"Asya's Fairytale Castle"

Verifiability/reliability: Moderate, from an account demonstrably involved in teaching children in Xinjiang, but ultimately figures (40+ students) based at least partially on second-hand information.

A major feature of the repressive campaign against Uyghurs in Xinjiang is the construction of boarding schools, where several hundreds of thousands of students have been placed in recent years. The New York Times in December 2019 did an excellent and rather heartwrenching report on this, with links to relevant Chinese government documents. A significant number of the boarding students appear to be ones separated from their families when their parents were detained. (Chinese state media's response to the report lauded the provision of education for students with missing parents without actually mentioning why the students had missing parents in the first place.)

The following is a brief excerpt of a post that gives an on-the-ground look at what that is like from the eyes of a teacher. It was published on WeChat in January 2018 by an account that documented the work of zhijiao (支教) teachers in the town of Baghchi, Hotan, Xinjiang (population 42,000, according to government statistics.) (Less then a 24 hours after it was publicized by Professor Timothy Grose on Twitter, the post was deleted, but an archived version is here.) Zhijiao broadly refers to educators sent out to underdeveloped areas to teach. The account, called "Outstanding Southern Xinjiang" (至行南疆), was active from 2016 to 2018, writing over 150 posts before the teachers returned home.

There is really only one thing you need to know revealed by this post: that there are orphanage-kindergartens dedicated specifically for children who do not have anyone to take care of them because both parents have been detained (and, presumably, they have no other relatives to live with). We do not know the extent to which this orphanages exist across Xinjiang, but this tracks with what we know about mass internment and incarceration in the region: it is extremely widespread, can take entire families away, and entails traumatic disruption of home life, even for toddlers.

The teachers who run the account are not Uyghur, but there are plenty of Uyghur teachers at the school, including its principal. The posts of the account make it clear the teachers enjoy their work and love the young children they care for. This does not excuse the direct role these teachers play in perpetuating coercive and traumatic mass incarceration of Uyghurs that has clearly salient impacts on families and children.

1月3号,新年的第三天,在这一天,尤卡昆幼儿园的4名幼儿,在经过上级领导慎重商讨,决定将这4名父母双亲均不在身边的幼儿送至索米爱心幼儿园。其中就有我所在小三班的一名幼儿—阿斯亚·吾吉阿布拉,一位平时就沉默少言的漂亮女生。

January 3rd, on this, the third day of the new year, it was decided after careful discussion by higher leadership that four children from Youkakun [Mandarin transliteration of Uyghur] Nursery School would be sent to Suomi [Mandarin transliteration] Compassion Nursery school because both parents [of each] are gone. One of these four was in my own Class 3, a usually quiet and very pretty girl named Asya Ghujiabla.

为什么要送至索米爱心幼儿园呢?因为在巴格其镇幼儿园中,索米爱心幼儿园是这个花园镇的后花园,记得刚来支教没多久,一次偶然机会,听夏穆提努尔园长说起过这所幼儿园的特殊,她说到:“索米爱心幼儿园座落在索米村,幼儿园规模建制跟巴格其镇其他幼儿园基本一样,而不同之处在于这所幼儿园中初衷是为父母双方被收押而无人照顾的幼儿所建立的,规模建制各项设施同巴格其镇其他幼儿园相比,都有过之而无不及,目的也是让这些幼儿能在党和政府的关怀下健康成长,而不能因父母的过错而让这些孩子失去翱翔天空的权利。在爱心幼儿园的这些幼儿采取一天24小时寄宿在幼儿园里,这里我们也配备了最具专业,极富爱心的老师,全天候关注这些幼儿,帮助这些幼儿。”

Why send them to Suomi Compassion Nursery School? Because Suomi is a special garden behind all the nursery schools in the garden town of Baghchi Township. I remember not long after arriving here I had heard by chance Principal Xiamutinu'er [Mandarin transliteration] talk about the nursery's special trait. She said "Suomi Compassion Nursery School is in Suomi village. Its scope and organization is basically the same as all the other nurseries in Baghchi, without any deficiencies in comparison, but it differs in that it was built for children who do not have anyone to care for them after both parents have been detained. The goal is for the children to grow up healthily under the care of the Party and state, so they are not denied their right to soar high in the skies because of the errors of their parrents. These children at [Suomi] Compassion Nursery School live there all hours of the day. We have the most professional, loving techers caring for the children all day and helping them."

The post then details the teacher's follow-ups about Asya. She learns from a Mr. Hu at Suomi Compassion that Asya is doing well, and that there were over 40 students like Asya there at the time. (于是我便详细的向胡老师介绍起你的一些情况,我也从胡老师口中进一步直观了解到你的新居所索米爱心幼儿园,胡老师说他是在索米幼儿园支教,担任小一班班主任,索米爱心幼儿园目前像阿斯亚这样的孩子也就40多人,人不是很多,因此为了合理利用资源,索米幼儿园与索米爱心幼儿园目前共用一个教学楼。)