Tabula rasa: Han settler colonialism and frontier genocide in “re-educated” Xinjiang

Joanne Smith Finley


In his analysis of the frontier genocides waged against the Aboriginal Tasmanians, the Yuki of California, and the Herero of Namibia, Benjamin Madley () identified three phases. The first is initiated by colonial invasion: economic and political frictions develop as settlers and indigenous peoples struggle for limited resources and power. In Phase Two, indigenous peoples attack settlers to reclaim lost resources and land, and this prompts a genocidal military campaign. In Phase Three, the settlers’ government incarcerates the indigenous peoples in concentration camps, where it continues genocide by attrition (through malnutrition, inadequate medical care, overwork, unsanitary conditions, and violence). All three genocides began with the assertion that the land was empty or should be made empty. Here, I consider how far the concept tabula rasa (“a map scraped clean”) applies to contemporary “re-educated” Xinjiang on China’s northwest frontier.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/720902