Testimonies by Han Chinese about the plight of “orphaned” children in Xinjiang: freezing on streets, monitored by classmates and teachers as suspected terrorists.
by Xiang Yi
People’s hearts have been touched by the fate of “orphaned” Uyghur children whose parents are locked up in transformation through education camps in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Many have been put in orphanages and welfare homes that are more like prisons than places suitable for children to live and be educated in. Others, even toddlers, have been left to fend for themselves, as authorities “deradicalize” and “teach” their parents. Without parental care and affection, deprived of their cultural environment and forced to learn in Mandarin Chinese only, the future of these children remains bleak and uncertain.
Bitter Winter talked to a teacher and some students from Xinjiang about their experience with the children whose parents are detained in these internment camps.
Eight-year-old boy freezing on a street
A primary school teacher recounted to Bitter Winter that on a freezing November day last year she noticed an eight-year-old Uyghur boy shivering on the street. He was wearing a thin jacket, while everyone around was in sweaters and heavy coats.
“Are you cold? Why are you dressed so lightly?” the teacher asked the boy, but he said nothing.
The teacher pulled open the boy’s thin coat and was shocked to see that underneath it, he had at least four layers of short-sleeved shirts on his long-sleeved undershirt. The boy just kept looking with his big eyes, not uttering a word.
“No child should be left with no clothes to wear. Seeing an eight-year-old child freezing like this, I felt terrible,” the teacher still remembers the sadness seeing the shivering boy. “Eight-year-olds should be doted by their parents, but this Uyghur boy has been deprived of that right.”
In March 2017, the government locked up his parents in a transformation through education camp, the boy explained. There has been no word from them ever since.
The boy’s two siblings are still children as well, and they rely solely on their grandmother, who has diabetes, to look after them. For an elderly woman who is nearly 70 years old and has no source of income, life is extremely difficult; it’s even hard for them to have enough food and clothing.
“They put on everything they can wear. Their home is a mess. No one looks after their studies, and their grades are very poor,” explained one of the boy’s neighbors.
Even though they had applied for a minimum living subsidy, they haven’t received any government subsidies to date. As a result, they have to rely on a small amount of financial assistance from their relatives to scrape by.
This small amount of money does not come easily either since most people do everything they can to avoid the family members of detainees. A Hui resident said that since last year, ten of her friends had been locked up in transformation through education camps for unknown reasons. To avoid being implicated, she doesn’t dare to have any contact with the families of those detainees.
Han students assigned to monitor Muslim classmates
“They actually have no freedom. When they go out, they always have to report to their teacher and ask for permission to leave,” a Han middle school student in Xinjiang said while talking about his Muslim classmates. All of them have something in common: their family members are detained in transformation through education camps.
“One of my classmate’s brother was recently sent to a camp. A few days later, the father of another one was also locked up,” the student said. “Even though they haven’t been thrown into camps themselves, Muslim students are still controlled tightly.”
The student explained that his school assigns Han students a Muslim classmate to be monitored on a one-on-one basis. Students refer to this method as “pairing,” while the school administration claims that the initiative is meant to “learn from each other and make progress together.” In reality, it is intended to monitor the actions and thoughts of ethnic minority students.
“While in class, teachers and classmates keep an eye on them; others watch over them in dormitories – they are to be monitored at all times. In particular, during Ramadan, teachers will specially treat them to meals in order to monitor them and make sure they eat,” the student explained further. He added that if Muslim students feel sad and want to chat with other classmates whose family members are also detained, they must report to their “paired” classmate. Otherwise, they might be labeled as having a “problematic ideology.”
When asked why these children whose family members have been detained must also be monitored, another Han student explained that it is perceived that their families “teach them by words and by example.” His understanding is that the authorities believe that the children also have “extreme ideas in their minds, like, for example, use a pack of explosives to kill people.”
It is evident that under the school’s indoctrination, these ethnic Han children are already treating their innocent classmates as potential “terrorists.”