Eliminate all illegal births: Negative eugenics and Uyghur women as objects of contestation

Darren Byler


In 2021 state statistics demonstrated that for the first time in modern history the Uyghur population itself has begun to recede. This demographic shift is the result of both endemic family separation and the implementation of systematic gynecological exams, IUD insertions, and surgical sterilization. This article places this negative eugenics campaign in conversation with older colonial systems that strove to maintain control over women’s bodies by considering anthropological scholarship on hygiene and reproduction. It contends that contemporary eugenics in China should be seen as related to the history of racial and colonial logics, and the normalization of public health discourse in Europe and North America, even as it is adapted to new “counterterrorism” purposes in Northwest China.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/720761