by Yi Xiaocuo
Sübhi’s poem depicts a Uyghur woman publicly experiencing cultural aggression from a group of ethnic Han men. Under the “de-radicalization” campaign in China’s Xinjiang, Uyghur and Kazakh people’s ordinary Islamic cultural practices such as endogamous marriage and halal dietary preferences have become labeled “extremism” and “terrorism.” In this poem, the young woman Qelbinur was pressured to put a smile on her face and be compliant to such obscene harassment. At the moment, the state’s purge and cultural genocide of Uyghurs is working in Han men’s favor, allowing them to reach Uyghur women previously unattainable to them, resulting in many involuntary inter-ethnic marriages.
Sübhi also interrogates the role of naming and language for a repressive state apparatus to reproduce power relations. Ethnic Uyghurs and Kazakhs in Xinjiang are “hailed” into their subjecthood via their Chinese Pinyin transcribed names and made strangers in their own lands, for example here Kalibinu’er instead of in the original Turkic spelling Qelbinur. This is a long-term issue for many Turkic speaking people in Xinjiang. Their native names are butchered in Chinese Pinyin and last and first name are reversed to fit Chinese norms.
On the first of April,
The day for fools,
I saw something
That my eyes couldn’t believe,
And my ears couldn’t accept!
It happened somewhere back home,
During one of these days of darkness.
“Kalibinuer,” a strange voice asked,
“Will you marry one of us?”
There were elders,
And there were young men,
Sitting in front of her.
With a seemingly happy face, she said,
“That would be fine.”
The strange voice asked again,
“Will you eat pork?”
“No problem,” she said.
Still keeping the smile on her face.
The distorted voice uttered,
“Ay-yaaa, good, good.”
He was ecstatic!
He was beyond himself.
Why wouldn’t he be?
They had finally destroyed our traditions,
Our thousand-year-old traditions,
In mere months!
What an unbearable insult!
If only it was just a problem of food!
Facing life and death in this time of “peace,”
And pride hid, somewhere.
Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe!
My eyes overflowed with tears!
Our Qelbinur had become “Kalibinuer”,
And she accepted her fate.
Smiley face-masks cover the faces of our people.
Yet in their hearts,
must be burning,
Burning a forest!
Their hearts must be scorched!
Isn’t today April Fools Day?
What if all this was just a ruse?
All my feelings, were just tricking me?
What if someone was staged a harsh joke,
No, on us?
The cruel reality starts its raging fire,
It starts to burn me, to burn us,
And the hate starts to smolder.
April 1, 2019
Shared with the author’s permission (Sep 20, 2019).