Chinese Technologies of Population Management on the New Silk Road
This project will tell the story of the way Turkic Muslims in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have found themselves caught in webs of surveillance and biometric control that restrict their movement and cultural practices. This research is tightly focused on a large archive of recently obtained internal police files from Northwest China. Through careful analysis of these files, it will show the parameters, processes and capacities of the surveillance system in particular areas of the region between 2017 and 2019. The project will also assess how these technologies have traveled to international sites on the New Silk Road, such as Malaysia.
What makes this project distinctive is how it addresses the novel ways these new technologies of nonconsensual or "passive" surveillance can envelope and transform life in the spaces they target. Unlike older forms of population control and policing, these “predictive technologies” enable engineers and police to begin to selectively reshape human behavior. This project hypothesizes that the arena of population management technology development will play a key role in future technology-oriented international power relations. Only an unexpected shift in the Chinese Communist Party’s course or global political movement toward greater democracy will halt the rise of a new paradigm of technology-enabled governance. This project is also supported by the China Made Research Initiative at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Darren Byler is a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Asian Studies, University of Colorado, Boulder where he studies the effects of Chinese infrastructure and security technology as part of the China Made Research Initiative. His book project titled Terror Capitalism: Uyghur Dispossession and Masculine Violence in a Chinese City focuses on the effects of digital cultural production, surveillance industries and mass internment in the lives of Uyghur and Han male migrants in the city of Ürümchi, the capital of Chinese Central Asia (Xinjiang). He has published research articles in the Asia-Pacific Journal, Contemporary Islam, Central Asian Survey, The Journal of Chinese Contemporary Art and contributed essays to volumes on the ethnography of Islam in China, transnational Chinese cinema, travel and representation. In addition he has provided expert testimony on Uyghur human rights issues before the Canadian House of Commons Subcommittee on Human Rights and writes a regular column on Turkic Muslim society and culture for the journal SupChina.