I just finished reading Rebiya Kadeer’s autobiography. WOW. The title, “Dragon Fighter,” is more than appropriate. Rebiya Kadeer’s life story is the stuff of legends. Adventure, romance, horror, even moments of comic relief, encapsulate this epic about one woman’s “call for a nonviolent resolution that would allow Uyghurs to find peace with China.” I’m besieged with emotion: engulfed by rage and resolve; finding myself within the trenches of an overwhelming sense of empowerment. I closed the book after I was done and sat in awe for a good twenty minutes, trying to absorb the trip that I had just been on through those 390 pages.
I decided to pick up Kadeer’s autobiography after listening to an NPR segment about her story. What most struck me was not only her amazing human rights work, but that she was the mother of eleven children. That’s right – ELEVEN. Those feats combined told me I had to find out what this “Mother of the Uyghurs” was all about.
And find out I did. Quite frankly, she’s ridiculous; a powerhouse of a woman whose smarts, drive, patience, persistence, courage, compassion, and nearly prophetic faith have guided her in the numerous challenges she’s faced. She worked her way up tirelessly from the position of refugee child to being the wealthiest woman in China, the seventh wealthiest person in all of China and the Autonomous Regions, and a high official in China’s National People’s Congress – all with the dream of freeing the Uyghurs from the noose of socio-political oppression under the communist domination of The People’s Republic of China.
Despite the bruises after each adversity, she trudged forward, not waiting to allow even others to convince her to stop and lick her wounds. She endured public humiliation by Mao Zedong’s Red Guards; relocation and the poverty that comes with it; an abusive first marriage; childbirth; the added pressures and prejudices of being a woman; the loss of her business endeavors to government corruption several times; the insanity that is Chinese prisons; and an assassination attempt (just to name a few). After each page, I kept thinking, “Good God – who is this woman??”
I’ve found myself gushing about her relentlessly these days, excitedly retelling tidbits of her life I’ve learned. One of my favorites is the story of her birth:
“In Uyghur tradition, no sunshine is allowed to fall on the bloody linens involved in childbirth. For this reason, my father took the sheets and dug a hole near the rock-face behind our tent. He flung one spade of dirt after another into the air. Suddenly he stopped.
‘Gold!’ He shouted until he was hoarse. ‘I found gold!’
After he paid his workers their share of the find, he still had enough gold to build a whole new life for our family… From that moment forward, my parents saw my life as a gift to others: ‘You don’t belong to us, you belong to the people.’ What that meant for me I would find out only much later.” (Dragon Fighter, 11)
Her courage is envious – which she exhibits not only in her business and political ventures, but in her personal life as well. I couldn’t help but smile widely in disbelief as she told the story of how she approached her second husband, Sidik, who she often refers to as her “beloved.” Falling for him simply by hearing about his counter-revolutionary struggles, she traveled to his home-city to seek him out, and unabashedly told him:
“What I really want to say is that I’m twenty-nine-years old. Of the ten qualities that my future husband should hold, you meet nine of them. There is only one that’s still unknown. Do you think you can love me?… I don’t have less to offer than other women. I need someone who loves me and who also needs my love. It’s true that I’ve already given birth to six children and already been married once. However, my love is like that of an untouched maiden. I’ve been in love with you from the first moment I saw you.” (Dragon Fighter, 135).
The bond she shares with Sidik is a near-mythical rarity, incomprehensible either by modern-day standards or even Uyghur tradition. Despite being separated for months at a time due to her business responsibilities (and later, years, when she was incarcerated), Sidik’s support of his wife is an inspiring tale within itself (take note gentlemen). She later says of him, “Sidik is such a noble man. In our two hearts, a strong love was to be our shared destiny. To this very day, it is inconceivable for me to be separated from him. I am sure that I would not have survived this struggle without him.”
Kadeer’s experience in Chinese prisons, I cannot even begin to delve into. You will have to read it for yourself. But I will share a few lines of a poem she inscribed into the walls of one of her cells:
“You should not underestimate yourself
One day the fire will go out,
Do not think that you will be here forever.”
To have vicariously experienced the awesomeness that is this woman through her words has, quite possibly, changed my life; altering my perception of potential obstacles to the limitless possibilities, and how I face them. Her autobiography is a guidebook of sorts, reminding us that “if one wants to achieve great things, one has to overcome resistance and take a leap of faith into the unknown.”
This book is a must-read for everyone. It is simultaneously an eye-opening tell-all about the oppression of a widely unknown ethnic minority in China, as well as a profound source of self-reflection. I would highly recommend it to women, but believe it’s an equally important read for men; for anyone that believes in something, for anyone who has dreams, for anyone who thinks she can’t. I’ve learned many things from Kadeer’s life-story, but perhaps the most important is the one she takes from her father’s fable about the little ant in the wilderness: “We each have the power to unlock the secrets of the world, as long as we have the courage and self-confidence.”
Some current human rights and freedoms issues facing the Uyghur people today:
1. No freedom and self-determination/ either per the Chinese constitution or international law.
2. Severe religious and cultural repression.
3. Uyghur language suppressed in the region’s schools and children are taught only Chinese.
4. Forced abortion and family planning practices forced upon the people by the Chinese in grave violation to the Muslim religion’s idea that human life begins at the point of conception.
5. Forced land confiscation of Uyghur owned farms given to Chinese settlers in the region.
6. Forced transfer of the young Uyghur female population to work in China’s coastal factories.
7. Mass arrests of Uyghur people who peacefully seek human rights on fake trumped-up “terrorist” charges.
8. Massive ecological degradation of the region’s natural resources by the Chinese authorities.
9. Large scale above and below ground nuclear testing near Uyghur populated areas resulting in the deaths of many thousands and radioactive contamination and sickness of thousands more.
10. Chinese convicts are settled in the East Turkistan region bringing crime to a Muslim region that traditionally had almost no crime.
11. Prostitution and various other social maladies imported into the region by the Chinese authorities.
12. The torture and severe abuse of Uyghur nationals who become imprisoned by the Chinese for “political crimes”.
13. Large scale population transfer of Han Chinese into the region.
14. Uyghur people are not allowed to travel internationally and are not issued passports.
15. All political and economic power now held by the colonial Chinese authorities and Han Chinese and not by the indigenous people of the region.
You can find more information at: http://www.uyghuramerican.org/