Qiu 2017: Early Chinese research on mass internment

In June 2017, Qiu Yuanyuan, a researcher at the Xinjiang Party School, an official tertiary educational institution operated by the Xinjiang Communist Party, published a study—"Closely Center upon the Main Goal—Do the Job of 'De-extremification' Transformation through Education Well" (紧紧围绕总目标 做好“去极端化”教育转化工作)—on the nascent mass detention campaign in the journal New Silk Road.

A note on provenance: like many sources that unintentionally expose holes in the government's narrative, this source has been deleted. You can see the title in the table of contents displayed on the New Silk Road's website here, though it does not offer a view of the contents and copies of the actual paper. Even the link to the article's abstract, provided by the New York Times in its September 2018 report, has been deleted, but is archived here. I received this PDF from professor Timothy Grose at the University of British Columbia. To my knowledge, it was first noted in Adrian Zenz 2018 article in Central Asian Survey. A copy of the PDF with the parts I translated highlighted can be found here.

Qiu's position as a Party cadre attached to a major Party school enabled her to conduct surveys of those detained in the early stages of the camps. The following is a translation of key portions of her article. She covers a lot of ground, but there are a few things I thought were of particular note:

  • Qiu survey results suggest that two-thirds of the people detained were unable to articulate why they were being detained in the first place. Indeed, Qiu notes that people can be rounded up for completely unrelated issues, evidently including pissing off local CCP cadres in your village. Recall that definitions of extremism in the 2017 Xinjiang De-extremification regulations were quite broad.
  • Qiu notes that the terms (Concentrated) Transformation through Education Centers, Legal Education Schools, and Rehabilitation and Correction Centers are all used by various authorities to describe the same thing (what I generally refer to as reeducation camps or just camps; the government, after admitting to their existence in 2018, has since referred to them as vocational training centers/schools).
  • These facilities are often highly securitized, adopting a medical rhetoric of infection prevention and including deployment of police, protective equipment, and surveillance systems to handle detainees. As later posts show, many of the camps are indeed functionally equivalent to prisons in terms of their staffing, equipment, and expressed desire to prevent escapes.
  • Detainees are not completely out of the woods once released. They are subject to "monitoring and control" after detention and possibly face re-detention if progress is not deemed sufficient.

This paper was published less than a year after the mass internment campaign is believed to have begun in earnest. Accordingly, there appear to be a number of growing pains in its implementation, discussion of which forms a bulk of the paper. This also appears to be why Qiu uses the term concentrated (or centralized) transformation through education (集中教育转化), to distinguish the then-novel form of rounding up huge numbers of people—with some localities resorting to quotas, Qiu admits—as opposed to previously more targeted measures. ("Transformation through education" as a phrase is older than the current phenomenon of mass internment and reeducation, which began in earnest circa early 2017.)

Finally, there are a few details here that implicitly contradict the earlier consensus among foreign researchers and academics about mass internment. First, Qiu does not mention specifically schools being used as sites of new camps, though she does mention "other sites." Since we know through contracting data (e.g. here) that this has been happening, the most likely explanation is she just didn't see it worth mentioning, or it was not widespread enough to do so—of the contracts from Zenz 2018, all of which I did or attempted to verify, most were from around the time of this paper's publication or later, including those in schools. Summer break would probably be the easiest time to begin transforming schools into camps, too. Second, Qiu identifies the targeted timelines for reeducation as 15 days, two months, or three months. This also conflicts with current understanding of timeline—plenty of former detainees have testified to being held for much longer, and relatives of current detainees have also testified as much as well. These initial timelines are thus likely aspirational, influenced by what Qiu notes is a tendency to "overestimate of the efficacy of concentrated transformation through education" (过度高估集中教育转化效果). This may also suggest China is having a much harder time "reeducating" people than originally anticipated. Go figure.

Red highlighted text is that for which I am a bit unclear on meaning/may have translated wrong. I used an OCR tool to convert the PDF, and I fixed a few errors, but some characters in the left column may still be funky.

Partial translation of Qiu 2017

From the introductory sections


In recent years, religious extremism has proliferated and spread in Xinjiang. During his inspection tour of Xinjiang, General Secretary Xi Jinping clearly pointed out that “the root of violent terrorist activity is ethnic separatism, and its ideological foundation is religious extremism.” The infiltration of religious extremist ideology is a prominent problem affecting the current social stability of Xinjiang. The greatest harm of this infiltration and spread is the collusion of ethnic separatist forces to stir up trouble; the most direct and practical threat is the frequent occurrence of violent terrorist activity. The facts overwhelmingly demonstrate that religious extremism has become a real danger to national and ethnic unity that undermines religious and social harmony and affects social stability and peaceful, lasting governance in Xinjiang, endangering the lives and property of people of all ethnic groups. For Xinjiang, which has been severely poisoned by extremism, criminal crackdown [刑事打击 lit. criminal attack/strike, i.e., penal law based "strike" campaigns] and transformation through education are two important components of "de-extremification" work.* Examining current work practice, [we see that] the crackdown on violent terrorist activity is timely, accurate and effective, and the primary role of the crackdown has fully demonstrated itself. At the same time, more systematic and scientific working mechanisms and methods for "de-extremification" transformation through education [hereafter TtE] have preliminarily formed. The present seeds, soil, and market for extremism, however, have yet to be removed. The penetration of religious extremism is still prominent, and the harm still grave; the status [or situation/circumstances] of TtE is still severe and the task remains arduous. Especially in the methods and skills of TtE, some of the work is stalled at a relatively superficial level, and the "rooting out" [治本 root out a problem] measures have fully kept up with the times. Thus, in the realm of practical operations, we still must actively explore and ponder. The work is of major significance for consolidating the results of the Strike Hard campaign, uniting the masses to the greatest extent, and laying a solid foundation for social stability.

* Notice how Qiu clearly differentiates between the use of the criminal (刑事) justice system and transformation through education/TtE. The clear implication is that the former is a extrajudicial, which makes sense: if detainees had a court hearing and trial, they'd likely at least understand the circumstances of their detention going into the camps, but as later sections show, this is not the case. There would also presumably be proceedings, etc., available in the public record, which there are not (though China does not make public criminal court hearings for alleged "terrorists" anyways).

一、充分认识教育转化工作的重要意义 1.教育转化应时而生 宗教极端主义严重毒害群众,造成文化对立,冲击世俗生活,阻得文明进步,破坏社会秩序、民族团结、宗教和谐。近年来,新疆危安暴恐活动多发频发,特别是严打专项行动开展以来,疆内被打击处理人员数量持续增长,其中大多数是我们的基本群众,但是部分被打击处理人员的亲属因长期受宗教极端思想串惑渗透,不能正确认识被打击处理人员违法犯罪事实,抵制严打行动、抗拒教育转化、仇视党和政府,一些被打击处理人员亲属甚至直接组织策划或参与危安暴恐活动,现实危害十分严重。因此,“极端化”不除,新疆将永无宁日。

I. Fully recognizing the importance of TtE 1. TtE is a timely response Religious extremism severely poisons the masses, creates cultural antagonism, impacts secular life, hinders the progress of civilization, and undermines social order, ethnic unity, and religious harmony. In recent years, violent terrorist attacks in Xinjiang have occurred frequently.* Especially since the launch of the special Strike Hard campaign, the number of people dealt with in Xinjiang has continued to increase. The majority of these people are the base masses, but a portion of these people's relatives, confused and infiltrated by religious extremist ideology, are unable to correctly understand the facts of the illegal and criminal activities of the campaign targets [lit. persons being cracked down on]. They resist the Strike Hard campaign, resist transformation through education, hate the Party and the government, and some relatives of the campaign targets even directly organize, plan or participate in violent terrorist acts. The actual harm is extremely grave. Therefore, if "extremification" is not eliminated, Xinjiang will never be at peace.

* Note what Qiu is functionally saying here—ethnic tensions and violence here are ultimately the result of Islam, not unfair treatment of Uyghurs in their ancestral lands. That possibility is not even entertained, even though Uyghurs still remain much poorer than Han in Xinjiang and racism is still an issue (see this collection of mail to the Atlantic for various perspectives on the issue following a story on the 2009 unrest).

From the paper's methodology section


Surveys we sent out across different prefectures demonstrate the efficacy of TtE. In our survey of 588 individuals in later stages or who had completed concentrated TtE in Ili, Aksu, Kashgar, and Hotan, 553 (94.4%) thought that "the law of country supersedes [lit. is greater than] religious law." 581 (98.8%) wished to learn more legal knowledge, 525 (89.7%) wanted to learn more scientific knowledge, and 32.9% wanted to learn more religious knowledge. Before their training, 67.6% were unable to recognize their mistakes,* compared to the 98.8% afterwards who could distinguish illegal religious activity. 98.8% were willing to report on others, and 99% were willing to use their personal experience as an example. This illustrates a clear increase in the targets' of concentrated TtE ideological recognition and "immunity" with respect to actively withstanding the infiltration of "extremist thought." * In other words: it appears that over two-thirds were detained for offenses they did not realize they were committing.

From the section "Prominent Problems in Transformation through Education Work"

2.教育转化工作开展还不够精准 总体看,各地在始终保持严打高压态势的同时,基本上都能做到依法打击和精准打击,绝大多数涉案人员收押抓捕事由充分,定非量刑适当,教育转化措施有力,依法处理运行有序。但是虽然严打不断深入,新间题也不断育现,例如: 一是界定不清晰,分类不统一。从调研的情况看,各地州乃至各县、乡对需要教育转化对象的界定还不够统一,不同程度存在对教育转化对象的范围界定不清晰,分类定级概念混淆,数据统计不准确的问题; 二是对象不精准,范围扩大化。在确定教育转化对象过程中,没有逐一“分类、画像”,准确评估每个人的情况;三是分类施教不精准。部分县、乡集中教育转化班不能够根据教育转化对象情况的不同分类施教,存在将严打分流人员、被打击人员亲属、特殊群体“一锅者”的现象,日常学习、生活都在一起,存在“交叉感染”的安全隐患。

2. The development of TtE work is still imprecise Overall, while maintaining a high-pressure Strike Hard campaign, all localities have basically been able to do so according to law and with precision. The vast majority of suspects detained are arrested on adequate grounds and are sentenced appropriately, the TtE measures are effective, and they are dealt with in an orderly manner per the law. But as the Strike Hard campaign continues to deepen, new issues are appearing. For example: First, delineation is unclear and classification is not unified. From the perspective of [our] research, every prefecture and even every county and township has an insufficiently unified delineation of targets of TtE, and to varying extents the delineation of the scope of TtE is unclear, classification is mixed up, and data and statistics are inaccurate. Second, targets are not precise and the scope has expanded. In the process of determining the targets of TtE, there is no "classification, individual portrait" on a per-case basis, [nor] an accurate assessment of everyone's situation. Third, classification of teaching is imprecise. Some counties' and townships' concentrated TtE classes are not taught in accordance with the specific circumstances of their targets; separated Strike Hard individuals, relatives of those detained [lit. of those attacked, but not in a physical sense], and special groups are put thrown together in a pot,* studying daily and living together, thus creating the hidden danger of "cross-infection.'

* I am not entirely clear what Qiu is referring to by "separated" Strike Hard individuals 严打分流人员. 分流 is like 'to bypass' or 'divert', so my best guess was 'Strike Hard detainees who had been designated for a dedicated process/reeducation program.'

3.教育转化流程衔接不够紧密 教育转化工作要真正做到教育、帮扶、管控紧密结合,教管理工作环环相扣,这样才能真正实现教育转化的目的。当前存在的突出问题主要有: 一是在教育转化对象的选定过程中,村选、乡审、县定的流程不够紧密。个别地方存在将不服从管理、与村干部有了矛盾的人员纳人教育转化对象范畴和盲目定教育转化对象数量指标的错误做法,容易导致矛盾激化。二是后续帮教服务措施落实不到位。由于乡村两级人员力量有限和过度高估集中教育转化效果,对大量的教育转化对象后续的帮教、服务、管理工作不能及时跟进,存在教育转化效果反复的隐患, 个别地方对困难教育转化对象帮扶救助工作办法不多、效果一般化。三是集中教育转化与重点人员等级动态调整变动没有很好衔接。一些地方对重点人员和特殊群体动态调整或撤控的程序标准不清楚,不能够及时研究已转化人员的调整或撤控工作。换而言之,就是集中教育转化的成果,并没有与重点人员和特殊群体的管控等级变动相结合。四是集中教育转化前、中、后评估考核衔接不够紧密。三段评估考核相对独立,不能够全流程、全面评估、考核教育转化对象的现实表现。

3. Links in the TtE process are not tight enough TtE work must truly achieve close integration of education, assistance, and management and control. Education management work is thoroughly interconnected so as to truly realize the goals of TtE. At present, prominent issues are mainly as follows: First, when selecting educational transformation targets, the process of village selection, township review, and county confirmation is not tight [i.e. not meticulous, uniform, systematic] enough. In some places, there are mistakes such as including people who do not obey management [of] and have conflicts with village cadres as targets of TtE or blindly designating quotas for targets of TtE, which can easily lead to intensification of conflict. Second, the follow-up mentorship and education service measures have not been implemented properly. Due to the limited authority of the village and township personnel and the overestimation of the efficacy of concentrated TtE, follow-up mentorship, service, and management work for a large number of post-education transformation targets are not carried out. There is a hidden danger of repeated TtE [i.e. being re-detained], and some places have few methods for the assistance and aid of targets, generalizing their effect [as opposed to personalizing them based on individuals' circumstances]. Third, concentrated TtE and key individuals* grade changes and adjustments are not well connected. In some places, there are unclear processes and standards with adjustments or chekong** [lit. control-removal] for key individuals and special groups, [such that one] cannot research adjustment or chekong work for individuals who have undergone transformation. In other words, the results of TtE are not integrated at all with the changes in control grades of key individuals and special groups. Fourth, linkage between pre-, para-, and post-TtE assessment and appraisal is not tight. The three stages of assessment and appraisal are relatively independent [of each other], [so one] cannot comprehensively assess and appraise the actual performance of TtE targets throughout the entire process.

* Key individuals [重点人员] are, most broadly, those considered potential threats to national security and public order. Emile Dirks wrote about the classification in Jamestown's China Brief. Jamestown is a rather hawkish organization, but the relevant parts of the article provide a fairly straightforward examination of what the term key individuals means based on Chinese sources. ** Adjustments, here, is literally 'trend/developments/changes adjustment' (动态调整), which appears to be referring to the 'control grade changes' (管控等级变动) mentioned in the following sentence. It would seem that this in turn refers to different levels of scrutiny and restriction/control placed on different detainees. In legal terms, chekong means 'to drop/rescind charges,' but in this extralegal context the best translation of chekong would be 'removal of control measures' that evidently follow a detainee's release.

[I skipped sub-section 4, it was boring and not very relevant]

5. 教育转化管理模式和机构设置不统一 从管理模式看,有政法综治部门牵头的,有人大政协牵头的,有司法行政部门牵头的; 从机构设置看,有在县市、乡镇、村分设三级教育转化培训机构的,有只设置县市一级教育转化培训机构的;从培训地点看,有设置在公安看守所和拘留所的,有设置在警察培训中心的,有新建改建的; 从场所名称看,有称集中教育转化培训中心的、有称法制学校的、有称康复矫治中心的;从转化时间看,有3个月的、有2个月的、有15天的等。

5. TtE management methods and organizations are not unified [i.e standardized, coherent] In terms of management, some [TtE programs] are led by Political and Legal Affairs and Comprehensive Social Management departments, some by People's Consultative Conferences, and some by Ministry of Justice administrative departments. In terms of organizational setup, there are TtE training organizations established respectively at three levels by counties or cities, townships, and villages, and some are established at a single county or city level.* In terms of location, some are established in public security bureau [i.e. police] detention facilities, some are built in police training centers, and some are newly built or renovated. In terms of site naming, some are called concentrated TtE training centers, some are called legal education schools, and some are called rehabilitation and correction centers. In terms of timeline, some are for three months, some are for two months, and some are for 15 days.

* What Qiu is saying here, in case my translation is too choppy, is that in some areas of Xinjiang, TtE centers are set up (and presumably coordinated) across the administrative hierarchy, whereas in other places, counties or cities (the next largest administrative units below the prefecture; what is called a "city" in China is often more akin to a large metropolitan area/very large county in the US) will set up a single center under the authority of that county or municipality.

From a section entitled "Exploration of and Recommendations for Present 'De-extremification' Transformation through Education Work." Pay attention to how quickly this section shifts from what sounds like mundane educational recommendations (share resources! hold conferences! make sure teaching materials are standardized!) to language of securitization and disease to describe detainees—most of whom at first, as Qiu established herself a few paragraphs above—are not sure of what they have done wrong in the first place.

4. 保障措施的强化是做好教育转化工作的重要基础 首先,强化工作队伍建设。从事教育转化工作人员的能力素质决定着教育转化的质量和效果。所以要建立和培养一定数量、人员相对稳定、熟悉教育转化工作的队伍。通过业务培训、外出学习、实战锻炼、理论研讨等多种方式,提高其业务素质和工作能力。特别是在工作思路上、转化方法上要有创新,在攻坚克难方面能拿出切实可行方案。同时要有广度地掌握哲学、宗教、心理学、自然科学等学科知识,综合运用到各种转化的方式中,形成多层次、多角度的转化手法,为攻坚克难提供多种工作模式。

4. Strengthening guarantee measures is an important foundation for doing TtE well First, strengthen the building of work teams. The quality and ability of TtE personnel determines the quality and efficacy of the work. Thus we must establish teams in specific numbers, with fairly stable personnel, and which are familiar with TtE work. Through training, offsite learning, front line experience, theoretical discussion and other methods, [we can] raise their professional quality and work ability. Particularly in terms of their working thought and methods of transformation, creativity is necessary [so that they] can come up with feasible solutions in difficult aspects. At the same time they must have a broad understanding of philosophy, religion, psychology, and the natural sciences, and while employing every type of composite method, creating a multilayered, multi-angle means of transformation, offering multiple working methods for overcoming difficulties.

其次,强化优质资源整合。在教育转化过程中,各地应结合自身资源和优势,组建法律工作者、爱国宗教人士、心理咨询专家、和群众工作专家、科技骨干队伍等专家型授课队伍,培养一批攻坚的专家能手,使教育培训更具针对性、实效性; 要充分挖掘提炼身边教育转化典型案例,充实授课内容,加大区域内教育转化授课资源共享,定期开展培训、经验交流活动,切实解决基层教育转化材料内容单一、形式简单、数量短缺等问题,努力做到“转化一人、教育一批、影响一片”,实现教转成果最大化。

Second, strengthen the integration of superior resources. In the process of TtE, all localities must integrate their own resources and strengths, organizing instruction teams of legal workers, patriotic religious figures, psychological counseling experts, experts in working with the masses, and technological backbone teams, cultivating a group of dedicated, able specialists, so as to make educational training more targeted and effective. [We] must fully extract and refine model cases of TtE around us, enrich teaching content, expand the sharing of TtE teaching materials within the region, and regularly hold training and experience exchange activities. [We must] solve problems of individual [as opposed to common/shared] teaching materials, simplistic formats, and insufficient quantity [of... something? This is vague.] at the basic level of TtE and strive to achieve "transforming one person, educating a group, and [thus] influencing everywhere," maximizing the results of TtE.

第三,强化安保力量配置。地(州、市) 、县(市、区 )教育转化培训中心应配齐必要的防护设备,装备具有音视频功能监控设备及高清摄像头,配备必要的管理人员、安保力量,确保教育转化对象有人负责、有人管理,防止交又感染和安全隐患。应做好与属地维稳力量的联勤联动,将集中教育培训场所纳入当地社会面防控重点,在其周边预置足够警力,在重大敏感节点提升安保等级; 开展经常性隐患排查,及时发现、封堵风险漏洞,确保场所和人员的绝对安全。

Third, strengthen the deployment of security forces. Prefectural, city, county, and district TtE training centers must be equipped with necessary protective equipment, audiovisual monitoring equipment and high-definition cameras, and the necessary management personnel and security forces to ensure that there is someone responsible and managing targets of TtE, preventing cross-infection and hidden safety hazards. It is necessary to do a good job in linking together with local stability maintenance forces and incorporating concentrated TtE locations into the local social prevention and control foci, provide sufficient police forces in [the centers'] surrounding areas in advance, and raise security levels at sensitive nodes [I'm not sure what that specifically is referring to]. [We must] enact regular inspections for hidden dangers to discover them in time and block up risky cracks so as to ensure the absolute safety of the facilities and people therein.

5.后续巩固的衔接是做好教育转化工作的关键环节 实践证明,攻坚与巩固应当有机的结合起来,形成完整的工作链条。当前从集中教育转化班走出的人员面临着受宗教极端势力的再次渗透患惑、社会的歧视、实际困难无法根本性解决等问题,有可能导致其出现思想反复、教育转化效果巩固难等现象。可以说集中教育转化、后续跟踪帮教、回归融人社会每一步都是关键环节,如有一环太薄弱,整个链条就等于失去作用,所以要把搞好衔接、加强帮教、解决思想和实际问题等工作进一步抓好、夯实。

5. Linkage to follow-up reinforcement is a key segment of doing a good job in TtE work Practice demonstrates that overcoming [problems fixed by TtE, etc.] and reinforcing [its results] must be integrated and form into a complete working chain. At present people leave concentrated TtE facing problems of renewed infiltration of religious extremist forces, social discrimination, and intractable practical difficulties, which may result in relapse in thought and difficulty in reinforcing the results of TtE. It can be said that concentrated TtE, subsequent following-up and mentorship, and reintegration into society are all key segments in the process; if one segment is too weak, the chain loses its efficacy, so [we] must work even harder and firmer to in the work of grasping well the links, strengthening mentorship, and solving ideological and practical problems.