Colonise the mind: Australians the new Uighers

Via John Fitzgerald at Crikey:

The education tours arranged by Australian interest group China Matters were bound to end in tears. All it was ever going to take to scuttle the efforts of the organisers to improve bilateral understanding through parliamentary visits was for Australian politicians to speak their minds and shine a light on issues that Beijing prefers to keep in the shade. Not hard to see that coming.

To anyone familiar with the current leadership in China, it could hardly have come as a surprise, either, that Beijing would refuse to issue visas for Liberal politicians Andrew Hastie and James Paterson on account of things they said. How often do officials in Beijing need to tell Australians to shut up or suffer the consequences for that message to hit home?

But a closer look at the language in which the embassy couched its response suggests that the idea of parliamentary education tours to China was not just unworkable but fundamentally ill-conceived.

The China Matters team billed the event as a “nuanced” education tour. For Beijing it was a re-education tour – an effort behind closed doors to convert the tourists to the Communist Party’s point of view. The idea of education as re-education is implicit in the embassy’s response.

As long as people genuinely “repent”, the embassy declared, the door remains open to all Australians. No further correspondence on this matter will be entered into as “China will never yield to colonisation of ideas and values”.

The phrasing of the embassy’s response is eerily similar to the language employed by officials in Beijing in trying to explain why they are holding a million Uyghur Muslims in forced education camps in Xinjiang: it’s about education, repentance, and awakening. Australians appear to be in need of similar treatment.

Official documents recently leaked to The New York Times illustrate how this kind of education is explained to the family members and friends of those incarcerated in Xinjiang. Officials concede that people undergoing forced education have done nothing wrong. Still, they harbour “unhealthy thoughts” that need to be remedied through education. For those who take part in the forced education programs and then sincerely repent, awaken, and embrace the beliefs of the party, the door of the prison will be open too.

The embassy’s remark that the door “will always remain open” if Hastie and Paterson “repent and redress their mistakes” echoes these official explanations of mass forced re-education because both stem from a common set of assumptions about authority and education under party rule. The party is both absolutely powerful and absolutely correct and there is no room for disagreement.

The party is also exceptionally generous in extending its forgiveness to people with unhealthy thoughts who publicly recant. In the case of Xinjiang, according to the Times, critics of the internment policies are told to be grateful for the party’s help and to stay quiet. For Australians, the message is that the door is open to those who appreciate the party’s generosity and remain silent.

This is where the party’s claim that it won’t tolerate colonisation of ideas and values starts to come unstuck. Its antiquated language of repentance, reform, and awakening is itself a colonial borrowing from Japanese prison reform initiatives of the colonial era and from Christian conversion-moralising of the same period.

Christian conversion language was transplanted into the party lexicon through 19th century hymns and sermons which missionaries translated into Chinese and recited in that country’s church halls and public squares before circulating them through the new mass commercial presses they founded around the turn of the 20th century. Preeminent nationalist leader Sun Yat-sen, a Christian himself, transposed many Western missionary terms such as ‘conversion’ and ‘awakening’ into a colloquial nationalist vocabulary which was fused with Leninism in the early protocols of the Chinese Communist Party.

When party leaders speak of the need for repentance and conversion to their point of view, they follow a colonial logic more potent than any that Australians can muster, a colonial logic of their own devising.

Of course there is a vast difference between being held in camps and being told you can’t visit China. But when it comes to being lectured at by party authorities, Australians don’t like being colonized any more than the Uyghurs of Xinjiang.

Except, perhaps, for Paul Keating.

David Llewellyn-Smith
Latest posts by David Llewellyn-Smith (see all)


  1. The gospel according to Xi.

    Hitchens made the analogy between North Korea and Religion. One short of a trinity. The leader is still the dead Kim Jong-il, the “Great Leader”. The thanatocracy.

    Perhaps this will be Xi’s legacy.

  2. The CCP has a social contract in China with their population:
    “surrender your freedoms and you’ll all get rich”.
    There’s a similar one with Australians:
    “surrender your freedoms and your house prices will keep going up”

  3. He (Keating) was never that good to start with. He is the man who gave us the recession we had to have. And led to the 1996 election defeat, one of the larger ones in Australian political history.

    For some reason, some people (a minority of ALP voters) sure seem to love and idolise him. Never quite understood it. Maybe because he expresses his views with such certainty and conviction — some insecure people are attracted to that.

    • Maybe they gained off his introduction of Neoliberalism & have bought megaphones to heap praise upon him drowning all else out.

  4. So megaphone diplomacy from the LNP is OK instead of the pofessional, measured, economic sensible diplomacy. F*ck Coal, LNG, Iron Ore exports, we can do better exporting Chinese massage, nail treatments and 2nd hand flammable cladding to the rest of the world (this is what we are good at). Oh, so much for a smart Australia!!. Btw, I think the CCP are a bunch of control freaks that threaten democracy world wide. We need to arm up to keep them at bay but trade with then so we can maintain a strong economic and military base to protect our society.

  5. Chairman MeowMEMBER

    Meow, Crikey, the Fake Left expressing fake concern for Muslims.
    Paying unemployed people to fight either the Soviets in Afghanistan or the Baath party in Syria has been a useful tool for the USA to meddle in countries it chooses to target, there’s even more volunteers if you can spread a virulent ideology like Wahabism about. China has discovered you can neutralise the spread of extremism if you isolate individuals vulnerable to radicalisation. Keep them busy and they don’t have time to get radicalised and become terrorists. Extreme action sure, but the Fake Left media supported the destruction of Libya which they now excuse through things like racist articles on the ABC “explaining what went wrong in Libya” as the Libyans not having “experience of democratic government” so they all fell into infighting. Never mind they had a bureaucracy to run the state but what can bureaucrats do to run a country when the basic physical infrastructure of the country, water treatment plants, power plants has been bombed into oblivion in the name of democracy and there’s a bunch of religious maniacs running around who someone mysteriously supplied with a lot of money and guns.
    But never mind all that, we can show we really care for muslims by being outraged on behalf of a people who arent having their country systematically destroyed by an outside invader

  6. The problem the Uighers have is that they’re Muslims and nobody, not even other Muslims, cares about Muslims.

    Where are the Saudis and the Pakistanis and the Iranians demanding civil rights for Uighers? Hmmm?