Tomomi Shimizu’s New Manga: The Story of an Ethnic Uzbek Woman in China’s Re-Education Camp

'What Happened to Me: One Uyghur Woman’s Testimony.'

"What Happened to Me: One Uyghur Woman’s Testimony" has been translated into 10 languages. Artist Tomomi Shimizu has seized on an issue that many Western countries see as evidence of Beijing's abuse of human rights. (Image : Tomomi Shimizu)

The new manga by Tomomi Shimizu shares the story of an ethnic Uzbek woman who lived in China’s re-education camp. The heavy story revealed what took place in those camps.

Manga has the power to tell otherwise difficult stories. This is precisely what Tomomi Shimizu did with her new manga. It tells the story of an ethnic Uzbek woman that was forced to teach Mandarin in China’s re-education camp in the Xinjiang region, located northwest of China.

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Tomomi Shimizu’s manga

The manga is titled What Happened to Me: One Uyghur Woman’s Testimony. It shares the stories of repressed Muslim Uyghurs among other Turkic people located in the northwest of China.

The manga, which has received around 2.5 million views and over 86,000 retweets since it was posted on Twitter in late August, has been translated and distributed in multiple languages, including English, Chinese, and Uyghur.

Tomomi tackles the topic that only a few are willing to discuss: the detention of between 1 and 2 million Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang’s network of camps.

Images from Tomomi Shimizu manga.
Images from Tomomi Shimizu’s manga. (Image: Tomomi Shimizu via Radio Free Asia)

The story

The manga’s story follows the life of Mihrigul Tursun, a real Uyghur woman who now lives in the United States and says she was beaten and detained in China for being a Uyghur.

In the manga, Tursun is detained by Chinese authorities despite having committed no crime. She is separated from her 45-day-old triplets and is tortured with electric batons.

She is paroled only to discover that one of her triplets died in government custody. Later, she is incarcerated again in a room so crowded that detainees have to take turns lying down.

After a third detention, she asks why she has to face so much hardship. An official says: “It is because you are Uyghur.”

Mihrigul’s influence on Tomomi

Tomomi, who has published six other mangas detailing the persecution Uyghur women face in Xinjiang, including everyday repression and abuses in the camps, released her latest work based on Mihrigul’s testimony at an independent people’s tribunal in London in 2021.

The tribunal reviewed the evidence of China’s human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities to evaluate whether it constituted genocide under the Genocide Convention.

“There are people who need help now, people who are going through hardship every day,” Tomomi said.

Tomomi picked up the testimony and decided that the rest of the world needed to know what was happening.

“I was shocked when I learned of the Uyghurs’ situation and thought it was important to let many people know of their situation to rescue the people in the [internment] camps,” she said. “I also thought that if I illustrated their harsh experiences with easy-to-understand manga, the world would understand it better.”  

The United Nations and human rights groups estimate that between 1 million and 2 million people, mostly ethnic Uyghur Muslims, have been detained in harsh conditions in the Xinjiang region of northwest China as part of what Beijing calls an anti-terrorism campaign.

Tomomi said she initially hoped that increased global attention to the situation in Xinjiang would make her work unnecessary.

Tomomi knew that because the manga was generally easier to digest, more people would be able to understand the situation much better.

Mihrigul Tursun during her testimony at a U.S. hearing and a panel from the manga 'What Has Happened to Me.'
Mihrigul Tursun during her testimony at a U.S. hearing and a panel from the manga ‘What Has Happened to Me.’ (Image: Tomomi Shimizu via Radio Free Asia)

How the manga came to life

The manga came to life when Mihrigul visited Japan in 2022. Before this, Tomomi was still busy, but the project came closer to reality when the two spoke.

Tomomi then learned how Mihrigul was the only person who could see what happened inside the camps. Other survivors could not make it to Japan because of the coronavirus, but Mihrigul still made it despite the situation.

The manga extensively educated Japan and the rest of the world about what was happening in the camps. Tomomi said that her works are free of charge and should be used for educational purposes.

She also notes the importance of having an English version, which would help the rest of the world understand the story within the manga.

Interest in the Uyghur genocide has grown in Japan since parliament adopted a resolution in 2022 expressing concern over human rights violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia and calling on the Japanese government to work with other countries to monitor the situation.

Final words

The manga shows the rest of the world what is happening to other humans in specific locations. It shares how Mihrigul lived and was forced to endure while in China’s re-education camps.

The story is not the only one, as other people need to be heard. This is something that Shimizu is passionate about, and she hopes that her manga will help.

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