Since America’s chattering class has spent a freakish amount of time this past week debating what does and doesn’t count as a “concentration camp,” here’s something much closer to the traditional definition. This is more accurately regarded as an internment or reeducation camp, I suppose, since the goal is brainwashing, not hard labor unto death. But the scale of the concentration is vast: Last August the Journal that upwards of one million Muslim Uighurs, roughly seven percent of the population of China’s Xinjiang region, had been packed off to 1,300+ camps for “reeducation.” A more recent estimate by CFR says the number may run as high as two million. It’s a modern-day gulag, being operated on an industrial scale, and you scarcely hear about it. Including and especially from Muslim governments abroad, which are more interested in preserving their economic relationships with China than in human rights for members of their faith.
It doesn’t take much to get thrown in the camp, and it’s not just the camps that one has to fear in Xinjiang:
Most people in the camps have never been charged with crimes and have no legal avenues to challenge their detentions. The detainees seem to have been targeted for a variety of reasons, according to media reports, including traveling to or contacting people from any of the twenty-six countries China considers sensitive, such as Turkey and Afghanistan; attending services at mosques; and sending texts containing Quranic verses. Often, their only crime is being Muslim, human rights groups say, adding that many Uighurs have been labeled as extremists simply for practicing their religion…
Experts say Xinjiang has been turned into a surveillance state that relies on cutting-edge technology to monitor millions of people. Under Xinjiang’s Communist Party leader, Chen, Xinjiang was placed under a grid-management system, as described in media reports, in which cities and villages were split into squares of about five hundred people. Each square has a police station that closely monitors inhabitants by regularly scanning their identification cards, taking their photographs and fingerprints, and searching their cell phones. In some cities, like Kashgar in western Xinjiang, police checkpoints are found every one hundred yards or so, and facial-recognition cameras are everywhere. The government also collects and store citizens’ biometric data through a required program advertised as Physicals for All.
What could the Soviets have done with 2019 surveillance technology? We’re finding out.
Although the monitoring methods are new, the indoctrination methods are not. From the WSJ’s report:
The prisoners were awakened at 5 a.m. each morning and after a 45-minute run, shouting “The Communist Party is good!” were fed thin soup and steamed bread, he said.
Next came political classes, which included reading Communist Party documents, watching videos about President Xi Jinping and singing patriotic songs such as “Without the Communist Party, there wouldn’t be a new China!” for up to four hours daily…
“They said we should give thanks not to Allah, but to Xi Jinping,” said one Uighur former inmate, who declined to be identified.
A sign at one camp in Turpan reads, “Sense the party’s kindness, obey the party’s words, follow the party’s lead,” which reads like a parody of “1984.” Reportedly, those who fail to make “satisfactory progress” are punished with “solitary confinement, food deprivation, being forced to stand against a wall for extended periods, being shackled to a wall or bolted by wrists and ankles into a rigid ‘tiger chair,’ and possibly waterboarding and electric shocks.”
The camps have been around for at least five years but the Chinese government began expanding them rapidly in 2017. Only recently, however, were western journalists finally allowed to visit them. Or, I should say, some of them: What you’re about to see is obviously the Chinese version of a Potemkin Village, far cheerier and more sociable than the reality for most prisoners. (The Nazis played this game too.) I wonder if a glimpse at the brutal reality in most camps would be as frightening as the smiley, zombified dancing for the camera in the Potemkin Village, since the latter leaves you wondering what sort of unspeakable horror might have been inflicted on these people to get them to play along to this extent.
If they were released tomorrow, would they drop the act and speak up about what they suffered? Or would their new “programming” continue to guide their thoughts?
Bear in mind as you watch that this is the face of the camps China *wants* to present to the world. This is what they think will put western critics at ease — Uighurs “happily” chanting hymns to the party as government minders watch from the back of the room.