Breaking Down the Xinjiang Crisis

Last major update: June 2021


This is an ongoing effort to establish an evidence-based picture of what is occurring in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. This project is aimed at those, particularly among the left, who are skeptical of claims made by predominantly western media and governments where geopolitical motives to falsify or exaggerate problems in China can feasibly exist.

In early 2017, the Chinese government drastically heightened a campaign to systematically root out the "three evils" of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism. To that end, it has deployed mass internment in reeducation camps, mass incarceration, and a wide range of other coercive acts that suppress Uyghur cultural and religious identity, far outstripping any measures it had taken up until that point. The collective trauma forced upon Uyghurs both in China and abroad is morally indefensible.

Over the last thirty years, several hundred innocent people have been murdered in China as a result of terrorist attacks. In many ways similar the United States' War on Terror in the Middle East, under the justification of counterterrorism, China is inflicting serious harm upon innocent people in Xinjiang. The scale of death is far lower than the United States' invasions, but that does not make the Chinese state benevolent. I firmly believe that any principled individual—left-wing or not—must be willing to admit that neither Washington nor Beijing have mastered a compassionate, humane, and sensible counterterrorism policy.

Through side-by-side translations of primary source documents, critical analysis and summary of research reports, and examination of common objections raised in response, I try to make the case for considering Xinjiang a site of crimes against humanity, and arguably at least some form of cultural genocide. (Unlike some activists and scholars, I do not consider the bare term genocide accurate based on the current state of affairs and evidence available, something I discuss at length in the essay "Xinjiang, international law, and genocide" in Part III.) In light of the evidence presented here, I have precisely zero tolerance for the small but vocal minority of the left that claims to oppose racism, colonialism, mass incarceration, and other such evils as they arise in the West, but bafflingly turn a blind eye to similar sins committed under a red flag.

寻找中文资料的朋友,我很推荐Talking About Xinjiang双语网站。不列顛哥倫比亞大學也提供一些长篇文章的翻译,值得参考。

Part I: Background/preliminary evidence

This section focuses on background to and the early stages of current policy in Xinjiang (up to early 2017, when the current stage of crisis is generally considered to have begun), and a critical analysis of the research paper published by Adrian Zenz in 2018 that used Chinese documentation to demonstrate the existence of a widespread network of reeducation camps despite the government’s repeated denials.

The 2017 Xinjiang De-extremification Regulations
Which ethnic group do you belong to? and other subversive questions
Qiu 2017: Early Chinese research on mass internment
PRC denial of reeducation centers at the UN
Zenz 2018, "Towards a Healthy Heart Attitude"

Part II: Primary evidence—testimony, leaked documents, satellite imagery; further developments and discoveries

In late 2018, the Chinese government pivoted from avoidance of almost any discussion of the camps to an all-out public relations campaign (and formal, legal acknowledgment of their existence). By 2019, the narrative had changed from from "reeducation camps do not exist; those are just training facilities for minor criminals" (i.e. denying the existence of extralegal detention facilities) to "those are humane vocational training schools for non-criminals”. To be clear, it still rejects the term “reeducation camp”, but as this section should make clear, the focus of these facilities is far from primarily vocational. This section provides translation and analysis of a wide variety of evidence—from firsthand accounts by Party cadres, a short table of victim testimony, descriptions of outside visitors' impressiond of Xinjiang, and leaked government documents—to demonstrate the stark holes in the existing official narrative.

Satellite imagery: what it can and cannot tell us
Numbers: How many have been taken?
Leaked Chinese government documents
Select table of victim and relative testimony
Outsiders' accounts of Xinjiang
Translations of additional Chinese sources

Part III: Genocide?

Beginning in 2020, several Western governments moved to declare the atrocities committed in Xinjiang as genocide under international law. This designation is still somewhat contentious. Accusations of forced labor, forced sterilization, and colonialism are also prevalent, and are closely related to discussion of genocide. But what does genocide mean, and does the term ultimately apply to what is happening in Xinjiang? From Part II, we see evidence of a system of internment and increasingly, a shift to incarceration that is coercive, extensive, and per the accounts of many victims and their relatives, deeply traumatic. This on its own, however, does not necessarily mean a genocide is occurring under the strict definitions of international law, horrendous they may be. Nevertheless, they represent credible crimes against humanity and morally demand condemnation.

Suppression of birthrates
Settler colonialism and the XPCC
Xinjiang, international law, and genocide

Part IV: Answering objections—denialist documents, common arguments, and PRC media depictions

The following essays are attempts at comprehensive rebuttals to common objections raised by those who deny the existence of severe human rights abuses in the region. Some of these objections have merit, but many are baseless.

But some Uyghur on Twitter lied! This is Nayirah 2.0!
But journalists and observers are allowed to visit!
But all the Muslim countries support China!
But an Army colonel said it's all a plot!

▫️ But there are no refugees!

▫️ Addendum: list of pro-Uyghur disinformation and false Western reporting

Miscellaneous debunks and counter-rants

Other resources:

List of academics on Xinjiang
List of diaspora voices