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Japanese Manga Artist Aims to Bring Attention to Uyghur Issues

Mihrigul Tursun, right, speaks at a event at the National Press Club in Washington, Monday, Nov. 26, 2018.
Mihrigul Tursun, right, speaks at a event at the National Press Club in Washington, Monday, Nov. 26, 2018.
Japanese Manga Artist Aims to Bring Attention to Uyghur Issues
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A Japanese picture book about a Uyghur woman who says she was beaten and detained in China has gone viral.

The artist behind the work says she wants to use the simple power of manga comics to bring attention to the “daily suffering” that Uyghurs in China experience.

“What Has Happened to Me” is the work of manga artist Tomomi Shimizu. It is available in 10 languages - including Mandarin Chinese, Uyghur and English. It has been seen more than 330,000 times online.

Shimizu told reporters with the Reuters news agency, “The Uyghur issue has been well known among people who are into politics. But little is known among the general public.”

She added, “I decided to use manga for this purpose because I believe manga has power to convey things to people in an easy-to-understand way.”

In simple, black-and-white drawings, Shimizu tells the story of Mihrigul Tursun, a real Uyghur woman who now lives in the United States. Tursun says she was beaten and detained several times in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

The United Nations and rights groups estimate that between 1 million and 2 million people have been detained in so-called re-education camps across Xinjiang. Many of those detained are Uyghurs -- a Turkic speaking, mostly Muslim ethnic minority. Former detainees have said they were forced to renounce their way of life, religion and their native language inside the camps.

China has said Xinjiang faces a threat from Islamist militants and separatists. It says it is seeking to end extremism and violence in Xinjiang through education.

The Chinese government has accused Tursun of spreading lies and strongly denied her accusations of mistreatment.

Shimizu based her manga story on what she learned from watching video-recorded testimony from Tursun.

In the comic, Tursun is detained by Chinese police, even though she had not carried out any crime. She is separated from her three young babies and tortured with electric sticks.

When she is released, she finds out that one of her triplets died in government care. Later, she is detained again, in a room so crowded that detainees have to take turns lying down.

After a third detention, she asks why she has faced so much hardship. An official answers, “It is because you are Uyghur.”

Shimizu published “What Has Happened to Me” on her Twitter page on August 31. Soon, messages started coming in “like a waterfall,” she said. The post was retweeted 8,000 times in only a few hours.

Ilham Mahmut, the chairman of the Japan Uyghur Association, said Shimizu’s manga “has played an invaluable role in letting the world know the Uyghur issue.”

Lee Da-Ren, a Taiwanese living in Japan, volunteered to translate Shimizu’s work into Mandarin Chinese.

“By taking the form of manga,” Lee said, “the story is so easy to read, and yet so penetrating.”

I’m Ashley Thompson.

The Reuters news agency reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


Words in This Story

viral - adj. spreading very quickly to many people especially through the Internet

manga comics - n. a style of Japanese comic books and graphic novels, usually aimed at adults as well as children

convey - v.​ to make (something) known to someone​

drawing - n. ​a picture, image, etc., that is made by making lines on a surface with a pencil, pen, marker, chalk, etc., but usually not with paint​

renounce - v. to say especially in a formal or official way that you will no longer have or accept (something) : to formally give up (something)

testimony - n. ​something that someone says especially in a court of law while formally promising to tell the truth​

triplet - n. ​one of three babies that are born at the same time to the same mother​

hardship - n. pain and suffering​

penetrating - adj. ​able to understand something clearly and fully​