"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 (Less then a 24 hours after it was publicized by Professor Timothy Grose on Twitter, the post was deleted, but an archived version is here.)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.


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.


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。)