the world to demand evidence that their families were alive.

Large WhatsApp news groups, with members from the international Uyghur diaspora, have also been a vital source of solidarity for a community deprived of information.

On December 24, 2018, Kalbinur Tursun—the woman who left five of her children in Xinjiang—was sitting in the ladies’ clothing shop she manages in Zeytinburnu, scrolling through a Uyghur WhatsApp group. She checks it first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and dozens of times throughout the day, as several hundred Uyghur members post near-constant videos and updates on the crisis in Xinjiang.

She tapped on a video of a room full of Uyghur children, playing a game. An off-camera voice shouts “Bizi! Bizi! Bizi!”—Chinese for “Nose! Nose! Nose!” and an excited group of children tap their noses. Tursun was astonished.

On the left, she recognized her 6-year-old daughter, Aisha. “Her emotion, her laugh … it’s her. It’s like a miracle,” she said. “I see my child so much in my dreams, I never imagined I would see her in real life.” It had been two years since she had last heard her daughter’s voice.

The video appears to come from one of the so-called “Little Angel Schools” in Hotan province, around 300 miles from Tursun’s native Kashgar, where it’s been reported nearly 3,000 Uyghur children are held. Tursun wonders whether her four other children may have been taken even further afield. Speaking to Radio Free Asia, a Communist Party official for the province said the orphanages were patrolled by police to “provide security.”

Unlike almost everyone in the global Uyghur diaspora, Nurjamal Atawula managed to find a way to contact her family after the WeChat blackout. She used one of the oldest means possible: writing a letter. In late 2016, she heard of a woman in Zeytinburnu who regularly traveled back and forth between Turkey and her parents’ village in Xinjiang. She asked the woman to take a letter to her family. The woman agreed. Atawula wrote to her brother and was careful not to include anything border inspection or police might be able to use against him.

“When I was writing the letter, I felt I was living in the dark ages,” Atawula said. She gave it to the woman, along with small presents for her children and money she had saved for her family.

A month later, she got a reply. The Uyghur woman, who she calls sister, smuggled a letter from her brother out of China, hidden in a packet of tissues.

Atawula sent a reply with her go-between—but after the third trip, the woman disappeared. Atawula doesn’t know what happened to her. She still writes to her family, but her letters are now kept in a diary, in the hope that one day her children will be able to read them.

It has now been more than two years since Atawula received her brother’s letter. She keeps it carefully folded, still in the tissue it came in. In that time, she has only read the words three times, as if by looking at them too much they will lose their power.

My beautiful sister,

How are you? After you left Urumqi we couldn’t contact you, but when we got your letter we were so pleased. I have so many words for you… maybe after we reunite we will be able to say them to one another. You said you miss your children. May Allah give you patience. Mother, me, and the relatives all miss you very much. We have so many hopes for you. Please be strong and don’t worry about the children.


More Great WIRED Stories

Read More

Hexbyte  News  Computers ‘Becoming Dr. Seuss’ Reveals Theodor Geisel As A Complicated Icon

Hexbyte News Computers ‘Becoming Dr. Seuss’ Reveals Theodor Geisel As A Complicated Icon

Hexbyte News Computers

Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was an American icon.

But he was also a complicated man who saw children’s literature as a step down in a writer’s career and whose work was stained with misogyny and racism, as highlighted in Brian Jay Jones’ Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodore Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination. This and other dichotomies are at the core of Jones’ book: Geisel was loved by millions of children but couldn’t have children of his own; he wanted his work to be published but panicked when he had to talk about it publicly.

Nuanced, profoundly human and painstakingly researched, this 496-page biography is perhaps the most complete, multidimensional look at the life of one of the most beloved authors and illustrators of our time.

Becoming Dr. Seuss is an expansive biography that tracks Geisel’s life and roots from 1904 to 1991. The book is divided in stages and pays equal attention to every step of Geisel’s journey. While it is a standard biography in general terms, Jones goes above and beyond to contextualize Geisel in the larger picture at every moment of his life. This makes Becoming Dr. Seuss a fascinating read that discusses the origin of the humorous, simple rhymes, bizarre creatures, and magic that characterized Geisel’s books while also showing the author’s more radical side as an unemployed wanderer who abandoned his doctoral studies, a successful advertising man, and a political cartoonist.

Contrast and contextualization make this biography special. Also, the most interesting thing about Geisel’s journey, especially in the early years, is how unremarkable it was. Geisel wasn’t a brilliant illustrator from the start and his writing wasn’t great from the get-go. In fact, he worked at both for years, turning in work that ranged from slightly funny and unique to mediocre and immediately forgettable. That he managed to become an international sensation is a testament to his perseverance, Jones shows.

Jones engages with Geisel’s darker side fearlessly. For example, Geisel wasn’t studious. His fellow Casque & Gauntlet (the second-oldest society at Dartmouth College) members unanimously voted him Least Likely to Succeed. Classmate Frederick Blodgett declared in an interview: “He never seemed serious about anything.” That laissez faire would be present for most of his 20s: “His year at Oxford had been a bust, and his plans for a teaching career had dissolved with his unattained doctorate. His future was uncertain, and his prospects for employment were cloudy at best,” Jones writes.

Geisel moved to New York City in the Jazz Age. The world, states Jones, was becoming “bigger and louder.” Unfortunately, racism and misogyny were part of the picture. Geisel used racial epithets and drew cartoonish characters of African Americans, Arabs and Asians. However, Jones notes, he never thought he was doing anything wrong and considered he was working “within the norms of the era, relying on the language and cartoon stereotypes he’d been reading and seeing in the mass media since childhood.”

After a series of lucky encounters, Geisel’s career as Dr. Seuss took off. Jones’ writing of everything that led to that, which takes up the first third of the book, is outstanding. From then on, Geisel would always remain a creative force that was also full of contradictions. Furthermore, he lived inside his head, getting “bored easily and looking for other things to do.” In 1986, for example, he was well-known already but his nature remained unchanged:

“At a charity gala at the high-end Neiman Marcus department store in San Diego, Ted disappeared for hours. When [his wife] Audrey finally found him, he was sitting in the women’s shoe department, happily switching all the prices around.”

Geisel would go on to publish 48 books in more than 20 languages. Although it took a while to sell, his first book, And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street, received glowing reviews in The New York Times, The Atlantic and The New Yorker. Still, Geisel saw writing books for children as, in his words, “a step down. A loss of face … literary slumming.” Those numbers and facts are real. The ones he talked about, however, were as full of imagination as his books. He changed stories often, using what Jones calls “dramatic embellishments”: How he proposed to his wife and the rejections his first book received are just two of many narratives that have multiple versions.

Geisel turned in Oh, the Places You’ll Go! in 1989. Readers and critics saw it as “Dr. Seuss’s final and beneficent words of encouragement and support for anyone, at any age, anxious to make their way in the world.” It would help the world remember him as an immense creative force and positive figure. Jones accomplishes the same with this book. Using personal papers, articles, telegrams, biographies, unpublished interviews, and letters, Becoming Dr. Seuss gives readers a comprehensive view of a complex, multifaceted creator who became a giant.

This biography adds to Geisel’s legacy and Jones’ message is clear: “While Theodore Geisel may be gone Dr. Seuss, of course, goes on.”

Gabino Iglesias is an author, book reviewer and professor living in Austin, Texas. Find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.

Read More