Someone inside the Communist Party of China took a very brave decision to leak 400 pages of documents about the country’s crackdown on ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang province to an American newspaper. The documents shed some light on the creation of the camps, showing they were a response to a demand from President Xi Jinping for a crackdown on Muslim extremism.
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.”
Those speeches spread downward and party functionaries in Xinjiang quickly began setting up the mandatory re-education camps. There was resistance from some within the government who argued that the crackdown on Muslims could create a backlash. There was also concern that sending so many people to the camps for weeks or months at a time would harm the local economy. The documents received by the NY Times show those concerns were brushed aside. In fact, one government official who released several thousand inmates so they could return to work was removed from his job and prosecuted.
There was another concern local officials had about the new policy. Many college students who had been away studying for the academic year would return home to discover their parents or other relatives had disappeared. Word of that would spread on social media and create a firestorm. So officials came up with a plan to have the police greet returning students at home and inform them of the situation. The officials created a document of talking points which started off gently:
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.”
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…
“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.”
It’s an all-expense paid vacation! But officials knew that wouldn’t mollify most students who would want to know when their family members were coming home. So the document gradually worked itself up to threats which seem to involve the social credit system which China has created for prisoners in Xinjiang:
“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.”…
“Freedom is only possible when this ‘virus’ in their thinking is eradicated and they are in good health.”
The leak of the papers shows there is at least some resistance inside China to what is being done to Muslims in Xinjiang, but I suspect there is a mole hunt taking place today to root out and punish whoever leaked this. For that person’s sake, I hope they covered their tracks well.
We’re seeing the lessons of Mao’s Cultural Revolution applied to a specific ethnic group. It’s not ethnic cleansing it’s more like ethnic brainwashing. What’s striking is how similar all of this sounds to George Orwell’s “1984.” In Xinjiang, China has actually created the system Orwell envisioned in the novel, including the cameras that watch everyone all the time and the demands to show heartfelt fealty to the party or face punishment. The sad point of the novel was that with enough cruelty and focus, Big Brother’s government could make anyone turn on the people closest to them. That’s how it must seem to relatives when these re-educated Muslims eventually return home spouting Chinese propaganda.
It’s hard to overstate what a nightmare this must be for the people on the receiving end and their families, but also for some of the people tasked with administering this program. I doubt the people doing the “teaching” in these camps want to be doing it either but they have no say. There is no room in a one-party system for differences of opinion once the leader has spoken.
Finally, it needs to be said that this is what it looks like when the left goes too far. This is the leftist project come to complete fruition: The collective good (as determined by the party) taking precedence over the rights of every individual. And it’s not some fringe system happening in a small corner of the world, it’s the system currently running the world’s most populous country with more than four times the population of the United States.
I know it’s popular these days to worry the United States is turning into Gilead from the novel “Handmaid’s Tale.” But, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, people are always most afraid of the thing they are least likely to become. The US isn’t going to slide into fascism. This isn’t Germany in 1933. We ought to be much more concerned about the high-tech autocracy China is now modeling for future dictators around the world. That’s the real danger. And when that danger comes knocking on our door it won’t be in the form of a Red Dawn-style invasion, it will happen because people here at home demand it for the collective good.