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Have you ever lived through an ethnic cleansing?

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Post #999.


For the real. 


When I first relocated to Beijing from one of the outer provinces in 2009, Muslims were a highly visible presence there. Rarely did I walk far in the streets without seeing men wearing kufis on their heads. Elderly Muslim men with beards were a common sight in a country where very few non-Muslim men wear beards, and Muslim women whose identity was made clear by the way they kept their hair covered could be seen in all neighborhoods. Although the places where a non-Muslim like myself (who, of course, doesn't attend mosque) might see the most Muslims at any given time were of course the often-delicious halal restaurants all over the city, the fact is that in Beijing at that time you could and would bump Hui and Uighur Muslims almost anywhere, almost every day. They were a part of the greater community--a minority, yes, but a well-represented, widely-dispersed one.


Sometime in 2009 or 2010 a Han friend in Beijing introduced me to the term "hamigua" (哈密瓜), which means "cantaloupe." The best cantaloupes to be eaten in China are those grown in Xinjiang province, which is also famous for its delicious grapes, nuts, and many other foods. For some reason, however, the word "cantaloupe" had become the racial epithet du jour for Mandarin speakers who wished to disparage Uighurs. Several times I was warned, "those cantaloupes are all pick-pockets, be careful if you see them." 


I found the racist term disgusting, and I did not tolerate people using it with me, nor did I use it myself. It was an undeniable reality in those days that if a person came up to you on the street and surreptitiously offered to sell you a likely-stolen fancy cell phone secreted away in one of his jacket pockets, far more often than not he had obviously Turkic features, and could be safely assumed to be a Uighur, or perhaps a Kazakh. Of course, it is a bit unfair to say this, because not all Uighurs and Kazakhs are Muslims (even if they are born into Muslim families), and the guys who ended up in the criminal underground certainly cannot be waved around as representative of Muslims as a whole. Additionally, a long history of ethnic violence (some going both ways) and systemic racism that--like it does in all countries on earth--deprived its victims of important life opportunities may also have pushed some of these men into crime. In any event, most people in Beijing I knew spoke to about these issues really differentiate between Muslim and non-Muslim Uighurs. They were, in daily conversation, lumped into a single category, just as most of us foreigners with European features were simply assumed to be Christian, end of story.


Although I had heard the term cantaloupe and even heard some Han Chinese people in Beijing tell me that some landlords would refuse to rent to Uighurs, I did not really have much of a concept of there really being serious anti-Muslim and/or anti-Uighur sentiment in China until the summer of 2010. 


One day in July of that year I noticed a foreign-looking young woman (I couldn't really place where she might be from, but I did not think she was Chinese, including Uighur) on the Muxidi Station subway platform, looking at the system map. I thought she was pretty, and recently out of a relationship, I walked up to the map, pretended to myself be reading it, and struck up a conversation in English. The young woman replied to my questions in perfect English and soon enough told me that she was Egyptian and visiting an aunt who lived in Beijing. We ended up riding the subway together and had a long, pleasant conversation before we parted ways. We first exchanged phone numbers and agreed to meet soon for dinner. 


We hung out a few nights later and discovered we were both on our way to study medicine, me TCM, and she western medicine. This mutual interest deepened our connection, and sooner or later she asked if I remembered where she was from. I replied "Egypt," but she smiled shyly and said that had been a lie. "I'm from Xinjiang," she told me, "I'm a Uighur. But my aunt warned me when I came to visit her in Beijing that there is a lot of racism against us, so she said since I speak good English, if people ask where I'm from I should lie and tell them I'm a foreigner. That's better than running the risk of something bad happening to me if I meet somebody who discriminates against us." 


I was very taken aback by what she told me, but given some of the prejudiced things I'd heard before, not totally shocked. She asked me to help her keep up her charade if we bumped into anybody else, especially locals, and I agreed. We hung out several more times, and as I got to know her I realized this was a woman of impeccable character. The daughter of an internationally-educated western doctor who remained in his native Xinjiang to serve the Uighur community, she fully intended to follow in her father's footsteps. She told me also of her uncle, a once-handsome man who inexplicably caught an unknown disease that caused him to waste away over the course of several years. Finally the family found out, only because of a news report, that her uncle had been sneaking away to give blood way more often than was healthy, because he had a rare blood type. He had kept this a secret for years, despite the toll it was taking on his health. As for her plans, my friend, who was so young, intelligent, multilingual, energetic, and beautiful that she could have very realistically dreamed about a cosmopolitan life... Well, there was nothing in that which could seduce her. She saw the Uighur community in Xinjiang as suffering deeply due to a lack of highly-trained medical professionals (in addition to a host of other socioeconomic and political problems), and she fully intended to put her shoulder to the wheel in order to heal the sick. As we met only a month and a half before I was to move to Shanghai to begin medical school, her depth and determination made a deep impression on me. We made sure to keep in touch via text message when she finally left Beijing a few days later. 


After arriving in Shanghai in the fall of 2010 I quickly became so consumed with first-year medical school (a mix of TCM and western medicine, taught entirely in Chinese) that I did not have an awful lot of time to explore the city like I had Beijing, much less devote my mind to thinking about social issues. However, I did notice that, just as in Beijing, Muslims--often with Uighurs' Turkic features--could be seen all over the greater Shanghai metropolitan area. Just as in Beijing, they appeared to be a minority who were firmly integrated with the city at large, whatever problems might have been lurking under the surface. 


In early 2013 Xi Jinping took power. In the first year of his reign a sort of enthusiasm was palpable in the air. The reason was simple--he had promised to tackle the CCP's tremendous internal corruption, which in so, so many ways was the bane of common people's lives. In the first year of his reign, there was not yet any reason to believe that the purges of corrupt officials were really purges of his political rivals. Furthermore, the internet still remained as open as it had become under the previous premier, Hu Jintao, with people enjoying the truly unprecedented right to express themselves, with relatively (by CCP standards) light censorship on blogs and microblogs, all well the newly invented WeChat on newly available smart phones was keeping people connected in new and exciting ways. There was, to those prone to getting caught up in political moments, something of a "spring is in the air" feeling at that time. The general enthusiasm that buoyed people through the 2008 Olympics, the recovery from the fiscal crisis shortly thereafter (which involved building amazing high speed rail trains), the Shanghai World's Fair in 2010, coupled with the opening of the internet, increasing internationalism, a new consumer culture (TaoBao! Ubiquitous shopping malls!), and of course economic advancement that touched most people lives quite directly... These things had greatly improved national morale, and a new boss in town who promised to sweep out the corruption from within his own party? Life was looking up!


I honestly can't really remember just when the proverbial skies began to darken, but they did quite quickly. I remember the moment when I could tell that the "good old days" of Hu Jintao's (partial) opening of China to the world during the Olympics were definitely over. A wealthy employer and then patron of mine had invited me to visit his city in Shandong province, where he put me up in a hotel. I had a large, fully furnished room and on my first night he accompanied me with my baggage and then sat for tea, which we poured while sitting on easy chairs at least six meters away from the door. I had the last room on a long hallway. The halls were empty of people, and while the door was open, everything was heavily carpeted and we were already speaking fairly quietly. There had been no reason to close the doors as we made small talk. However, at some point my acquaintance began rather thoughtlessly repeating the basic "boilerplate" about what an amazing man Xi Jinping is. I remember, distinctly, how he even went so far as to wax poetically about how Xi has the "facial physiognomy that shows he is destined to be an emperor," which is actually a fairly common thing to hear in China, but it was the first time I could remember hearing it from a person whose opinion I took rather seriously.


I heard my friend out politely and then interrupted and said that I had also heard an increase in misgivings about Xi in recent months, especially with regards the way in which his purges of corrupt officials seemed more and more to be purges of political adversaries. My friend suddenly became very solemn and made a gesture with his hand for me to stop. Remember, we were alone in this room, but he looked all around us, then stood up, walked several meters to the door, peered into the still-empty hallway, quietly closed the door, and then returned to his seat. Leaning forward towards me, he gave me a grave look and said, very quietly, "yes, well, it is true, there are in fact many people who say Xi Jinping seems to be turning into something of a tyrant."


My acquaintance's exaggerated caution would have been funny had he not been being deadly serious. I had never seen this man, a rich CEO of a large company with thousands of employees and hundreds of storefronts, offices, and plants around China ever display anything other than a penchant for jolly bombast and, generally, rumbustious overconfidence. To see him become so cautious--so fearful--even when nobody could possibly have been near our room... It was a shock, and it reminded me how much danger lurks in PRC citizens' lives, even if they happen to enjoy a real degree of wealth, power, and prestige. 


Following that day, as the months and then years wore on, anybody who was paying attention could see that Xi Jinping was avidly clamping down on freedom of expression and anonymity on the internet, freedom of reportage in the news media, freedom of cultural expression in entertainment media, freedom of opinion and research in the educational arena, freedom of religion, and so on and so forth. The creep gradually picked up speed, until, within a few short years, the enthusiasm of early 2013 had been replaced by the feeling that a new, quieter, more digitized sequel to the Cultural Revolution was coming into being. I suppose it was about 2016, when the mass surveillance "panopticon" and the early announcements of the coming Social Credit Score became widespread knowledge, when the unabashed praise for Xi Jinping disappeared from most of my Chinese acquaintances' lips, and when ever increasing numbers of friends--foreign and local--returned to quietly-but-openly expressing their disgust for the CCP. The "world's biggest mafia" and the "world's biggest cult" are both terms I learned through repetition from PRC citizenry. Some of the things I heard from people who suffered personally due to the party were lurid and terrifying, but I have already spoken about those in the "Chinese Communist Revolution" thread and they are not the focus of my writing today. 


No, the focus of my writing is still ethnic cleansing, and it is time to return to the opening of this piece, where I spoke about how common Uighurs as well as Hui Muslims were in both Beijing and Shanghai in 2009 and 2010. In the fall of 2013 I returned to Beijing to live, and the Muslim presence was still pronounced. However, on October 28 of that year a car crashed into a crowd in Tiananmen Sqaure, killing two bystanders. The driver was said to be a Uighur Muslim man and the attack was said to be a terrorist attack. I have no reason to doubt either claim. 


Half a year later there was another attack attributed to Uighur Muslims, this time in Yunnan Province, when knife-wielding individuals killed about thirty people. It was, to be sure, a terrible incident, and the country was paying rapt attention. I did not follow this news terribly closely, but I remember that alleged terrorists were found in or chased into caves in Xinjiang, and when they holed up inside, they were toasted with flame throwers. Many Han people I knew praised the brutality with which the alleged terrorists were crushed, no differently than I am sure many people in countries all over the world rejoice when terrorists (alleged or actual) are eliminated with extreme prejudice. I also started to notice an increase in the general willingness to speak of Muslims, especially Uighurs, in incredibly disparaging terms--terms which most people in America would easily identify as racist, but which teachers and elders of mine in China insisted were simple good common sense. Many times, for instance, a middle-aged baguazhang instructor of mine with a love of holding court with his students would go into anti-Uighur digressions. Whenever it was, ever so gently, suggested that he was being too prejudiced, he would quickly defend himself with the following reasoning: "No, no, no, I'm not anti-Muslim, you see. We've had Hui Muslims in China for centuries, they're just fine, they're grateful to be here and they don't cause troubles, it's the Uighur Muslims who are ungrateful and dangerous and backward, they're different. If they would just be like the Hui..." Ah, yes, the model minority...


The Chinese government, as the world news often gushes, does things quickly. And it was with the quickness that the population of Uighurs began to plummet in Beijing. I truly do not know they way in which they were, well, "dealt with," but by 2015 or 2016, it became a rarity to see kufi's and women's head coverings anywhere outside of a now greatly-reduced number of halal restaurants or neighborhoods like the old part of Xicheng District of Beijing, which held at least one large mosque with a long history. I do not know if ethnically Hui Muslims, who generally look very similar to Han people, were removed or if many of them decided it would safer to stop wearing their Muslim head wear and beards (I know now that there have been major crackdowns on Hui populations, but I don't know about in Beijing at that time). But it was clear that Uighurs had plummeted in numbers, such that by 2016, if I saw a Uighur-looking person on the street, my mental reaction would be one of, "whoa,  how'd you get here?" In my medical school class I had classmates from both a Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, both of whom have Turkic features that meant they were often asked if they were Uighurs (a question I've gotten once or twice, actually, but only in low light with a heavy hat on). They sometimes expressed nervousness about the increasing anti-Uighur sentiments and said they had become quick to tell people they were foreigners, and not from Xinjiang. 


Early in my days back in Beijing, in the early autumn of 2013 (before the aforementioned attacks on Tiananmen Square and in Yunnan), my western medicine friend from the subway platform passed through Beijing. Having not seen one another in three years but having stayed in touch through our phones, we were happy to have the chance to catch up at last. She told me she had completed a portion of her medical studies in China and was planning to continue her studies in the US, where the quality of medical education is miles above what it is in China, but she remained as adamant as ever that the was no way she would remain overseas to work. She intended to come home soon to be close to her family and to provide service in Xinjiang. After that lunch we stayed in touch for awhile, but the rigors of my studies and the vicissitudes of life caused me to go quite some time without sending her any messages, nor receiving any. I must confess, out of sight, out of mind. 


I cannot remember when the first rumors of the internment camps in Xinjiang started to filter into my life in Beijing--it may have been 2016, or 2017... I don't care to check here when they were supposedly established. What I can say for certain is that in the summer of 2017 a good American friend of mine, a freelance reporter whose stories have been picked up on the Reuter's wire, in Newsweek, and in other publications, went to Xinjiang to report. Much as you will see if you watch the recent Vice documentary about Xinjiang, he described being followed and harassed everywhere he went, as well as forbidden from visiting most of the places he hoped to go. Needless to say, he did not visit any internment camps. But he described a highly disturbing world to me, in which checkpoints, x-ray scanners, and surveillance reign. A world where Uighurs cannot even go into the equivalent of a 7-11 without passing through metal detectors and showing ID, and where nobody dared to speak to him. His conclusion--and this is not a man prone to hysteria--was that the concentration camps almost certainly exist (to any who still doubt this, recall that after denying the camps' existence for a very long time, the Chinese government finally did an about-face sometime later; it then fully admitted that the camps do exist, but then said that they are "free, voluntary career training centers"... of course, with extra guard towers, massive steel doors, and razor wire thrown in for free, as well.).


My friend's return from Xinjiang sent a tremendous jolt through me. It is a jolt that has not worn off, and it carried two major elements. The first was a huge amount of worry about the fate of my lovely, noble medical student friend. The second was shock at the way in which I had witnessed the slow disappearance of Uighur faces in specific and Muslim garb in general from the streets of Beijing, a city I lived in for more than five and a half years in total. Quietly, but at surely as clockwork, Beijing had been "ethnically cleansed." The people had gone away in a trickle or a rush--I never saw how--and been forced to return to their "hometowns" (the localities where their hukou, or legal "household registration" documents said they belonged), where they were placed first under the watch of their local cadres, before one million or more were forced into internment in concentration camps. Oh, I'm sorry, "voluntary free career training centers." Right. 


Disgusted with myself for having been out of touch with my friend for so long while all this unfolded (although, to be fair, I was finishing fucking medical school and working), I gave her a call. Her phone was disconnected, and many repeated calls since have never brought me luck.


Of course, I do not conclude from a single disconnected phone number that my friend was or is interned in a concentration camp for Xinjiang. It is possible she continued her studies in a US medical school, and remains safely overseas. It is possible she returned to Xinjiang, where she suffered a "lesser" form of imprisonment than concentration camp, such as "merely" having to stay in city where her hukou is registered, perhaps in one of the homes where one million CCP cadres are sometimes sent to live, sleep, eat, and of course, snitch. 


In any case, I know that my friend is certainly considered high-risk by the CCP's metrics. Multilingual with overseas experience, the algorithms that decide whether or not a person is dangerous would certainly flash huge warning signs next to her name. It is difficult to imagine, if she has remained in Xinjiang, that she has not in some way been placed under special surveillance if not into prison. And, even if she has somehow lucked out in that way, her entire province has been turned into a gigantic, open-air prison. The possibility that somebody I know well--somebody as gentle and kind and big-hearted and honest as her--has been swallowed into this gray mass of Chinese Communist Party racism, hatred, arbitrariness, oppression, and utter disregard for the fundamental goodness inherent in humanity. Ah, I tell you--that feeling is very different from the feeling you get when reading about "ethnic cleansing" in a newspaper, or seeing it depicted in a harrowing film


Now, again, I do not know that my friend did not "make it out alive," and manage to stay in the US during and after her medical training instead of falling into the CCP's ethnic cleansing machine. But, shortly after failing to reach her on the phone in 2017, I realized it ultimately made little difference. There was no way I could look for her, even using the internet, without putting myself in very real danger of imprisonment, and possibly making life worse for her and/or her family if I use her real name to try and find out her location and get in contact with her using electronic resources that have been set up by Uighur activists outside of China. The moment I register with their sites to try and find my friend, my name and hers go onto lists that are very dangerous to be on. I still have one last obligation in China, and I cannot risk imprisonment or any form of legal trouble there (nor the trouble that those who support me there may face if I fall foul of the so-called "law," which of course means the caprice of the brutalitarians in charge). Furthermore, I am not even sure if it would not bring holy hell down upon my friend, for instance, if she is in a concentration camp, and it comes out that there is an American using the internet to try and turn her disappearance into an "international incident." My hands are truly tied, and I have no idea what, if anything, I could possibly do. 


To watch the Muslims disappear from Beijing between 2013 and 2016 was to have a preview of a second wave of disappearances, which was much more visually pronounced, swift, and brutal, perhaps because it involved millions more people. It was a the removal of migrant workers and millions of people without Beijing hukous who set up thousands and thousands of businesses around the city and held down jobs that made the city function. In 2016 and, even more so, in 2017, their lives were turned upside-down when entire streets filled with hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of shops would be emptied of people, gutted such that their contents littered the streets, and then bricked up. Usually this would take three days to accomplish, often involving violence against people, and always violence against the fabric of communities. This mini pogrom of the working poor was well documented by photojournalists--the interested can find more information and photos on Google, easily. During this wave of forced removals I lost yet more friends and acquaintances, including an incredibly generous and kind qigong doctor with a small clinic space who, one day, was gone. I used to just drop in on her and her staff, and she taught me many things and gave me tremendous help with my health. Having no idea that this wave of removals could have affected her, I visited her neighborhood in 2017 to say goodbye to her before leaving the city. My jaw dropped when I found every last storefront for block after block, hundreds of small businesses, already bricked up and painted over. No trace was left of the former inhabitants. Goodbye. 


That summer as also the summer that the dissident writer Liu Xiaobo died. He was turned "free" from political imprisonment with late-stage liver cancer. He asked to go to a German hospital, but his request was refused, and he died in a Chinese hospital one week after his so-called release from prison. That news brought me utter disgust, having just graduated from medical school. I knew well how the hospitals functioned and how communist cadre hacks behave. I assume, and to this day do not change my opinion, that the doctors would have been told explicitly: do not save this man's life. Not that they could have, with his cancer being in the advanced state it was, and him being in generally terrible health after years in and out of prison. 


All of the above events were enough for me to decide to end my ten years of living in China. I have just written an awful lot, but it is only a tiny smattering of the ugliness I have seen there, so, so, so, so, so much of it directly attributable to the Chinese Communist Party. 


I share all of this today with you all, after spending an entire Saturday in ugly flame wars with two men who lost all standing in my eyes for carrying on here like shitposting, childish pro-Nazi or pro-KKK or pro-Bolsonaro trolls: "SirPalomides" and "C T." I spend several weeks away from this board when the two of them recently developed the habit of repeating China Daily-esque (in the case of Palomides) and Global Times-esque CCP propaganda on this board. I observed the two of them for several weeks, as well as myself. I initially thought to just walk away and say nothing, but my heart would not sit in peace. I finally decided to come back here today, and to devote a whole Saturday to dragging their ugliness to the fore and meeting it with as much vitriol, ire, and scorn as I can muster in words, to make it be known:


The game they are playing here, as two little internet boys who have no real China experience, is the worst and most egregious chronic abuse of free speech that I have ever seen since I started reading this website in 2006 or 2007. 


Deliberately and intentionally and with wrath and harsh judgement I played their game all day today, knowing that I would not and could not hope to "win" or to convince either of them of their mistake. Rather, my goal was to make sure they fucking NOTICE me, and to make sure that my stain follows some of the threads they have turned ugly and foul with their pro-totalitarian antics in recent weeks. I wish to leave an imprint on both of their severely malfunctioning minds, regardless of whether or not that imprint will have any chance of improving their lots; I also wish to leave an imprint on the threads where the two of them have made an excessive stream of excuses for the Chinese Communist Party, which has been directly responsible for so, so much death, torture, havoc, trauma, rape, forced migration, and general loathsome mendacity on this planet for so many decades. 


But the real point of coming back here today was not those threads which took up most of my day, but this one. Having shown you all today that I am capable of spitting some of the most vile and insulting language from my lips, I wish to show you my other side--to show you a piece of my soul, and to let you know why it is I felt it important to set aside the time and raise the internal fire needed to spit in those two boys' direction with my words all day. The above piece of writing, imperfect those it is (I do not plan to proofread it), comes directly from the heart, and reflects my absolute best attempt to speak to you all with honest, circumspection, and the deepest possible care. That is a short, small, humble-sounding, almost mockable word--"care"--but it is at the core of all of this writing today. There is nothing I can do to stop Palomides and C T from their sick pro-CCP water carrying, much less can I stop a single cadre from taking part in that murderous machine, much less can I talk Xi Jinping out of keeping countless souls locked away or threatening the country I live in and where so many of the loves of my life also live with military invasion. I can do none of that. But I can show you what a heart of a person who truly gives a fuck looks like, and while you may not believe me I will tell you a truth: this heart that I have shown you today, belongs to a man who has lived and lived powerfully--a man who has, many times in his life, made very tangible choices in the real world on the basis of the moral compass which is now on display. My caring is not limited to a jumble of impassioned words on some third-rate, has-been internet forum for weirdos. It is lived daily. It is reflected in enacted behavior. It affects the world


Or laugh, and disbelieve, and hit the "laugh" button, whatever. You don't have to believe me. If you have read this far, I have made my imprint upon you, and how it will one day unfold in your mindstream is beyond my control, although it is somewhat in yours. When I finish writing this post I will wash my hands of it and walk away, but one thing will have changed in my life: I will have taken my objections and made them public, and that is the least I can do


Anyway, as I said above, I have never felt so deeply disgusted with this place as I have since Palomides and C T began spitting CCP propaganda at us. But I have wondered about the point of this site's continued existence for quite some time, and concluded in recent months that it now does more harm than good for cultivation, and well as cultivators. I was wondering if I should leave, and in my weeks of silence, I decided that the time is beyond ripe. Things which begin must end, and it is time for my membership on this forum to end. I wish that all of us may develop wisdominsight, compassion, the ability to see our mistakes and make strong vows never to repeat them, and good health and longevity--provided we use our added time and energy on this planet to be of true service to our fellow beings. 


I have spoken all day at and about a pair of fellows who are truly bums in my eyes, so I owe you all a final thought on the other part of this website's title. Here it is:


Since I was 17 years old, I have been so fortunate as to have met a steady stream of highly-experienced, deeply wise, and tremendously generous teachers from the older generations in Daoism as well as Buddhism, but especially Daoism. To meet even one Daoist who has been on the path of real practice for decades is a true blessing. To meet not one or two but many in a couple of decades is a blessing. I have spent thousands of hours of my life in the company of such people, and thousands of hours of my life practicing on my own. I have also spend, at minimum, hundreds of hours of my life reading this website and participating in threads. I can tell you that of the tens of thousands of posts I have read here, possibly not more than a handful come close to rising to the level of what can be transmitted if you make a real connection with a truly experienced, living teacher in the Daoist tradition. I do not simply believe that TDB has a problem. More generally speaking, I have concluded that online forums full of anonymous and semi-anonymous strangers are not a place that is well-suited to the sharing and learning of real Daoist teachings (the reasons are many but not hard to guess). Thus, my message to those sincere seekers is: Keep seeking, and seek to meet real teachers in real life. Beware of what you find here, because even what is offered from those who have touched the real is never more than partial at best, and those who have touched the real here are vanishingly rare. And while most people here are fairly well-meaning, the deluded are many, and the dangerous are not scarce either. If you feel strong affinity for the Dao, you will almost certainly need to find it in person. Good luck with that search, and with whatever comes next. 


Word is bond,


Peace out,


And fuck all yall who would praise a totalitarian. Fuck you two times. And may you fall face first in dog shit. . 

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