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Uyghur people in Xinjiang bazaar

The Xinjiang crackdown

Understanding Nationalities Policy and Islam in China today
As many as one million Uyghur people and other Muslim minorities in China have reportedly been detained indefinitely in "re-education camps" since 2017. Why is it happening and what are the political ramifications for us all?

In the last two years, the Chinese government has started to crack down on ethnic minorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang with increasingly aggressive state policies.

Citing security concerns, Beijing has detained possibly as many as a million members of Muslim ethnic groups (primarily Uyghurs, but also Kazakhs and Kirgiz) for indefinite periods of political re-education, aiming not only to “de-radicalise” the religious views of detainees, but to coerce these Turkic-speaking peoples to embrace mainstream Chinese language and culture.

The policy has elicited strong criticism globally, but there is little sign of Beijing reconsidering its approach. There are indications now that suspicions towards Islam have come to inform policy-making in Muslim regions outside Xinjiang. The party-state has recently launched a campaign to “Sinicise” Islam, to overcome what it sees as an incongruity between Islamic and Chinese values. These developments represent a significant shift in the way the People’s Republic of China governs its non-Chinese populations, and a crisis for the communities in question.

This Sydney Ideas event will explore these issues from a range of perspectives. Erkin Sidick, a Uyghur scientist, will offer his analysis of the crackdown in Xinjiang. David Atwill, a historian of Islam in China, will discuss the wider questions of the Chinese state’s approach to Islam, and Ruth Gamble will offer a comparative perspective on these issues drawing on her knowledge of Tibet.

This event was co-presented with the China Studies Centre.

This event was held on Wednesday 20 February at the University of Sydney.

The speakers

After earning his Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering at Xinjiang University, Dr Erkin Sidick worked as a teacher and a research associate in China and Japan until 1988. He earned his PhD degree in electrical engineering with an emphasis on nonlinear optics in 1995 from the University of California Davis (UC Davis). After engaging in research at UC Davis and Sandia National Laboratories as a post-doc, he worked in high-tech companies in Silicon Valley. He joined the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2004 and is currently working as a Senior Optical Engineer on various space telescope projects. He has co-authored more than 100 publications.

David G Atwill is an Associate Professor of History at Pennsylvania State University, where he teaches a broad range of courses on China, Tibet, and world history. His most recent book, Islamic Shangri-La: Inter-Asian Relations and Lhasa’s Muslim Communities, 1600 to 1960 (2018), traces the rise of the Tibetan Muslim community from the 17th century to the present. More recently, his research has been divided between a biography of the mid-19th century Qing official Lin Zexu and a broader study of High Asia (1900–50).


Dr Ruth Gamble has research expertise in the history, cultures, religions, literatures and religions of Tibet and the Himalaya. She is particularly interested in the rapidly changing environment in this region and the affect it has on its inhabitants. Before coming to La Trobe University, Dr Gamble worked on a Tibetan History project at Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany and taught Tibetan language studies and Asian Religions at the Australian National University. She is now a David Myers Research Fellow who is researching and writing a history of the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) River.

Dr David Brophy studies the social and political history of China’s northwest, particularly the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and its connections with the Islamic and Russian/Soviet worlds. His first book, Uyghur Nation (2016), is on the politics of Uyghur nationalism between China and the Soviet Union in the early twentieth century. He currently holds an ARC Discovery Early Career Research Fellowship, for a project entitled 'Empire and Religion in Early Modern Inner Asia', in which he is exploring Inner Asian perspectives on the rise of the Qing in the 17th-18th centuries.

Event information

This event is free and open to all but online registration is essential.

Simply click the 'Register now' button or follow this link.

Entry to ticket holders will be prioritised and given on a first in, best dressed basis until the room reaches capacity. If an event is full, this may result in standing room or delayed admittance until an appropriate time.

We recommend early arrival to allow time for finding the venue and securing a seat to the event. Doors open 30 minutes before the advertised start time. 

If you could not register but would like to attend, you are welcome to join a stand-by queue on the night as seats may become available due to late cancellations. Please note, this is not guaranteed so you come at risk of non-admittance.

This venue provides wheelchair access, hearing loop and infrared hearing system.

Access requirements

If you have other access requirements or want more information, get in touch with us on 9351 2943 or email with 'Access | Feb 20 - Xinjiang crackdown' in the subject line at the earliest opportunity to allow us time to organise for any additional services in time for the event.

This event takes place at SSB Lecture Theatre 200, which is on the first floor of the Social Sciences Building (enter via Science Road). 

There will be directional signage on the day leading to the theatre. You may also refer to the map on this page. 

By train

Redfern Station is the closest train station. It is a 15-minute walk to the main campus. Please check Transport NSW for train updates and schedules. 

By bus

The closest stop is at City Rd (before Butlin Ave). It is a 10-minute walk to the venue. Use the campus map to locate the bus stop. 

While there is some parking available at Western Avenue Carpark and Shepherd Street Carpark, there is no dedicated parking at this venue and spaces are limited so we suggest using public transport whenever possible.

Head to the University's Parking page for more information about fees and opening hours for Western Avenue and Shepherd Street carparks.

Use the University Campus Maps tool to find out more details about parking and access areas: search A02 under 'Buildings' for the Social Sciences Building. 

Image credit: 'Bazaar' by Evgeni Zotov available at under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial Attribution 2.0

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