Journalists estimate that between 1 and 3 million Uyghur people are currently being held in detention camps by the Chinese government as an act of cultural genocide. That we in the U.S. know about this is largely due to the courageous reporting of Uyghur American journalists such as Gulchehra Hoja. In her stunning memoir, A Stone Is Most Precious Where It Belongs: A Memoir of Uyghur Exile, Hope, and Survival, Hoja recounts her childhood and education in East Turkestan, as well as her love for her family, language and culture, precious things that she has had to leave behind as an activist in exile in the U.S.
Located in the northwestern corner of mainland China, East Turkestan is the homeland of the primarily Muslim Uyghur, whose culture is rich with ancestral traditions in music and dance. Coming of age in an educated and musical family, Hoja trained as a dancer before turning to acting. She produced and hosted the first Uyghur language children’s TV show, gradually becoming aware of the increasing censorship and control the Chinese government exerted over both Uyghur people and the media. A trip to Europe in 2001, and a first glimpse of an uncensored internet, led Hoja to immigrate to the United States, where her journalistic skills quickly landed her a position at Radio Free Asia.
Hoja’s exile in the U.S. and persistence in reporting on the suppression of the Uyghur people by the Chinese government has resulted in grave consequences for her family back home. A Stone Is Most Precious Where It Belongs dramatizes the violation of Uyghur human rights by grounding the political in the personal. Family and friendship are as much a part of Hoja’s story as the larger national and political context, reminding readers that every missing Uyghur is a person with a story of their own.