Multiculturalism in China from melting pot to pressure cooker

Interesting characterization of the different periods of recent Chinese history and approaches:

Headlines on re-education camps in Xinjiang and a forced switch to Mandarin as the language of instruction in Inner Mongolian primary schools have brought concern in the international community about the wellbeing of China’s ethnic minorities.

The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) minority policies have been evolving since 1949, but forced linguistic and cultural assimilation campaigns last peaked during the Cultural Revolution. In its early years, the PRC adopted the Soviet model of multinational state-building, in which being ‘Chinese’ meant ‘socialist in content while nationalist in form’. Minorities could maintain their indigenous languages and cultures in their autonomous areas so long as they remained loyal to the PRC.

Since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, China gradually switched to a Chinese model of a unified Chinese nation with diversity, largely imitating the US model. This model aims to assimilate minorities into the Chinese mainstream through economic development and cultural inclusion. The government is targeting the economic gap between minority communities and the majority Han ethnicity by opening up Western China while dispatching minorities to work in coastal China.

The cultural inclusion is theoretically two-way, requiring minorities to learn Mandarin and Han culture while elevating minority cultures as part of a unified Chinese culture in state television programs and at events such as the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But some question whether China can become a melting pot. The Chinese model started to come under pressure during the leadership of Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, due to ethnic riots in Xinjiang and self-immolation protests in Tibet in 2009.

Shortly after succeeding Hu, Xi began showcasing what the unified Chinese nation should look like under his reign. At the Second Work Conference on Xinjiang in May 2014, he asked ethnic groups to develop an awareness of the state, citizenship and community of the unified Chinese nation. At the Sixth Work Conference on Tibet in 2015, he said this awareness involves five identifications: with the state, the unified Chinese nation, Chinese culture, the Party and Chinese socialism.

All aspects of Xi’s minority policies were elevated as a single working slogan, ‘to forge the awareness of the community of the unified Chinese nation’, a principle further espoused in an amendment to the PRC Constitution in 2018. The impact of this new policy is demonstrated in Xi’s speech at the Third Work Conference on Xinjiang in September 2020. There he told officials that, of the five identifications, Chinese culture is the most fundamental. Xi’s policy has been understood and implemented by the Chinese government in three essential ways.

First, learning to speak Mandarin is considered critical in the identification with the unified Chinese nation. In recent years, minorities in Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Tibet and other minority communities have been coerced into learning Mandarin. Resistance to this approach leads to punishments, including re-education camps, detentions, job loss and financial retribution. Bilingual teaching and research has become a political taboo in Xinjiang and other minority areas, with the government forcing academic journals on the topic to close and scholars to instead research Mandarin education.

Second, Chinese culture is understood as being that of the Han majority culture, and it is increasingly criminal to suggest otherwise. The documentary The War in the Shadows describes how editors and publishers associated with Uyghur and Kazakh language textbooks for primary and secondary schools were recently sentenced to death or life in prison. Their alleged crime is to have included in the textbooks a high percentage of indigenous material and readings regarding historic figures who were not from today’s China or who rebelled against Han oppressors.

Third, earlier this year, the Legal Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress ruled unconstitutional any items in local autonomous laws which support the use of minority languages in local schools as a medium of instruction. In their first constitutionality ruling, the committee accused them of violating the constitutional article on Putonghua promotion.

These headlines are just the tip of the iceberg of China’s coercive and accelerated assimilation program. Under Xi, the country is becoming not so much a melting pot as a pressure cooker.

Minglang Zhou is Professor of Chinese Studies and Director of the Chinese Program and the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

China’s Crackdown on Muslims Extends to a Resort Island

Relentless pressures and crackdowns…

The call to prayer still echoes through the alleys of Sanya’s nearly 1,000-year-old Muslim neighborhood, where crescent-topped minarets rise above the rooftops. The government’s crackdown on the tiny, deeply pious community in this southern Chinese city has been subtle.

Signs on shops and homes that read “Allahu akbar” — “God is greatest” in Arabic — have been covered with foot-wide stickers promoting the “China Dream,” a nationalistic official slogan. The Chinese characters for halal, meaning permissible under Islam, have been removed from restaurant signs and menus. The authorities have closed two Islamic schools and have twice tried to bar female students from wearing head scarves.

The Utsuls, a community of no more than 10,000 Muslims in Sanya, are among the latest to emerge as targets of the Chinese Communist Party’s campaign against foreign influence and religions. Their troubles show how Beijing is working to erode the religious identity of even its smallest Muslim minorities, in a push for a unified Chinese culture with the Han ethnic majority at its core.

The new restrictions in Sanya, a city on the resort island of Hainan, mark a reversal in government policy. Until several years ago, officials supported the Utsuls’ Islamic identity and their ties with Muslim countries, according to local religious leaders and residents, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid government retaliation.

The party has said its restrictions on Islam and Muslim communities are aimed at curbing violent religious extremism. It has used that rationale to justify a clampdown on Muslims in China’s far western region of Xinjiang, following a series of attacksseven years ago. But Sanya has seen little unrest.

The tightening of control over the Utsuls “reveals the real face of the Chinese Communist campaign against local communities,” said Ma Haiyun, an associate professor at Frostburg State University in Maryland who studies Islam in China. “This is about trying to strengthen state control. It’s purely anti-Islam.”

The Chinese government has repeatedly denied that it opposes Islam. But under Xi Jinping, its top leader, the party has torn down mosques, ancient shrines and Islamic domes and minarets in northwestern and central China. Its crackdown has focused heavily on the Uighurs, a Central Asian Muslim minority of 11 million in Xinjiang, many of whom have been held in mass detention camps and forced to renounce Islam.

The effort to “sinicize Islam” accelerated in 2018 after the State Council, China’s cabinet, issued a confidential directive ordering officials to prevent the faith from interfering with secular life and the state’s functions. The directive warned against “Arabization” and the influence of Saudi Arabia, or “Saudi-ization,” in mosques and schools.

In Sanya, the party is going after a group with a significant position in China’s relations with the Islamic world. The Utsuls have played host to Muslims from around the country seeking the balmy climes of Hainan Province, and they have served as a bridge to Muslim communities in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

The Utsuls’ Islamic identity was celebrated for years by the government as China pushed for stronger links with the Arab world. Such links have been key to Mr. Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, a program to finance infrastructure projects across the world and increase Beijing’s political sway in the process.

The Utsuls have become “an important base for Muslims who have moved abroad to find their roots and investigate their ancestors,” said a government notice in 2017 hailing the role of Islam in Hainan in the Belt and Road plan. “To date, they have received thousands of scholars and friends from more than a dozen countries and regions, and are an important window for cultural exchanges among peoples around the South China Sea.”

Genghis Khan’s memory is erased from view as China cracks down on Mongolian culture

Yet one more example of Chinese government repression of ethnic minorities:

One of history’s most influential figures has been drawn into a Chinese government campaign to impose ethnic conformity on people of Mongolian descent.

Genghis Khan, the 12th-century conqueror, has long been both an icon of the Mongolian people and a rallying figure for nationalists. Now he is becoming a symbol of Beijing’s new effort to put pressure on its Mongolian population, as authorities across the country are demanding greater adherence to a centrally defined notion of what it means to be Chinese.

Under President Xi Jinping, the Communist Party of China has made it harder for ethnic minorities to maintain unique languages, identities and belief systems – a policy that also includes a push to expunge foreign influences from religion, philosophy and schools. Genghis Khan’s standing among Mongolians has long made him a source of disquiet for the Chinese government. “Genghis Khan is a god in Mongolians’ minds,” said Ulzidelger Jagchid, an ethnic Mongolian from China who is now an activist living abroad. “The government fears that Mongolians, with this belief in a god, will come together and unite.” Beijing, he said, “wants to lower the position of Genghis Khan in Mongolians’ world.”Zoom/Pan

In Hulunbuir, a small administrative centre of China’s Inner Mongolia region, in the midst of sprawling grasslands, plaques describing the warrior’s exploits have been removed and defaced in the area around an oboo, a sacred site built around a stone from his birthplace. One rock formerly held a tablet with a quote from Anandyn Amar, a former Mongolian prime minister and independence advocate who called Genghis Khan a leader who had made the Mongolian people “famous across the Four Seas.” A series of other plaques, displayed until recently below a lengthy stone frieze depicting his birth and exploits, have disappeared; only their dark outlines remain on the concrete below.

It is not clear who is responsible or whether their removal was an instance of historical negationism or an act of protest against the government. Some plaques still on display show signs of having been painted over and subsequently cleaned. The propaganda office in Hulunbuir did not respond to a faxed Globe and Mail request for comment.

But the alteration and vandalism of a site devoted to Genghis Khan inside China comes after local authorities banned unilingual, Mongolian instruction in schools, supplanting it with bilingual – Mandarin and Mongolian – education that, people in Hulunbuir say, has dramatically reduced the classroom time devoted to a language that is still used in many homes. About 6.5 million ethnic Mongolians live in China today. Similar education policies have been used to enforce conformity in other areas of China with large culturally distinct minorities, including Tibet and Xinjiang.

The bilingual education policy prompted a rare series of public protests across Inner Mongolia this fall, with parents and students boycotting classes for more than a week in Hulunbuir. Authorities responded with arrests and firings. A number of Communist Party members were ordered to attend “the Party school for education and training.” When some refused, they were expelled from the Party.

It has been followed by other signs of a deepening crackdown on Mongolian culture.

Last month, the Château des ducs de Bretagne history museum in France postponed an exhibit about Genghis Khan and his empire that had been planned in partnership with the Inner Mongolia Museum in China. Before the exhibit could open, the French museum said, the Chinese Bureau of Cultural Heritage demanded changes, including the removal of the words “Genghis Khan,” “Empire” and “Mongol.” The bureau instead proposed its own plan for the exhibit, which sought “the complete disappearance of Mongol history and culture in favour of a new official narrative,” the museum said.

Schools in Inner Mongolia have continued to display Mongolian script, according to pictures seen by The Globe. But activists say images of Genghis Khan have been removed, although The Globe was sent a photo of a portrait that remains in one school in the region.

Communist China has gone to war with Genghis Khan before.

During the bloody tumult of the Cultural Revolution, worship of the Mongol emperor was outlawed and some of his relics destroyed. Mao Zedong mocked him as a short-lived ruler who knew “no more than hunting eagles.” Subsequent Chinese policies have actually sought to recast and embrace him as a Chinese leader.

But for ethnic Mongolians, Genghis Khan remains very important, said a Mongolian woman in Hulunbuir, adding that all Mongolian families have an image of him in their homes.

The Globe is not identifying Mongolians in Hulunbuir because those who criticize government policy in China face serious reprisals.

At least two museums in the region with Genghis Khan and Mongolian culture exhibits are currently not open to visitors. In Manzhouli, the Zhalainuo’er Museum says it is doing renovations in response to a forest fire that took place Oct. 1 near a city almost 1,400 kilometres away. In Ordos, the display halls at the Mausoleum of Genghis Khan are also closed. A worker said infrastructure upgrades are under way. Outdoor areas with religious significance remain open.

Another museum dedicated to “The Secret History of the Mongols,” which state media called the only museum of its kind when it opened last year, says it only accepts pre-screened visitors.

In Hulunbuir, classes have resumed. An apparently new police station now sits outside the gate of a local middle school. Large characters on an electronic sign inside proclaim: “10,000 people of one mind, unity is strength.”

But resentment simmers.

One young Mongolian man in Hulunbuir said – in flawless Chinese – that when he was a student, classes were conducted entirely in Mongolian and that Mandarin was a minor subject. Many families still sought Mandarin lessons for their children because the language offered better employment prospects.

Now, however, there is no way to resist a government intent on enforcing a single vision of what it means to be Chinese, the young man said.

But what can’t be taught in school can be taught at home, he said, vowing to raise his future children with a knowledge of their ancestral tongue.

“Maintaining the Mongolian language to me is a must. It’s a symbol of our people,” he said.

Genghis Khan, meanwhile, remains a spiritual ballast, he said.


China Targets Muslim Scholars And Writers With Increasingly Harsh Restrictions

Yet another example of Chinese government repression:

This spring, 14 men were brought into police offices, where, one by one, they were subjected to weeks of questioning about their online correspondence and political views.

Their offense? Buying Islamic books.

The men were detained in Yiwu, China, an international commercial hub on the country’s wealthy east coast and home to a growing community of Muslims. The detentions are emblematic of increasingly harsh restrictions targeting spiritual and educational life for Muslims in China.

Once focused on giving minorities limited cultural autonomy, China’s ethnic policy has shifted in the last decade toward an approach that favors complete assimilation with China’s Han ethnic majority in language and religious practice. Muslims in China now fear that religious freedoms are regressing to those in the days of the Cultural Revolution, a decade of severe political and religious persecution in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Every household would burn their religious books in case they were searched. Shredders were sold out. People would flush the book ashes down the toilet, sometime clogging the pipes,” one Chinese Muslim publisher says of that era. “The persecution we are facing now is worse than that time.”

The publisher, who has fled China and continues to publish books from abroad, requested anonymity because at least 40 of his relatives have been detained or sentenced to prison for their religious beliefs or connection to him. Many in his publishing network have been arrested or fled the country.

“The state only wants its garden to have one type of flower,” he says. “The red ones. Green, blue or white flowers: if they are not red, they will be cut down.”

Targeting scholars and writers

“Intellectuals are the bearers of tradition. They’re looked up to as the arbiters, the judges of what is the the real Islam, and so they make an attractive target for a government that is interested in either controlling cultural expression or trying to completely reengineer it,” says Rian Thum, who studies Islam in China as a senior research fellow at Britain’s University of Nottingham.

China is home to about 23 million practicing Muslims, according to its 2010 census, the most recent count — less than 2% of the country’s population. Most are Uighur — a Turkic ethnic group — or labeled as Hui, ethnically and linguistically indistinguishable from China’s Han ethnic majority. Chinese Muslims are most densely clustered in the northwestern regions of Gansu, Ningxia and Xinjiang, but live across the country, as they have for more than a millennium.

Last year, NPR reported that authorities had forced nearly all mosques in Ningxia and the eastern province of Henan to “renovate” by removing their domes and Arabic script. Demolitions have since extended to mosques in Zhejiang and Gansu provinces. But practicing Muslims say the most heavy-handed restrictions have targeted the intangible channels through which they have preserved their faith in China for centuries.

Beginning in 2018, new religious restrictions shuttered hundreds of Arabic language and Islamic schools across Ningxia and Zhengzhou, Henan’s capital. Imams must now take political education classes as part of a revamped certification program. The program also mandates that they can only serve in the region where their household is registered, effectively disbarring hundreds of itinerant imams.

The restrictions have only intensified since then. Mosque demolitions have spread. The intellectual heart of China’s Islamic community has largely been silenced as scholars, writers, religious leaders and their families are under constant state surveillance. A once-thriving academic and religious exchange between Chinese Muslims and centers across the Middle East and South Asia has halted, as those having business or religious ties abroad are subject to Chinese state harassment and detention.

“What dominates Muslim [government] cadres is the [Communist] party line and the official version of Islam promoted by government agencies and organizations,” says Ma Haiyun, an assistant professor at Frostburg State University, where he studies Islam in China. “The result of this restriction is to make traditional discourses on Islam more commercial, patriotic and Chinese.”

“We lived like ghosts”

The door to Qingzhen Shuju — Islam Books — remains padlocked, the shop full of stacks of books in their unopened packaging.

Located in an upscale university neighborhood in Beijing, the bookstore and its accompanying website were a prominent publisher of Islamic philosophy works and the newest Arabic works translated into Chinese — until publisher Ma Yinglong (no relation to Ma Haiyun) was arrested in 2017 on charges of illegal publishing and terrorism. Two people close to him say he remains in detention in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.

A second influential publisher, Ma Zhixiong (no relation to either Ma), ran a prolific imprint called Tianma Publishing from China’s southwestern Yunnan province until he too was imprisoned for selling illegal books, in 2015. He was released on probation this year.

“The printing plant was closed and our equipment and all books were confiscated. In the first days [of my imprisonment], I was almost completely cut off from the outside world,” Ma Zhixiong wrote in an essay widely circulated this fall among chat groups on the Chinese WeChat app. “During my prison days, human dignity disappeared. Every day, people had to take off their clothes for inspection and to hold our heads while squatting down while being interrogated… We lived like ghosts.”

The two publishers were a critical link in a world of writers, publishers and bookstores, the backbone for religious studies in China. Their arrests are evidence of a crackdown widening from its epicenter in Xinjiang, where authorities have detained hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities, sentencing some to lengthy prison terms for practicing Islam.

Despite international criticism, Chinese leader Xi Jinping declared the detention and security policies in Xinjiang “entirely correct” and a “success” at a September meeting of party officials. “We must persevere in Sinicizing the direction of our country’s religions,” he said.

The crushing of China’s Muslim writing community is a marked reversal from a period of literary openness after economic and political reforms took hold in the 1980s.

Despite some restrictions, Muslim writers thrived in the laissez-faire atmosphere of those decades. For example, unable to get the commercial book codes — similar to an ISBN number — allotted to state-sanctioned publishers for state-approved volumes, writers and editors self-published their works and distributed them by mail to readers and religious bookstores that were ubiquitous for decades outside larger mosques.

“Many people have been oppressed for their speech in China but among the Muslim community, those who get into trouble for their writing or publishing have gone unnoticed,” a prominent Chinese Muslim writer tells NPR.

He fled China last year after friends warned that police were seeking to detain him. He requested anonymity out of concern for the safety of his immediate family, almost all of whom remain in China.

He and hundreds of other Chinese Muslims used to moderate online forums and events and curated websites that discussed issues of scripture and philosophy. By 2016, those sites were shut down or censored within China’s Great Firewall. They moved to WeChat, where the writer now runs chat groups of 500 people each, but doing so requires constant vigilance: “Even on WeChat,” he says, “it is a continuous process of continually being shut down by censors and starting a new group.”

WeChat would also ensnare the 14 people detained in Yiwu earlier this year; all had purchased this writer’s books on history, scripture and philosophy through the app.

“They interrogated them about their relationship with several Muslim intellectuals and overseas Chinese Muslims. The police had printed out the text records everyone had had on WeChat with writers and publishers,” said a friend of one of those detained, who requested anonymity to avoid detention for speaking out. “Now the police say every time they travel, they have to report to them beforehand when they are leaving and where they are going.”

As for China’s Muslim community leaders, “There are no imams who dare to speak out,” says a scholar who leads a Quran reading group in northwestern China. “You can renounce your state-given imam certification and leave the mosque in order to speak out — but then you can be sure you will be constantly monitored.”

“They know what you are up to”

Beginning in 2017, Chinese Muslims outside Xinjiang watched with dread as hundreds of thousands of Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic minority, were detained and sent either to “reeducation centers” or prison.

Soon after, Xinjiang security officers began fanning out to other provinces to send Hui Muslims with identity documents registered in Xinjiang back to the region.

One of those forcibly returned to Xinjiang was a young Hui woman who taught at a religious school in a mosque outside Xinjiang, after completing a theological studies degree at Egypt’s prestigious Al-Azhar University. Last December, Xinjiang police abruptly detained her and brought her back to her hometown of Tacheng.

“We asked them, why send 30 men to apprehend a young woman and her infant at 11 at night. It was unbelievable,” says a fellow teacher who asked to remain anonymous and keep his location withheld because he was detained and questioned after speaking to NPR.

He learned in March that the woman had been slapped with a seven-year prison sentence but doesn’t know on what charges.

Four Hui Muslims born in Xinjiang told NPR they managed to change the registration of their identity documents, called hukou, to another province before 2017, as restrictions on Uighurs and practicing Muslims in Xinjiang became more draconian.

Others moved abroad, but even outside China, Xinjiang security officials continue to harass them through WeChat.

“My hometown police somehow knew that I had even moved apartments this year,” says one Hui Muslim now living in Egypt who requested anonymity for fear of retribution from Chinese security officials. The police officers send “friendly” messages weekly, the person says, full of smiley faces, heart emojis and stickers, but their intent is clear: “It is meant to show they know what you are up to and to remind you of where you are from.”

Efforts to co-opt Muslim leaders

Xinjiang policing has even reached a beachside city on Hainan, a Chinese tropical island province in the South China Sea. Home to a small community of historically Muslim Utsuls, Hainan’s warm climes have begun attracting retirees and vacationers from other provinces during the winter months, including large numbers of Hui Muslims.

Last February, during Lunar New Year holidays, two Xinjiang public security officers set up a table at one of the six mosques in the city of Sanya to register identification documents of everyone who attended Friday prayers, according to two people who attended prayers that day. One of them evaded registration by slipping out through a side door.

In September, at the start of the fall semester, public schools in predominantly Utsul neighborhoods in Sanya began banning female students from wearing headscarves to class. Videos shared with NPR show the female students being cordoned outside the Tianya Utsul Elementary School because they refused to comply.

Local Communist Party regulations now ban party members from practicing Islam and call for increased governance of Muslim neighborhoods in Sanya, according to the South China Morning Post.

Chinese security forces have also been seeding the ranks of local branches of the Islamic Association of China, a state-run body which organizes the only officially permitted hajj pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia.

One Islamic scholar says his son was approached by Chinese security officers this year, shortly before his son’s promotion as imam of a mosque and membership in the Islamic Association. NPR is not disclosing his name or location because he was detained and questioned after speaking with NPR.

“They offered [him] a full civil servant’s salary and pension for the work and an appointment as board member of a local state company if he secretly worked for them,” the scholar says.

His son refused the offer.

Source: China Targets Muslim Scholars And Writers With Increasingly Harsh Restrictions

Why the World Should Care About Language in Inner Mongolia

Yet another example of Chinese government repression and attempts at cultural genocide:

On August 26 China passed a law to sideline teaching in the Mongolian language in the region of Inner Mongolia (also referred to as Southern Mongolia). This measure, which sparked immediate protests, will create irreparable losses not just for ethnic Mongolians, but also for many cultures around the world.

What is at stake here is not just the spoken language, but an 800-year-old script with a multicultural lineage that emanated from the golden era of the Silk Route.

Mongolian, as a language, is still widely spoken in independent Mongolia, but the “Mongolian script” was largely lost after the Russians introduced Cyrillic in the 1940s, when Stalin sought to control the country as a buffer against China. This makes the Inner Mongolians, who are currently under Chinese rule, the last custodians of the script. For academics, historians, linguists, and cultural aficionados, the Mongolian script holds the key to historical links between cultures that were forged during the Silk Route era and earlier. Understanding this connection might help people realize that this is not Mongolia’s fight alone.

For decades, China’s ongoing efforts to assimilate its minorities had it cracking down harshly on the religions, and languages of Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Mongolians. These are all largely nomadic cultures that were propagators of multicultural exchanges at the height of the Silk Route era.

Like the Tibetans and the Uyghurs, who have been struggling against Chinese hegemony, Mongolians have been protesting since August, but punitive measures taken by the Chinese government leave Mongolians with little choice but to concede.

“This is the final blow to our culture,” said Enghebatu Togochog, director of the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center.  “The world should know that it is not simply a language issue. This strikes at the very heart and existence of our national identity. If we lose our language we lose everything. We’ve already lost political autonomy, our nomadic way of life, and our environment. This is cultural genocide.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, in the independent state of the Mongolian People’s Republic (MPR), a democratic revolution in 1990 pushed for a switch from Russian Cyrillic to the old Mongolian script. That idea, however, received little interest and gained no traction. Parents saw it as a hindrance to their children’s future prospects at the time. But the recent protests in the Inner Mongolian region have made Mongolians in the MPR realize what they failed to in 1990. The significance and threat to their cultural, intellectual, and literary heritage is now being viewed through a new lens.

“Public opinion in MPR has changed drastically since China’s crackdown on Inner Mongolia,” said Otgonsuren Jargaliin, an outer Mongolian teacher, linguist, and environmental activist. “Mongolians now see the urgent need to preserve and protect this ancient script and not take it for granted. They now appreciate that 80 years of Cyrillic is not on par with 800 years of a writing that is our lineage and ancestry.”

She pointed out that as recently as last week MPR National Television was now carrying subtitles not only in Cyrillic, but also in the old Mongolian script, which was a new development.

The Mongolian Script

The story of the Mongolian script starts with Genghis Khan. In 1204 he appointed the Uyghur scholar Tatatunga to develop a unifying script after he established his empire. The new Mongolian script was adapted from an old Uyghur script.

The Uyghurs today are Turkic-speaking Muslims, descended from the Uyghur Khaganate, a nomadic kingdom in Mongolia, which was predominantly Manichaean and then later Buddhist. It lasted from 744 to 840 CE. It was while they were Manicheans that the Uyghurs adopted their script from the Sogdians. By the 16 century, however, the Uyghurs had transitioned to the Arabic script and were no longer using their own.

The Sogdians, meanwhile, were the remnant traders of the ancient Achaemenid Persian Empire, who capitalized on economic opportunities along the Silk Route from the fourth to ninth centuries. Like many Silk Route traders, they exported not just material goods but fashion, culture, religion, arts, and language. Their script had its roots in Aramaic.

The Uyghurs replaced the Sogdians as custodians of the script from the eighth to the beginning of the 13th century, when Genghis Khan introduced it to his new empire, the largest contiguous one the world had ever seen. As the lingua franca of the Mongolian Empire, the script was used widely connecting east with west, the Pacific to the Mediterranean.

The history of the script, therefore, offers a well documented evolution of a writing that originated from the ancient Mesopotamian civilization, and traveled across time and cultures through the Silk Route. The script’s history tells us how people from vast geographical backgrounds were connected, often not out of choice, but nevertheless linked through trade and travel. It shows us how our ancestries and heritages are all interlinked and interconnected.

The indigenous nomadic tribes from different cultures, along with traders from different regions and countries, brought a broader understanding of a socio-cultural world through their free movement along the Silk Route. Unlike China’s nationalistic ideology, they were not confined to a specific religion, nationality, ethnicity, language, or geographical boundary. This was what promoted cultural connectivity and created an era of great cultural exchange.

Today China is trying to recreate its idea of a Silk Route through its “One Belt, One Road” foreign policy and economic strategy, also known as the Belt and Road Initiative. But what China fails to recognize is that the success of the original Silk Route was due to its recognition and acceptance of the many cultures it spanned and encountered. Cultural legacies were embraced and valued rather than wiped out along the way in the name of uniformity. The Belt and Road Initiative can’t replicate the success of the Silk Route if it persecutes the very people and cultures, like the Mongolians, that made the original routes last for centuries.

The irony is that, in trying to recreate the Silk Road through its nationalistic lens, China may once again end up with something that is just another “Made in China” imitation.

Source: Why the World Should Care About Language in Inner Mongolia

In China’s Xinjiang, Forced Medication Accompanies Coronavirus Lockdown

News from China and the Uighurs gets worse and worse:

When police arrested the middle-aged Uighur woman at the height of China’s coronavirus outbreak, she was crammed into a cell with dozens of other women in a detention center.

There, she said, she was forced to drink a medicine that made her feel weak and nauseous, guards watching as she gulped. She and the others also had to strip naked once a week and cover their faces as guards hosed them and their cells down with disinfectant “like firemen,” she said.

“It was scalding,” recounted the woman by phone from Xinjiang, declining to be named out of fear of retribution. “My hands were ruined, my skin was peeling.”

The government in China’s far northwest Xinjiang region is resorting to draconian measures to combat the coronavirus, including physically locking residents in homes, imposing quarantines of more than 40 days and arresting those who do not comply. Furthermore, in what experts call a breach of medical ethics, some residents are being coerced into swallowing traditional Chinese medicine, according to government notices, social media posts and interviews with three people in quarantine in Xinjiang.

There is a lack of rigorous clinical data showing traditional Chinese medicine works against the virus, and one of the herbal remedies used in Xinjiang, Qingfei Paidu, includes ingredients banned in Germany, Switzerland, the U.S. and other countries for high levels of toxins and carcinogens.

The latest grueling lockdown, now in its 45th day, comes in response to 826 cases reported in Xinjiang since mid-July, China’s largest caseload since the initial outbreak. But the Xinjiang lockdown is especially striking because of its severity, and because there hasn’t been a single new case of local transmission in over a week.

Harsh lockdowns have been imposed elsewhere in China, most notably in Wuhan in Hubei province, where the virus was first detected. But though Wuhan grappled with over 50,000 cases and Hubei with 68,000 in all, many more than in Xinjiang, residents there weren’t forced to take traditional medicine and were generally allowed outdoors within their compounds for exercise or grocery deliveries.

The response to an outbreak of more than 300 cases in Beijing in early June was milder still, with a few select neighborhoods locked down for a few weeks. In contrast, more than half of Xinjiang’s 25 million people are under a lockdown that extends hundreds of miles from the center of the outbreak in the capital, Urumqi, according to an AP review of government notices and state media reports.

Even as Wuhan and the rest of China has mostly returned to ordinary life, Xinjiang’s lockdown is backed by a vast surveillance apparatus that has turned the region into a digital police state. Over the past three years, Xinjiang authorities have swept a million or more Uighurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic minorities into various forms of detention, including extrajudicial internment camps, under a widespread security crackdown.

After being detained for over a month, the Uighur woman was released and locked into her home. Conditions are now better, she told the AP, but she is still under lockdown, despite regular tests showing she is free of the virus.

Once a day, she says, community workers force traditional medicine in white unmarked bottles on her, saying she’ll be detained if she doesn’t drink them. The AP saw photos of the bottles, which match those in images from another Xinjiang resident and others circulating on Chinese social media.

Authorities say the measures taken are for the well-being of all residents, though they haven’t commented on why they are harsher than those taken elsewhere. The Chinese government has struggled for decades to control Xinjiang, at times clashing violently with many of the region’s native Uighurs, who resent Beijing’s heavy-handed rule.

“The Xinjiang Autonomous Region upheld the principle of people and life first….and guaranteed the safety and health of local people of all ethnic groups,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a press briefing Friday.

Xinjiang authorities can carry out the harsh measures, experts say, because of its lavishly funded security apparatus, which by some estimates deploys the most police per capita of anywhere on the planet.

“Xinjiang is a police state, so it’s basically martial law,” says Darren Byler, a researcher on the Uighurs at the University of Colorado. “They think Uighurs can’t really police themselves, they have to be forced to comply in order for a quarantine to be effective.”

Not all the recent outbreak measures in Xinjiang are targeted at the Uighurs and other largely Muslim minorities. Some are being enforced on China’s majority Han residents in Xinjiang as well, though they are generally spared the extrajudicial detention used against minorities. This month, thousands of Xinjiang residents took to social media to complain about what they called excessive measures against the virus in posts that are often censored, some with images of residents handcuffed to railings and front doors sealed with metal bars.

One Han Chinese woman with the last name of Wang posted photos of herself drinking traditional Chinese medicine in front of a medical worker in full protective gear.

“Why are you forcing us to drink medicine when we’re not sick!” she asked in a Aug. 18 post that was swiftly deleted. “Who will take responsibility if there’s problems after drinking so much medicine? Why don’t we even have the right to protect our own health?”

A few days later she simply wrote: “I’ve lost all hope. I cry when I think about it.”

After the heavy criticism, the authorities eased some restrictions last week, now allowing some residents to walk in their compounds, and a limited few to leave the region after a bureaucratic approval process.

Wang did not respond to a request for interviews. But her account is in line with many others posted on social media, as well as those interviewed by the AP.

One Han businessman working between Urumqi and Beijing told the AP he was put in quarantine in mid-July. Despite having taken coronavirus tests five times and testing negative each time, he said, the authorities still haven’t let him out – not for so much as a walk. When he’s complained about his condition online, he said, he’s had his posts deleted and been told to stay silent.

“The most terrible thing is silence,” he wrote on Chinese social media site Weibo in mid-August. “After a long silence, you will fall into the abyss of hopelessness.”

“I’ve been in this room for so long, I don’t remember how long. I just want to forget,” he wrote again, days later. “I’m writing out my feelings to reassure myself I still exist. I fear I’ll be forgotten by the world.”

“I’m falling apart,” he told the AP more recently, declining to be named out of fear of retribution.

He, too, is being forced to take Chinese traditional medicine, he said, including liquid from the same unmarked white bottles as the Uighur woman. He is also forced to take Lianhua Qingwen, a herbal remedy seized regularly by U.S. Customs and Border patrol for violating FDA laws by falsely claiming to be effective against COVID-19.

Since the start of the outbreak, the Chinese government has pushed traditional medicine on its population. The remedies are touted by President Xi Jinping, China’s nationalist, authoritarian leader, who has advocated a revival of traditional Chinese culture. Although some state-backed doctors say they have conducted trials showing the medicine works against the virus, no rigorous clinical data supporting that claim has been published in international scientific journals.

“None of these medicines have been scientifically proven to be effective and safe,” said Fang Shimin, a former biochemist and writer known for his investigations of scientific fraud in China who now lives in the United States. “It’s unethical to force people, sick or healthy, to take unproven medicines.”

When the virus first started spreading, thousands flooded pharmacies in Hubei province searching for traditional remedies after state media promoted their effectiveness against the virus. Packs of pills were tucked into care packages sent to Chinese workers and students overseas, some emblazoned with the Chinese flag, others reading: “The motherland will forever firmly back you up”.

But the new measures in Xinjiang forcing some residents to take the medicine is unprecedented, experts say. The government says that the participation rate in traditional Chinese medicine treatment in the region has “reached 100%”, according to a state media report. When asked about resident complaints that they were being forced to take Chinese medicine, one local official said it was being done “according to expert opinion.”

“We’re helping resolve the problems of ordinary people,” said Liu Haijiang, the head of Dabancheng district in Urumqi, “like getting their children to school, delivering them medicine or getting them a doctor.”

With Xi’s ascent, critics of Chinese traditional medicine have fallen silent. In April, an influential Hubei doctor, Yu Xiangdong, was removed from a hospital management position for questioning the efficacy of the remedies, an acquittance confirmed. A government notice online said Yu “openly published inappropriate remarks slandering the nation’s epidemic prevention policy and traditional Chinese medicine.”

In March, the World Health Organization removed guidance on its site saying that herbal remedies were not effective against the virus and could be harmful, saying it was “too broad”. And in May, the Beijing city government announced a draft law that would criminalize speech “defaming or slandering” traditional Chinese medicine. Now, the government is pushing traditional Chinese remedies as a treatment for COVID-19 overseas, sending pills and specialists to countries such as Iran, Italy, and the Philippines.

Other leaders have also spearheaded unproven and potentially risky remedies – notably U.S. President Donald Trump, who stumped for the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which can cause heart rhythm problems, despite no evidence that it’s effective against COVID-19. But China appears to be the first to force citizens – at least in Xinjiang – to take them.

The Chinese government’s push for traditional medicine is bolstering the fortunes of billionaires and padding state coffers. The family of Wu Yiling, the founder of the company that makes Lianhua Qingwen, has seen the value of their stake more than double in the past six months, netting them over a billion dollars. Also profiting: the Guangdong government, which owns a stake in Wu’s company.

“It’s a huge waste of money, these companies are making millions,” said a public health expert who works closely with the Chinese government, declining to be identified out of fear of retribution. “But then again – why not take it? There’s a placebo effect, it’s not that harmful. Why bother? There’s no point in fighting on this.”

Measures vary widely by city and neighborhood, and not all residents are taking the medication. The Uighur woman says that despite the threats against her, she’s flushing the liquid and pills down the toilet. A Han man whose parents are in Xinjiang told the AP that for them, the remedies are voluntary.

Though the measures are “extreme,” he says, they’re understandable.

“There’s no other way if the government wants to control this epidemic,” he said, declining to be named to avoid retribution. “We don’t want our outbreak to become like Europe or America.”

Source: In China’s Xinjiang, Forced Medication Accompanies Coronavirus Lockdown

Secret documents reveal inner workings of China’s mass detention camps for Uyghurs, other minorities

No longer any opportunity to deny on the part of China and its supporters. Cultural genocide in practice and the degree of organization, the bureaucratic precision, and the attention to detail are reminiscent of the Nazi Germany’s physical genocide of Jews, Roma and others:

The watch towers, double-locked doors and video surveillance in the Chinese camps are there “to prevent escapes.” Uyghurs and other minorities held inside are scored on how well they speak the dominant Mandarin language and follow strict rules on everything down to bathing and using the toilet, scores that determine if they can leave.

“Manner education” is mandatory, but “vocational skills improvement” is offered only after a year in the camps.

Voluntary job training is the reason the Chinese government has given for detaining more than a million ethnic minorities, most of them Muslims. But a classified blueprint leaked to a consortium of news organizations shows the camps are instead precisely what former detainees have described: Forced ideological and behavioural re-education centres run in secret.

The classified documents lay out the Chinese government’s deliberate strategy to lock up ethnic minorities even before they commit a crime, to rewire their thoughts and the language they speak.

The papers also show how Beijing is pioneering a new form of social control using data and artificial intelligence. Drawing on data collected by mass surveillance technology, computers issued the names of tens of thousands of people for interrogation or detention in just one week.

Taken as a whole, the documents give the most significant description yet of high-tech mass detention in the 21st century in the words of the Chinese government itself. Experts say they spell out a vast system that targets, surveils and grades entire ethnicities to forcibly assimilate and subdue them – especially Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim Turkic minority of more than 10 million people with their own language and culture.

“They confirm that this is a form of cultural genocide,” said Adrian Zenz, a leading security expert on the far western region of Xinjiang, the Uighur homeland. “It really shows that from the onset, the Chinese government had a plan.”

Zenz said the documents echo the aim of the camps as outlined in a 2017 report from a local branch of the Xinjiang Ministry of Justice: To “wash brains, cleanse hearts, support the right, remove the wrong.”

‘Like a movie’: In Xinjiang, new evidence that China stages prayers, street scenes for visiting delegations

China has struggled for decades to control Xinjiang, where the Uyghurs have long resented Beijing’s heavy-handed rule. After the 9/11 attacks in the United States, Chinese officials began justifying harsh security measures and religious restrictions as necessary to fend off terrorism, arguing that young Uyghurs were susceptible to the influence of Islamic extremism. Hundreds have died since in terror attacks, reprisals and race riots, both Uyghurs and Han Chinese.

In 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched what he called a “People’s War on Terror” when bombs set off by Uighur militants tore through a train station in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, just hours after he concluded his first state visit there.

“Build steel walls and iron fortresses. Set up nets above and snares below,” state media cited Xi as saying. “Cracking down severely on violent terrorist activities must be the focus of our current struggle.”

In 2016, the crackdown intensified dramatically after Xi named Chen Quanguo, a hardline official transferred from Tibet, as Xinjiang’s new head. Most of the documents were issued in 2017, as Xinjiang’s “War on Terror” morphed into an extraordinary mass detention campaign using military-style technology.

The practices largely continue today. The Chinese government says they work.

“Since the measures have been taken, there’s no single terrorist incident in the past three years,” said a written response from the Chinese Embassy in the United Kingdom. “Xinjiang is much safer … The so-called leaked documents are fabrication and fake news.”

The statement said that religious freedom and the personal freedom of detainees was “fully respected” in Xinjiang.

The documents were given to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists by an anonymous source. The ICIJ verified them by examining state media reports and public notices from the time, consulting experts, cross-checking signatures and confirming the contents with former camp employees and detainees.

They consist of a notice with guidelines for the camps, four bulletins on how to use technology to target people, and a court case sentencing a Uighur Communist Party member to 10 years in prison for telling colleagues not to say dirty words, watch porn or eat without praying.

The documents were issued to rank-and-file officials by the powerful Xinjiang Communist Party Political and Legal Affairs Commission, the region’s top authority overseeing police, courts and state security. They were put out under the head official at the time, Zhu Hailun, who annotated and signed some personally.

The documents confirm from the government itself what is known about the camps from the testimony of dozens of Uyghurs and Kazakhs, satellite imagery and tightly monitored visits by journalists to the region.

Erzhan Qurban, an ethnic Kazakh who moved back to Kazakhstan, was grabbed by police on a trip back to China to see his mother and accused of committing crimes abroad. He protested that he was a simple herder who had done nothing wrong. But for the authorities, his time in Kazakhstan was reason enough for detention.

Qurban told the AP he was locked in a cell with 10 others last year and told not to engage in “religious activities” like praying. They were forced to sit on plastic stools in rigid postures for hours at a time. Talk was forbidden, and two guards kept watch 24 hours a day. Inspectors checked that nails were short and faces trimmed of moustaches and beards, traditionally worn by pious Muslims.

Those who disobeyed were forced to squat or spend 24 hours in solitary confinement in a frigid room.

“It wasn’t education, it was just punishment,” said Qurban, who was held for nine months. “I was treated like an animal.”


On February 18, 2017, Zhu, the Han Chinese official who signed the documents, stood in chilly winter weather atop the front steps of the capital’s city hall, overlooking thousands of police in black brandishing rifles.

“With the powerful fist of the People’s Democratic Dictatorship, all separatist activities and all terrorists shall be smashed to pieces,” Zhu announced into a microphone.

With that began a new chapter in the state’s crackdown. Police called Uyghurs and knocked on their doors at night to take them in for questioning. Others were stopped at borders or arrested at airports.

In the years since, as Uyghurs and Kazakhs were sent to the camps in droves, the government built hundreds of schools and orphanages to house and re-educate their children. Many of those who fled into exile don’t even know where their children or loved ones are.

The documents make clear that many of those detained have not actually done anything. One document explicitly states that the purpose of the pervasive digital surveillance is “to prevent problems before they happen” – in other words, to calculate who might rebel and detain them before they have a chance.

This is done through a system called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform or IJOP, designed to screen entire populations. Built by a state-owned military contractor, the IJOP began as an intelligence-sharing tool developed after Chinese military theorists studied the U.S. army’s use of information technology in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“There’s no other place in the world where a computer can send you to an internment camp,” said Rian Thum, a Xinjiang expert at the University of Nottingham. “This is absolutely unprecedented.”

The IJOP spat out the names of people considered suspicious, such as thousands of “unauthorized” imams not registered with the Chinese government, along with their associates. Suspicious or extremist behaviour was so broadly defined that it included going abroad, asking others to pray or using cellphone apps that cannot be monitored by the government.

The IJOP zoomed in on users of “Kuai Ya,” a mobile application similar to the iPhone’s Airdrop, which had become popular in Xinjiang because it allows people to exchange videos and messages privately. One bulletin showed that officials identified more than 40,000 “Kuai Ya” users for investigation and potential detention; of those, 32 were listed as belonging to “terrorist organizations.”

“They’re scared people will spread religion through `Kuai Ya,“’ said a man detained after police accused him of using the app. He spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to protect himself and his family. “They can’t regulate it … So they want to arrest everyone who’s used `Kuai Ya’ before.”

The system also targeted people who obtained foreign passports or visas, reflecting the government’s fear of Islamic extremist influences from abroad and deep discomfort with any connection between the Uyghurs and the outside world. Officials were asked to verify the identities even of people outside the country, showing how China is casting its dragnet for Uyghurs far beyond Xinjiang.

In recent years, Beijing has put pressure on countries to which Uyghurs have fled, such as Thailand and Afghanistan, to send them back to China. In other countries, state security has also contacted Uyghurs and pushed them to spy on each other. For example, a restaurateur now in Turkey, Qurbanjan Nurmemet, said police contacted him with videos of his son strapped to a chair and asked him for information on other Uyghurs in Turkey.

Despite the Chinese government’s insistence that the camps are vocational training centres for the poor and uneducated, the documents show that those rounded up included party officials and university students.

After the names were collected, lists of targeted people were passed to prefecture governments, who forwarded them to district heads, then local police stations, neighbour watchmen, and Communist Party cadres living with Uighur families.

Some former detainees recalled being summoned by officers and told their names were listed for detention. From there, people were funnelled into different parts of the system, from house arrest to detention centres with three levels of monitoring to, at its most extreme, prison.

Experts say the detentions are a clear violation of China’s own laws and constitution. Maggie Lewis, a professor of Chinese law at Seton Hall University, said the Communist Party is circumventing the Chinese legal system in Xinjiang.

“Once you’re stamped as an enemy, the gloves go off,” she said. “They’re not even trying to justify this legally … This is arbitrary.”

The detention campaign is sweeping. A bulletin notes that in a single week in June 2017, the IJOP identified 24,612 “suspicious persons” in southern Xinjiang, with 15,683 sent to “education and training,” 706 to prison and 2,096 to house arrest. It is unknown how typical this week might be. Local officials claim far less than a million are in “training,” but researchers estimate up to 1.8 million have been detained at one point or another.

The bulletins stress that relationships must be scrutinized closely, with those interrogated pushed to report the names of friends and relatives. Mamattursun Omar, a Uighur chef arrested after working in Egypt, was interrogated in four detention facilities over nine months in 2017. Omar told the AP that police asked him to verify the identities of other Uyghurs in Egypt.

Eventually, Omar says, they began torturing him to make him confess that Uighur students had gone to Egypt to take part in jihad. They strapped him to a contraption called a “tiger chair,” shocked him with electric batons, beat him with pipes and whipped him with computer cords.

“I couldn’t take it anymore,” Omar said. “I just told them what they wanted me to say.”

Omar gave the names of six others who worked at a restaurant with him in Egypt. All were sent to prison.


The documents also detail what happens after someone is sent to an “education and training centre.”

Publicly, in a recent white paper, China’s State Council said “the personal freedom of trainees at the education and training centres is protected in accordance with the law.” But internally, the documents describe facilities with police stations at the front gates, high guard towers, one-button alarms and video surveillance with no blind spots.

Detainees are only allowed to leave if absolutely necessary, for example because of illness, and even so must have somebody “specially accompany, monitor and control” them. Bath time and toilet breaks are strictly managed and controlled “to prevent escapes.” And cellphones are strictly forbidden to stop “collusion between inside and outside.”

“Escape was impossible,” said Kazakh kingergarten administrator Sayragul Sauytbay, a Communist Party member who was abducted by police in October 2017 and forced to become a Mandarin camp instructor. “In every corner in every place there were armed police.”

Sauytbay called the detention centre a “concentration camp … much more horrifying than prison,” with rape, brainwashing and torture in a “black room” were people screamed. She and another former prisoner, Zumrat Dawut, also told the ICIJ detainees were given medication that made them listless and obedient, and every move was surveilled.

AP journalists who visited Xinjiang in December 2018 saw patrol towers and high walls lined with green barbed wire fencing around camps. One camp in Artux, just north of Kashgar, sat in the middle of a vast, empty, rocky field, and appeared to include a police station at the entrance, workshops, a hospital and dormitories, one with a sign reading “House of Workers” in Chinese.

Recent satellite imagery shows that guard towers and fencing have been removed from some facilities, suggesting the region may have been softening restrictions in response to global criticism. Shohrat Zakir, the governor of Xinjiang, said in March that those detained can now request time and go home on weekends, a claim the AP could not independently verify.

The first item listed as part of the curriculum is ideological education, a bold attempt to change how detainees think and act. It is partly rooted in the ancient Chinese belief in transformation through education – taken before to terrifying extremes during the mass thought reform campaigns of Mao Zedong.

“It’s the dark days of the Cultural Revolution, except now it’s powered by high-tech,” said Zenz, the researcher.

By showing students the error of their former ways, the centres are supposed to promote “repentance and confession,” the directive said. For example, Qurban, the Kazakh herder, was handcuffed, brought to an interview with a Han Chinese leader and forced to acknowledge that he regretted visiting abroad.

The indoctrination goes along with what is called “manner education,” where behaviour is dictated down to ensuring “timely haircuts and shaves,” “regular change of clothes” and “bathing once or twice a week.” The tone, experts say, echoes a general perception by the Han Chinese government that Uyghurs are prone to violence and need to be civilized – in much the same way white colonialists treated indigenous people in the U.S., Canada and Australia.

“It’s a similar kind of saviour mentality – that these poor Uyghurs didn’t understand that they were being led astray by extremists,” said Darren Byler, a scholar of Uighur culture at the University of Washington. “The way they think about Uyghurs in general is that they are backward, that they’re not educated … these people are unhygienic and need to be taught how to clean themselves.”

Students are to be allowed a phone conversation with relatives at least once a week, and can meet them via video at least once a month, the documents say. Trainers are told to pay attention to “the ideological problems and emotional changes that arise after family communications.”

Mandarin is mandated. Beijing has said “the customs of all ethnic groups and the right to use their spoken and written languages are fully protected at the centres.” But the documents show that in practice, lessons are taught in Mandarin, and it is the language to be used in daily communication.

A former staffer at Xinjiang TV now in Europe was also selected to become a Mandarin teacher during his month-long detention in 2017. Twice a day, detainees were lined up and inspected by police, and a few were questioned in Mandarin at random, he told the AP. Those who couldn’t respond in Mandarin were beaten or deprived of food for days. Otherwise, speaking was forbidden.

One day, the former teacher recalled, an officer asked an old farmer in Mandarin whether he liked the detention centre. The man apologized in broken Mandarin and Uighur, saying it was hard for him to understand because of his age. The officer strode over and struck the old man’s head with a baton. He crumpled to the ground, bleeding.

“They didn’t see us as humans,” said the former teacher, who declined to provide his name out of fear of retribution against his family. “They treated us like animals – like pigs, cows, sheep.”

Detainees are tested on Mandarin, ideology and discipline, with “one small test per week, one medium test per month, and one big test per season,” the documents state. These test scores feed into an elaborate point system.

Detainees who do well are to be rewarded with perks like family visits, and may be allowed to “graduate” and leave. Detainees who do poorly are to be sent to a stricter “management area” with longer detention times. Former detainees told the AP that punishments included food deprivation, handcuffing, solitary confinement, beatings and torture.

Detainees’ scores are entered in the IJOP. Students are sent to separate facilities for “intensive skills training” only after at least one year of learning ideology, law and Mandarin.

After they leave, the documents stipulate, every effort should be made to get them jobs. Some detainees describe being forced to sign job contracts, working long hours for low pay and barred from leaving factory grounds during weekdays.

Qurban, the Kazakh herder, said after nine months in the camp, a supervisor came to tell him he was “forgiven” but must never tell what he had seen. After he returned to his village, officials told him he had to work in a factory.

“If you don’t go, we’ll send you back to the centre,” an official said.

Qurban went to a garment factory, which he wasn’t allowed to leave. After 53 days stitching clothes, he was released. After another month under house arrest, he finally was allowed to return to Kazakhstan and see his children. He received his salary in cash: 300 Chinese yuan, or just under $42.

Long an ordinary herder who thought little of politics, Qurban used to count many Han Chinese among his friends. Now, he said, he’s begun to hate them.

“I’ve never committed a crime, I’ve never done anything wrong,” he said. “It was beyond comprehension why they put me there.”

Source: The directives

THE XINJIANG PAPERS ‘Absolutely No Mercy’: Leaked Files Expose How China Organized Mass Detentions of Muslims

Incredibly detailed reporting on the extensive and highly organized efforts by the Chinese government to repress knowledge of its repression of its Uighur muslim minority, and the chilling nature of the Chinese bureaucracy at work.

Of note to those who preach engagement at any cost and no matter the interlocutor and subject:

The students booked their tickets home at the end of the semester, hoping for a relaxing break after exams and a summer of happy reunions with family in China’s far west.

Instead, they would soon be told that their parents were gone, relatives had vanished and neighbors were missing — all of them locked up in an expanding network of detention camps built to hold Muslim ethnic minorities.

The authorities in the Xinjiang region worried the situation was a powder keg. And so they prepared.

The leadership distributed a classified directive advising local officials to corner returning students as soon as they arrived and keep them quiet. It included a chillingly bureaucratic guide for how to handle their anguished questions, beginning with the most obvious: Where is my family?

They’re in a training school set up by the government,” the prescribed answer began. If pressed, officials were to tell students that their relatives were not criminals — yet could not leave these “schools.”
The question-and-answer script also included a barely concealed threat: Students were to be told that their behavior could either shorten or extend the detention of their relatives.
I’m sure that you will support them, because this is for their own good,” officials were advised to say, “and also for your own good.

The directive was among 403 pages of internal documents that have been shared with The New York Times in one of the most significant leaks of government papers from inside China’s ruling Communist Party in decades. They provide an unprecedented inside view of the continuing clampdown in Xinjiang, in which the authorities have corralled as many as a million ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and others into internment camps and prisons over the past three years.

Read the Full Document: What Chinese Officials Told Children Whose Families Were Put in Camps

The party has rejected international criticism of the camps and described them as job-training centers that use mild methods to fight Islamic extremism. But the documents confirm the coercive nature of the crackdown in the words and orders of the very officials who conceived and orchestrated it.

Even as the government presented its efforts in Xinjiang to the public as benevolent and unexceptional, it discussed and organized a ruthless and extraordinary campaign in these internal communications. Senior party leaders are recorded ordering drastic and urgent action against extremist violence, including the mass detentions, and discussing the consequences with cool detachment.

Children saw their parents taken away, students wondered who would pay their tuition and crops could not be planted or harvested for lack of manpower, the reports noted. Yet officials were directed to tell people who complained to be grateful for the Communist Party’s help and stay quiet.

The leaked papers offer a striking picture of how the hidden machinery of the Chinese state carried out the country’s most far-reaching internment campaign since the Mao era. The key disclosures in the documents include:

President Xi Jinping, the party chief, laid the groundwork for the crackdown in a series of speeches delivered in private to officials during and after a visit to Xinjiang in April 2014, just weeks after Uighur militants stabbed more than 150 people at a train station, killing 31. Mr. Xi called for an all-out “struggle against terrorism, infiltration and separatism” using the “organs of dictatorship,” and showing “absolutely no mercy.”

Terrorist attacks abroad and the drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan heightened the leadership’s fears and helped shape the crackdown. Officials argued that attacks in Britain resulted from policies that put “human rights above security,” and Mr. Xi urged the party to emulate aspects of America’s “war on terror” after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The internment camps in Xinjiang expanded rapidly after the appointment in August 2016 of Chen Quanguo, a zealous new party boss for the region. He distributed Mr. Xi’s speeches to justify the campaign and exhorted officials to “round up everyone who should be rounded up.”

The crackdown encountered doubts and resistance from local officials who feared it would exacerbate ethnic tensions and stifle economic growth. Mr. Chen responded by purging officials suspected of standing in his way, including one county leader who was jailed after quietly releasing thousands of inmates from the camps.

The leaked papers consist of 24 documents, some of which contain duplicated material. They include nearly 200 pages of internal speeches by Mr. Xi and other leaders, and more than 150 pages of directives and reports on the surveillance and control of the Uighur population in Xinjiang. There are also references to plans to extend restrictions on Islam to other parts of China.

The documents include 96 pages of internal speeches by Mr. Xi, 102 pages of internal speeches by other officials, 161 pages of directives and reports on the surveillance and control of the Uighur population in Xinjiang and 44 pages of material from internal investigations into local officials.

Though it is unclear how the documents were gathered and selected, the leak suggests greater discontent inside the party apparatus over the crackdown than previously known. The papers were brought to light by a member of the Chinese political establishment who requested anonymity and expressed hope that their disclosure would prevent party leaders, including Mr. Xi, from escaping culpability for the mass detentions.

The Chinese leadership wraps policymaking in secrecy, especially when it comes to Xinjiang, a resource-rich territory located on the sensitive frontier with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia. Predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups make up more than half the region’s population of 25 million. The largest of these groups are the Uighurs, who speak a Turkic language and have long faced discrimination and restrictions on cultural and religious activities.

Beijing has sought for decades to suppress Uighur resistance to Chinese rule in Xinjiang. The current crackdown began after a surge of antigovernment and anti-Chinese violence, including ethnic riots in 2009 in Urumqi, the regional capital, and a May 2014 attack on an outdoor market that killed 39 people just days before Mr. Xi convened a leadership conference in Beijing to set a new policy course for Xinjiang.

Since 2017, the authorities in Xinjiang have detained many hundreds of thousands of Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslims in internment camps. Inmates undergo months or years of indoctrination and interrogation aimed at transforming them into secular and loyal supporters of the party.

Of the 24 documents, the directive on how to handle minority students returning home to Xinjiang in the summer of 2017 offers the most detailed discussion of the indoctrination camps — and the clearest illustration of the regimented way the party told the public one story while mobilizing around a much harsher narrative internally.

Even as the document advises officials to inform students that their relatives are receiving “treatment” for exposure to radical Islam, its title refers to family members who are being “dealt with,” or chuzhi, a euphemism used in party documents to mean punishment.

Officials in Turpan, a city in eastern Xinjiang, drafted the question-and-answer script after the regional government warned local officials to prepare for the returning students. The agency coordinating efforts to “maintain stability” across Xinjiang then distributed the guide across the region and urged officials to use it as a model.

The government sends Xinjiang’s brightest young Uighurs to universities across China, with the goal of training a new generation of Uighur civil servants and teachers loyal to the party.

The crackdown has been so extensive that it affected even these elite students, the directive shows. And that made the authorities nervous.

“Returning students from other parts of China have widespread social ties across the entire country,” the directive noted. “The moment they issue incorrect opinions on WeChat, Weibo and other social media platforms, the impact is widespread and difficult to eradicate.”

The document warned that there was a “serious possibility” students might sink into “turmoil” after learning what had happened to their relatives. It recommended that police officers in plain clothes and experienced local officials meet them as soon as they returned “to show humane concern and stress the rules.”
The directive’s question-and-answer guide begins gently, with officials advised to tell the students that they have “absolutely no need to worry” about relatives who have disappeared.
Tuition for their period of study is free and so are food and living costs, and the standards are quite high,” officials were told to say, before adding that the authorities were spending more than $3 per day on meals for each detainee, “even better than the living standards that some students have back home.
If you want to see them,” the answer concluded, “we can arrange for you to have a video meeting.

The authorities anticipated, however, that this was unlikely to mollify students and provided replies to a series of other questions: When will my relatives be released? If this is for training, why can’t they come home? Can they request a leave? How will I afford school if my parents are studying and there is no one to work on the farm?

The guide recommended increasingly firm replies telling the students that their relatives had been “infected” by the “virus” of Islamic radicalism and must be quarantined and cured. Even grandparents and family members who seemed too old to carry out violence could not be spared, officials were directed to say.

“If they don’t undergo study and training, they’ll never thoroughly and fully understand the dangers of religious extremism,” one answer said, citing the civil war in Syria and the rise of the Islamic State. “No matter what age, anyone who has been infected by religious extremism must undergo study.”

Students should be grateful that the authorities had taken their relatives away, the document said.

“Treasure this chance for free education that the party and government has provided to thoroughly eradicate erroneous thinking, and also learn Chinese and job skills,” one answer said. “This offers a great foundation for a happy life for your family.”

The authorities appear to be using a scoring system to determine who can be released from the camps: The document instructed officials to tell the students that their behavior could hurt their relatives’ scores, and to assess the daily behavior of the students and record their attendance at training sessions, meetings and other activities.

Family members, including you, must abide by the state’s laws and rules, and not believe or spread rumors,” officials were told to say. “Only then can you add points for your family member, and after a period of assessment they can leave the school if they meet course completion standards.
If asked about the impact of the detentions on family finances, officials were advised to assure students that “the party and the government will do everything possible to ease your hardships.
The line that stands out most in the script, however, may be the model answer for how to respond to students who ask of their detained relatives, “Did they commit a crime?
The document instructed officials to acknowledge that they had not. “It is just that their thinking has been infected by unhealthy thoughts,” the script said.
Freedom is only possible when this ‘virus’ in their thinking is eradicated and they are in good health.

Secret Speeches

The ideas driving the mass detentions can be traced back to Xi Jinping’s first and only visit to Xinjiang as China’s leader, a tour shadowed by violence.

In 2014, little more than a year after becoming president, he spent four days in the region, and on the last day of the trip, two Uighur militants staged a suicide bombing outside a train station in Urumqi that injured nearly 80 people, one fatally.

Weeks earlier, militants with knives had gone on a rampage at another railway station, in southwest China, killing 31 people and injuring more than 140. And less than a month after Mr. Xi’s visit, assailants tossed explosives into a vegetable market in Urumqi, wounding 94 people and killing at least 39.

Against this backdrop of bloodshed, Mr. Xi delivered a series of secret speeches setting the hard-line course that culminated in the security offensive now underway in Xinjiang. While state media have alluded to these speeches, none were made public.

The text of four of them, though, were among the leaked documents — and they provide a rare, unfiltered look at the origins of the crackdown and the beliefs of the man who set it in motion.

“The methods that our comrades have at hand are too primitive,” Mr. Xi said in one talk, after inspecting a counterterrorism police squad in Urumqi. “None of these weapons is any answer for their big machete blades, ax heads and cold steel weapons.”

“We must be as harsh as them,” he added, “and show absolutely no mercy.”

In free-flowing monologues in Xinjiang and at a subsequent leadership conference on Xinjiang policy in Beijing, Mr. Xi is recorded thinking through what he called a crucial national security issue and laying out his ideas for a “people’s war” in the region.

Although he did not order mass detentions in these speeches, he called on the party to unleash the tools of “dictatorship” to eradicate radical Islam in Xinjiang.

Mr. Xi displayed a fixation with the issue that seemed to go well beyond his public remarks on the subject. He likened Islamic extremism alternately to a virus-like contagion and a dangerously addictive drug, and declared that addressing it would require “a period of painful, interventionary treatment.”

“The psychological impact of extremist religious thought on people must never be underestimated,” Mr. Xi told officials in Urumqi on April 30, 2014, the final day of his trip to Xinjiang. “People who are captured by religious extremism — male or female, old or young — have their consciences destroyed, lose their humanity and murder without blinking an eye.”

In another speech, at the leadership conclave in Beijing a month later, he warned of “the toxicity of religious extremism.”

“As soon as you believe in it,” he said, “it’s like taking a drug, and you lose your sense, go crazy and will do anything.”

In several surprising passages, given the crackdown that followed, Mr. Xi also told officials to not discriminate against Uighurs and to respect their right to worship. He warned against overreacting to natural friction between Uighurs and Han Chinese, the nation’s dominant ethnic group, and rejected proposals to try to eliminate Islam entirely in China.

“In light of separatist and terrorist forces under the banner of Islam, some people have argued that Islam should be restricted or even eradicated,” he said during the Beijing conference. He called that view “biased, even wrong.”

But Mr. Xi’s main point was unmistakable: He was leading the party in a sharp turn toward greater repression in Xinjiang.

Before Mr. Xi, the party had often described attacks in Xinjiang as the work of a few fanatics inspired and orchestrated by shadowy separatist groups abroad. But Mr. Xi argued that Islamic extremism had taken root across swaths of Uighur society.

In fact, the vast majority of Uighurs adhere to moderate traditions, though some began embracing more conservative and more public religious practices in the 1990s, despite state controls on Islam. Mr. Xi’s remarks suggest he was alarmed by the revival of public piety. He blamed lax controls on religion, suggesting that his predecessors had let down their guard.

While previous Chinese leaders emphasized economic development to stifle unrest in Xinjiang, Mr. Xi said that was not enough. He demanded an ideological cure, an effort to rewire the thinking of the region’s Muslim minorities.

“The weapons of the people’s democratic dictatorship must be wielded without any hesitation or wavering,” Mr. Xi told the leadership conference on Xinjiang policy, which convened six days after the deadly attack on the vegetable market.

The Soviet Prism

Mr. Xi is the son of an early Communist Party leader who in the 1980s supported more relaxed policies toward ethnic minority groups, and some analysts had expected he might follow his father’s milder ways when he assumed leadership of the party in November 2012.

But the speeches underscore how Mr. Xi sees risks to China through the prism of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which he blamed on ideological laxity and spineless leadership.

Across China, he set about eliminating challenges to party rule; dissidents and human rights lawyers disappeared in waves of arrests. In Xinjiang, he pointed to examples from the former Soviet bloc to argue that economic growth would not immunize a society against ethnic separatism.

The Baltic republics were among the most developed in the Soviet Union but also the first to leave when the country broke up, he told the leadership conference. Yugoslavia’s relative prosperity did not prevent its disintegration either, he added.

“We say that development is the top priority and the basis for achieving lasting security, and that’s right,” Mr. Xi said. “But it would be wrong to believe that with development every problem solves itself.”

In the speeches, Mr. Xi showed a deep familiarity with the history of Uighur resistance to Chinese rule, or at least Beijing’s official version of it, and discussed episodes rarely if ever mentioned by Chinese leaders in public, including brief periods of Uighur self-rule in the first half of the 20th century.

Violence by Uighur militants has never threatened Communist control of the region. Though attacks grew deadlier after 2009, when nearly 200 people died in ethnic riots in Urumqi, they remained relatively small, scattered and unsophisticated.

Even so, Mr. Xi warned that the violence was spilling from Xinjiang into other parts of China and could taint the party’s image of strength. Unless the threat was extinguished, Mr. Xi told the leadership conference, “social stability will suffer shocks, the general unity of people of every ethnicity will be damaged, and the broad outlook for reform, development and stability will be affected.”

Setting aside diplomatic niceties, he traced the origins of Islamic extremism in Xinjiang to the Middle East, and warned that turmoil in Syria and Afghanistan would magnify the risks for China. Uighurs had traveled to both countries, he said, and could return to China as seasoned fighters seeking an independent homeland, which they called East Turkestan.

“After the United States pulls troops out of Afghanistan, terrorist organizations positioned on the frontiers of Afghanistan and Pakistan may quickly infiltrate into Central Asia,” Mr. Xi said. “East Turkestan’s terrorists who have received real-war training in Syria and Afghanistan could at any time launch terrorist attacks in Xinjiang.”

Mr. Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, responded to the 2009 riots in Urumqi with a clampdown but he also stressed economic development as a cure for ethnic discontent — longstanding party policy. But Mr. Xi signaled a break with Mr. Hu’s approach in the speeches.

“In recent years, Xinjiang has grown very quickly and the standard of living has consistently risen, but even so ethnic separatism and terrorist violence have still been on the rise,” he said. “This goes to show that economic development does not automatically bring lasting order and security.”

Ensuring stability in Xinjiang would require a sweeping campaign of surveillance and intelligence gathering to root out resistance in Uighur society, Mr. Xi argued.

He said new technology must be part of the solution, foreshadowing the party’s deployment of facial recognition, genetic testing and big data in Xinjiang. But he also emphasized old-fashioned methods, such as neighborhood informants, and urged officials to study how Americans responded to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Like the United States, he said, China “must make the public an important resource in protecting national security.”

“We Communists should be naturals at fighting a people’s war,” he said. “We’re the best at organizing for a task.”

The only suggestion in these speeches that Mr. Xi envisioned the internment camps now at the heart of the crackdown was an endorsement of more intense indoctrination programs in Xinjiang’s prisons.

“There must be effective educational remolding and transformation of criminals,” he told officials in southern Xinjiang on the second day of his trip. “And even after these people are released, their education and transformation must continue.”

Within months, indoctrination sites began opening across Xinjiang — mostly small facilities at first, which held dozens or hundreds of Uighurs at a time for sessions intended to pressure them into disavowing devotion to Islam and professing gratitude for the party.

Then in August 2016, a hard-liner named Chen Quanguo was transferred from Tibet to govern Xinjiang. Within weeks, he called on local officials to “remobilize” around Mr. Xi’s goals and declared that Mr. Xi’s speeches “set the direction for making a success of Xinjiang.”

New security controls and a drastic expansion of the indoctrination camps followed.

The struggle against terror and to safeguard stability is a protracted war, and also a war of offense,” Mr. Chen said in a speech to the regional leadership in October 2017 that was among the leaked papers.
In another document, a record of his remarks in a video conference in August 2017, he cited “vocational skills, education training and transformation centers” as an example of “good practices” for achieving Mr. Xi’s goals for Xinjiang.

The crackdown appears to have smothered violent unrest in Xinjiang, but many experts have warned that the extreme security measures and mass detentions are likely to breed resentment that could eventually inspire worse ethnic clashes.

The camps have been condemned in Washington and other foreign capitals. As early as the May 2014 leadership conference, though, Mr. Xi anticipated international criticism and urged officials behind closed doors to ignore it.

“Don’t be afraid if hostile forces whine, or if hostile forces malign the image of Xinjiang,” he said.

‘Round Up Everyone’

The documents show there was more resistance to the crackdown inside the party than previously known — and highlight the key role that the new party boss in Xinjiang played in overcoming it.

Mr. Chen led a campaign akin to one of Mao’s turbulent political crusades, in which top-down pressure on local officials encouraged overreach and any expression of doubt was treated as a crime.

In February 2017, he told thousands of police officers and troops standing at attention in a vast square in Urumqi to prepare for a “smashing, obliterating offensive.” In the following weeks, the documents indicate, the leadership settled on plans to detain Uighurs in large numbers.

Mr. Chen issued a sweeping order: “Round up everyone who should be rounded up.” The vague phrase appears repeatedly in internal documents from 2017.

The party had previously used the phrase — “ying shou jin shou” in Chinese — when demanding that officials be vigilant and comprehensive in collecting taxes or measuring harvests. Now it was being applied to humans in directives that ordered, with no mention of judicial procedures, the detention of anyone who displayed “symptoms” of religious radicalism or antigovernment views.

The authorities laid out dozens of such signs, including common behavior among devout Uighurs such as wearing long beards, giving up smoking or drinking, studying Arabic and praying outside mosques.

Party leaders reinforced the orders with warnings about terrorism abroad and potential copycat attacks in China.

For example, a 10-page directive in June 2017 signed by Zhu Hailun, then Xinjiang’s top security official, called recent terrorist attacks in Britain “a warning and a lesson for us.” It blamed the British government’s “excessive emphasis on ‘human rights above security,’ and inadequate controls on the propagation of extremism on the internet and in society.”
It also complained of security lapses in Xinjiang, including sloppy investigations, malfunctions in surveillance equipment and the failure to hold people accused of suspicious behavior.
Keep up the detentions, it ordered. “Stick to rounding up everyone who should be rounded up,” it said. “If they’re there, round them up.

The number of people swept into the camps remains a closely guarded secret. But one of the leaked documents offers a hint of the scale of the campaign: It instructed officials to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in crowded facilities.

‘I Broke the Rules’

The orders were especially urgent and contentious in Yarkand County, a collection of rural towns and villages in southern Xinjiang where nearly all of the 900,000 residents are Uighur.

In the 2014 speeches, Mr. Xi had singled out southern Xinjiang as the front line in his fight against religious extremism. Uighurs make up close to 90 percent of the population in the south, compared to just under half in Xinjiang over all, and Mr. Xi set a long-term goal of attracting more Han Chinese settlers.

He and other party leaders ordered a quasi-military organization, the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, to accelerate efforts to settle the area with more Han Chinese, the documents show.

A few months later, more than 100 Uighur militants armed with axes and knives attacked a government office and police station in Yarkand, killing 37 people, according to government reports. In the battle, the security forces shot dead 59 assailants, the reports said.

An official named Wang Yongzhi was appointed to run Yarkand soon afterward. With his glasses and crew cut, he looked the picture of a party technocrat. He had grown up and spent his career in southern Xinjiang and was seen as a deft, seasoned official who could deliver on the party’s top priorities in the area: economic development and firm control of the Uighurs.

But among the most revealing documents in the leaked papers are two that describe Mr. Wang’s downfall — an 11-page report summarizing the party’s internal investigation into his actions, and the text of a 15-page confession that he may have given under duress. Both were distributed inside the party as a warning to officials to fall in line behind the crackdown.

Han officials like Mr. Wang serve as the party’s anchors in southern Xinjiang, watching over Uighur officials in more junior positions, and he seemed to enjoy the blessing of top leaders, including Yu Zhengsheng, then China’s most senior official for ethnic issues, who visited the county in 2015.

Mr. Wang set about beefing up security in Yarkand but he also pushed economic development to address ethnic discontent. And he sought to soften the party’s religious policies, declaring that there was nothing wrong with having a Quran at home and encouraging party officials to read it to better understand Uighur traditions.

When the mass detentions began, Mr. Wang did as he was told at first and appeared to embrace the task with zeal.

He built two sprawling new detention facilities, including one as big as 50 basketball courts, and herded 20,000 people into them.

He sharply increased funding for the security forces in 2017, more than doubling spending on outlays such as checkpoints and surveillance to 1.37 billion renminbi, or about $180 million.

And he lined up party members for a rally in a public square and urged them to press the fight against terrorists. “Wipe them out completely,” he said. “Destroy them root and branch.”

But privately, Mr. Wang had misgivings, according to the confession that he later signed, which would have been carefully vetted by the party.

He was under intense pressure to prevent an outburst of violence in Yarkand, and worried the crackdown would provoke a backlash.

The authorities set numeric targets for Uighur detentions in parts of Xinjiang, and while it is unclear if they did so in Yarkand, Mr. Wang felt the orders left no room for moderation and would poison ethnic relations in the county.

He also worried that the mass detentions would make it impossible to record the economic progress he needed to earn a promotion.

The leadership had set goals to reduce poverty in Xinjiang. But with so many working-age residents being sent to the camps, Mr. Wang was afraid the targets would be out of reach, along with his hopes for a better job.

His superiors, he wrote, were “overly ambitious and unrealistic.”

“The policies and measures taken by higher levels were at gaping odds with realities on the ground and could not be implemented in full,” he added.

To help enforce the crackdown in southern Xinjiang, Mr. Chen transferred in hundreds of officials from the north. Publicly, Mr. Wang welcomed the 62 assigned to Yarkand. Privately, he seethed that they did not understand how to work with local officials and residents.

The pressure on officials in Xinjiang to detain Uighurs and prevent fresh violence was relentless, and Mr. Wang said in the confession — presumably signed under pressure — that he drank on the job. He described one episode in which he collapsed drunk during a meeting on security.

“While reporting on my work in the afternoon meeting, I rambled incoherently,” he said. “I’d just spoken a few sentences and my head collapsed on the table. It became the biggest joke across the whole prefecture.”

Thousands of officials in Xinjiang were punished for resisting or failing to carry out the crackdown with sufficient zeal. Uighur officials were accused of protecting fellow Uighurs, and Gu Wensheng, the Han leader of another southern county, was jailed for trying to slow the detentions and shield Uighur officials, according to the documents.

Secret teams of investigators traveled across the region identifying those who were not doing enough. In 2017, the party opened more than 12,000 investigations into party members in Xinjiang for infractions in the “fight against separatism,” more than 20 times the figure in the previous year, according to official statistics.

Mr. Wang may have gone further than any other official.

Quietly, he ordered the release of more than 7,000 camp inmates — an act of defiance for which he would be detained, stripped of power and prosecuted.

I undercut, acted selectively and made my own adjustments, believing that rounding up so many people would knowingly fan conflict and deepen resentment,” Mr. Wang wrote.
Without approval and on my own initiative,” he added, “I broke the rules.

Brazen Defiance

Mr. Wang quietly disappeared from public view after September 2017.

About six months later, the party made an example of him, announcing that he was being investigated for “gravely disobeying the party central leadership’s strategy for governing Xinjiang.”

The internal report on the investigation was more direct. “He should have given his all to serving the party,” it said. “Instead, he ignored the party central leadership’s strategy for Xinjiang, and he went as far as brazen defiance.”

Both the report and Mr. Wang’s confession were read aloud to officials across Xinjiang. The message was plain: The party would not tolerate any hesitation in carrying out the mass detentions.

Propaganda outlets described Mr. Wang as irredeemably corrupt, and the internal report accused him of taking bribes on construction and mining deals and paying off superiors to win promotions.

The authorities also emphasized he was no friend of Uighurs. To hit poverty-reduction targets, he was said to have forced 1,500 families to move into unheated apartments in the middle of the winter. Some villagers burned wood indoors to keep warm, leading to injuries and deaths, his confession said.

But Mr. Wang’s greatest political sin was not revealed to the public. Instead, the authorities hid it in the internal report.

“He refused,” it said, “to round up everyone who should be rounded up.”

Source: ‘Absolutely No Mercy’: Leaked Files Expose How China Organized Mass Detentions of MuslimsMore than 400 pages of internal Chinese documents provide an unprecedented inside look at the crackdown on ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.By Austin Ramzy and Chris BuckleyPRINT EDITION‘Show Absolutely No Mercy’: Inside China’s Mass Detentions|November 17, 2019, Page A1

‘Afraid We Will Become The Next Xinjiang’: China’s Hui Muslims Face Crackdown

More on Chinese repression of religious minorities:

Gold-domed mosques and gleaming minarets once broke the monotony of the Ningxia region’s vast scrubland every few miles. This countryside here is home to some of China’s 10.5 million Hui Muslims, who have practiced Sunni or Sufi forms of Islam within tight-knit communities for centuries, mainly in the northwest and central plains. Concentrated in the Ningxia region, the Hui are China’s third-largest ethnic minority.

Now, though, virtually every mosque in Ningxia’s countryside has been denuded of its domes, part of a sweeping crackdown on China’s Muslim minorities that has reached Hui strongholds in Ningxia, in central China, and as far inland as Henan province in the east. (Up to now, Gansu province in central China has been able to keep most of its mosques intact.)

The crackdown on Muslims has been most extreme in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where scholars estimate that up to 1.5 million Muslim Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking group, and other ethnic minorities have been detained since 2016, in one of the most sophisticated surveillance states in the world.

The same restrictions that preceded the Xinjiang crackdown on Uighur Muslims are now appearing in Hui-dominated regions. NPR has learned that since April 2018, Hui mosques have been forcibly renovated or shuttered, schools demolished and religious community leaders imprisoned. Hui who have traveled internationally are increasingly detained or sent to reeducation facilities in Xinjiang.

In August 2018, in Ningxia’s Tongxin county, authorities attempted to demolish the Weizhou Grand Mosque, claiming it lacked the right building permits. Hundreds of furious residents staged a sit-in, sharing videos of their protest through popular Chinese social media platforms like WeChat and Kuaishou, a live-streaming app, faster than censors could take them down.

Taken aback, officials called off the demolition. But the victory was short-lived. In November, local government work units began visiting every household in Weizhou, pressuring residents to sign letters stating their acquiescence to “renovate” the mosque by removing its main dome and domed minarets. In some cases, Weizhou officials threatened to fire state employees if they did not sign the letter, according to multiple residents.

This month, NPR drove through Weizhou, which is now guarded by checkpoints on the only road leading in and out of town. The mosque is closed, its main dome and minarets replaced with tiled Buddhist-style pagodas, and its entrances blocked by scaffolding.

“Of course we are afraid we will become the next Xinjiang,” one Hui man told NPR. He did not provide his name for fear that authorities in Xinjiang would find him. Three years ago, he abandoned his family’s property in Xinjiang in order to transfer his residency to Tongxin county. “But what can an individual do? We can only take it year by year.”

“We say what we have to say”

Descendants of Arab traders who entered China some 1,500 years ago, the Hui pride themselves on having thoroughly assimilated into Chinese society. Unlike the Uighurs, the Hui have no distinct language, speaking Mandarin and often some Arabic. Save for the occasional white cap customarily worn by Hui men or hair coverings among women, they are often visually indistinguishable from China’s ethnic majority, the Han.

Their exemption from the harshest of religious restrictions changed in April 2018, when the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department formally took control of the State Bureau of Religious Affairs — meaning that the party now directly oversees policy for religious affairs, not the government.

“The day-to-day responsibility for managing religious activities and organizations shifted to the UFWD, and its atheist party apparatchiks, whose overarching mission is the protection of party power,” James Leibold, an associate professor at Australia’s La Trobe University and an expert on China’s ethnic minority policy, tells NPR via email.

That same April, a mass dome-removal campaign began in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province in central China, and resumed in Ningxia as part of the official effort known as chu shahua, fan ah’hua, to “combat Saudi and Arabic influence.”

All Hui-run nursery schools, child care centers and religious schools were forcibly closed in Ningxia and across Yunnan and Henan provinces, which are also home to a large number of Hui Muslims.

The United Front’s new control over Chinese ethnic and religious policy marks a substantial change, says Leibold. While the State Bureau of Religious Affairs was sometimes restrictive, it at least “saw the protection, if not promotion, of ‘normal religious activities’ as part of their mission and mandate, and many of its officials were religious practitioners themselves,” he says in his email to NPR.

Abroad, the United Front is the party body that liaises with international nonstate individuals and organizations. Domestically, the United Front has emerged as one of the most aggressive proponents of stripping away foreign influences within religious practices and bringing them under state control — making them more Chinese, a process known as “Sinification.”

“Sinification of religion in China is an important discourse of Party General Secretary Xi Jinping on the problem of religion and religious work,” Ma Jin, a United Front official, told the Islamic Association of China, a state-backed organization, in January.

“This recent crackdown on the Muslim activities is really a part of a national campaign of China today to correct what they believe are the excesses in permitting Arab-style mosques … and influence by the Middle East. The Salafi and Wahhabi groups have been pouring money in China,” says Dru Gladney, an anthropologist at Pomona College and an expert on Hui Muslims. “These restrictions through UFWD are part and parcel of government efforts to control Islamic practices, to make them more Chinese.”

In Xinjiang, Uighur-language books and films have been expunged, Uighur intellectuals imprisoned, and Uighur children sent to state-run schools to be taughtMandarin Chinese and culture.

For the Hui across China, mosques have become the major vehicle for Sinification. In April 2018, authorities began revoking the state-issued licenses given to imams who have residency outside the province in which they practice and from those who have studied abroad. In Ningxia, smaller mosques without licensed imams have been closed outright.

Ningxia sent senior leadership delegations to visit Xinjiang’s detention camps last November and signed a counterterrorism cooperation agreement with Xinjiang a month later.

Like many mosques, the Huarenjie mosque in downtown Zhengzhou, Henan, is now monitored around the clock through a network of surveillance cameras installed last year by the local public security bureau.

Emily Feng/NPR

Imams in Henan and Ningxia must now attend monthly training sessions that can last for days. There, imams told NPR, they are taught Communist ideology and state ethnic policy and discuss Xi Jinping’s speeches. Imams must then pass an exam testing their ideological knowledge in order to renew their license each year, mirroring how the government issues licenses to imams in the Xinjiang region.

“We go along with it. We say what we have to say, because it is just words, and it lets us continue to work in the mosque,” said one of the few imams still based in Henan, requesting his name be kept anonymous because of fears of political reprisal.

Fears of Saudi influence

Mosque employees say orders to demolish mosque domes and minarets are transmitted orally from local officials citing the United Front, with no written notice. The demolitions are swiftly executed at night, to avoid protests and video documentation.

“We ourselves do not even have the documents. [The United Front] takes them back at the end of each meeting,” a local Henan official says in a recording NPR listened to of a meeting between local officials and employees at a mosque whose domes were removed after the meeting.

“Party organs like the UFWD work outside the state legal system and thus have far greater power than the state bureaucracy and are not required to report back to the State Council,” the equivalent of China’s cabinet, says Leibold.

Others say officials are looking to avoid the attention that mass mosque demolitions and detentions of Muslims in Xinjiang have attracted.

“Local officials learned from Xinjiang. They know that by aggressively restricting people in obvious ways, like constructing detention centers and leaving written evidence, they might create resistance,” Tianfang, the pen name of a prominent blogger critical of China’s religious policies, told NPR.

The crackdown on China’s Hui Muslims is in part driven by the government’s fears that fundamentalist strains of Islam like Salafism and Wahhabism are filtering into China by way of Hui students who study in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and through private religious foundations on the Arabian Peninsula that have funded some Hui social enterprises and mosques.

Signs of Saudi influence, including Arabic script, are being removed across China. Hui women in Henan and Ningxia provinces say they are no longer allowed to wear the head-to-toe black abaya customary to Saudi women, and Hui shops say they no longer stock Saudi-style clothes for men or women.

Imams suspected of preaching Salafism are also promptly removed. One of them, Han Daoliang, was the imam at Huarenjie Mosque in Zhengzhou, Henan province’s capital, according to mosque attendees. Han raised his hands three times during prayer instead of just once, they said, marking him to Zhengzhou officials as a Salafi adherent.

Hui tombstones inscribed in Arabic outside Xiaomagou Mosque in Zhengzhou, Henan.

Emily Feng/NPR

Forced by local officials to resign this year, Han is now living in Malaysia, according to acquaintances. His former mosque has been given a state-appointed imam. According to a new plaque and mosque employees, the house of worship is now run by a new committee appointed by the state, with a board including two non-Muslim government officials.

“Sweep away the black and root out evil”

The crackdown on Hui Muslims is backed by a national anti-corruption effort launched by the government in 2018 to “sweep away the black and root out evil.” Posters exhorting residents to “sweep away the black” are now ubiquitous in Chinese cities and such slogans have been scrawled in graffiti on village walls.

Among the crimes the campaign targets is using “religious connections at villages and townships to form mobs,” according to implementation guidelines published late last year. State media reports say 6,885 “black and evil” criminal organizations were taken down under the campaign as of January.

The “sweep away the black” campaign has also decimated power bases outside the Communist Party structure, including among religious communities. Hui communities are now told that unauthorized religious events or proselytizing are considered gatherings of “black” forces or “underworld forces.”

Those unauthorized gatherings include Islamic schools run by Hui mosques, nearly all of which have been closed across China, particularly in Henan and Ningxia, according to residents in Henan, Ningxia, Yunnan and Gansu provinces. NPR visited multiple former Islamic schools in September, several of which looked as if they had been cleared in a hurry — with dusty bedding piled on dormitory beds and chipped dishes and other kitchenware stacked haphazardly in corners.

All taught Arabic language and some Islamic doctrine, but some are run more like vocational schools or social welfare schools for students who might be otherwise ineligible or unable to afford an education.

“We barely taught any Islamic doctrine. It was about making sure these children were educated and would not become criminals or radicalized,” said a former teacher surnamed Ma, who did not want her full name used for fear of political reprisal.

She had taught at an Islamic school in China’s southwestern Yunnan province, which closed last April. The school had stayed open despite orders in 2014 to expel all non-local students, particularly those having residency status in Xinjiang.

Ma was interrogated by police about the school’s curriculum and whether the school was distributing drugs. A common stereotype about ethnic minorities in China is that they sell drugs. One of her colleagues was held incommunicado for three days and subjected to “thought work,” or ideological training, Ma says.

Rewards for reporting suspicious behavior

In Ningxia’s Tongxin county, a rare female-only Islamic school once renowned across China’s northwest is being readied for demolition after it was shut down last April to make way for residential development.

“It is the government’s policies. Who knows if they will change and when?” one of the school employees told NPR in hushed tones. She withheld her name because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Hui residents of Tongxin say local officials are now offering rewards between $700 and $2,820 to those who report suspicious religious behavior, such as proselytizing Islam or secretly teaching Islamic texts. Some male mosque attendees have begun wearing cloth masks covering the lower half of their faces when attending daily prayers to avoid identification.

Hui who have performed the Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, fall under particular suspicion. Last year, a group of about 20 pilgrims was detained in Saudi Arabia for having the wrong visas before being sent back to China, according to two people with friends in the group. Two Hui pilgrims with residency in Xinjiang were promptly sent to low-security Xinjiang detention facilities, according to the two people with friends in the group.

“Unbearable” pressure

NPR found evidence of significant pushback from Hui seeking to delay or avoid implementing religious restrictions. Hui say they drag out orders to demolish mosque domes, and some students continue to secretly attend religious classes, despite shuttered schools.

In Henan, NPR came across one mosque in the process of “renovating” its dome by building a cover to shield it from view, a compromise between local officials who demanded its removal and nearby Hui residents who refused to do so. Mosque employees were also installing translucent plastic Arabic calligraphic inscriptions on the mosque walls – nearly invisible to all but true believers – to satisfy demands that they remove all Islamic symbols and Arabic script.

Hui Muslim men leave the Laohuasi mosque after Friday prayers in Linxia, Gansu province, in March 2018. Gansu so far has been able to keep most of its mosques intact while domes and minarets of mosques in other provinces have been altered or removed.

Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

“The Hui people have been through one storm after another, and this is a storm that will pass,” the mosque’s imam told NPR. “Who knows how the political environment may change? We do not want to spend money to tear our dome down, only to have to pay to build it up again next year.”

Fearing the worst, some younger Hui Muslims are looking to leave China and have emigrated to Malaysia and Dubai in the past few years.

“The pressure on not just one’s religious behavior, but how one lives one’s daily life, is unbearable,” said a young Hui man from Ningxia surnamed Tian, who did not want to use his full name for fear of being punished for talking to a foreign journalist. “It weighs on your chest.”

Ma Ju, a leader in a Sufi sect of Hui Muslims, left China for the United Arab Emirates in 2009 because of his outspoken criticism of religious restrictions in Xinjiang. This year, he fled to the United States, because the UAE has an extradition agreement with China.

“The oppression I saw inflicted on Tibetans 20 years ago and the Uighurs 10 years ago, has finally reached my people,” he says.

Ma Ju worries for his community back in China, especially now that technological tools like facial recognition make evading restrictions in China nearly impossible.

“You have legs, but you can’t run away,” he says. “You have money, but it’s of no use. You have a heart, but you cannot lift yourself up. This is a new kind of repression.”

Source: ‘Afraid We Will Become The Next Xinjiang’: China’s Hui Muslims Face Crackdown