Eyewitnesses talk to Bitter Winter, and confirm that data published by scholar Adrian Zenz, unlike CCP propaganda, are believable.
by Ruth Ingram
Roshangul heard the commotion outside her apartment window. Switching off the lights in her living room, she peered out through a crack in the curtain. With cameras trained on every corner of their building, she could not risk being seen but the sight was terrifying and puzzling. Sirens blaring, lights flashing and women screaming, the chaos was palpable. People were being bundled out of large, black police vans and through the jaws of the police station. Suddenly it became quiet.
All she could see now was a room at the front of the building filled with children.
We have no idea what befell these particular children, but we do know that thousands upon thousands of Uyghur children have disappeared into the claws of a system that began to tear families limb from limb, as soon as Xi Jinping’s euphemistically dubbed “New Era” began to take shape in Xinjiang in late 2016.
Their fate to date has only been hinted at and proof was hard to come by given the secrecy and denial of their “capture.” But researcher Adrian Zenz published data last week that provides firm evidence from the lips of the CCP itself of the fate of myriad children, since their parents were herded into so-called “vocational training schools,” in fact the transformation through education camps, once the iron grip of Chen Quanguo started taking Uyghurs “in hand.”
Witnesses to the first days of the round ups in early 2017, such as Roshangul, could not make sense of what their eyes were telling them. Scattered random events were gossiped throughout the Uyghur community. A son, an uncle taken away here, a brother disappeared there, government seals beginning to be pasted on doors everywhere. Arbitrary round ups on the street from time to time were commonplace, but where were they all going, and why? With no way of piecing it all together how could they possibly have known that these incidents were part of a jigsaw of internment and mass imprisonment that would see millions taken away and others sentenced to draconian extralegal jail terms.
But the implications for boundless numbers of children had yet to be unveiled.
Zenz’s latest discoveries are shocking and fly in the face of the CCP’s vehement denials last year that children were being left “orphaned” by the mass detentions of their parents. Having trawled through local government websites and procurement data last year, published in July 2019 in the Journal of Political Risk, he uncovered a grim network of heavily financed boarding facilities in the south of the province, complete with perimeter alarms, 4-layered 10,000 volt electric fences atop high walls with police guards. He found one middle school in the Yarkand area to have ordered more surveillance cameras than even some internment camps.
But despite this evidence, a senior official from Xinjiang’s Propaganda department speaking to the BBC denied that there were many families where both parents had been detained. “If all family members have been sent to vocational training then that family must have a severe problem,” maintained Xu Guixiang. “I’ve never seen such a case.”
Zenz’s latest findings prove that this official was lying. We know now that the fallout of Chen’s policies has repercussions for the future of tens of thousands of young lives who have been cynically removed from not only their loved ones, but their culture, their religion, and their language.
“For the first time, new evidence from non-public Xinjiang government spreadsheets has come to light which details the fate of over 10,000 children from the Uyghur majority population county of Yarkand,” claims Zenz. “All of these children have one or both parents in internment. The documents show how the State is caring for these children,” he explains.
Analysis of the data lead Zenz to discover that about 1,000 of these children have both parents in detention, of which a number have been placed in state-run orphanages and others in full-time boarding school facilities. The documents themselves detail the internment status of entire households, “corroborating the veracity of these lists of ‘children in difficult circumstances’ and giving us a full picture of their actual family situation,” he says.
He goes on to lament this “highly incriminating set of information that sheds further light on the dramatic social ramifications of Beijing’s actions against these ethnic minorities.”
He unearthed a master plan to dramatically expand provision of boarding facilities throughout Xinjiang. Special funds had been made available for children of families in “single or double hardship” situations, euphemistically referring to situations where either one or two parents had been interned.
Government statistics show that between 2017 and 2019, the numbers of boarding students in primary and middle schools increased by 76.9%, from 497,800 to 880,500, maintains Zenz. “This increase of 382,000 boarding school students occurred during the time frame of the internment campaign, and would have predominantly taken place in minority regions,” he revealed.
Beijing defends its general policy of boarding education for children of families from remote areas, but critics say that children at an early age are severed from their roots and in the case of those with a strong religious background such as the Uyghur students, they are subject to atheistic indoctrination. A June 2018 government directive ordered every school to provide a fully Chinese-medium education and forays into Uyghur would be severely punished.
Painstaking analysis of tens of thousands of files detailing government provision for “students in difficult circumstances” (children whose parents were interned), led Zenz to his alarming conclusion, “The fact that the state appears to have made detailed provisions for the situation of such schoolchildren provides further evidence of the systemic nature of this issue. Clearly, the boarding school system is used to contain and manage the fallout of the campaign of mass internment, while representing a core mechanism within Xinjiang’s long-term cultural genocide approach.”
Zenz details heartbreaking lists of children from the Yarkand area, one as young as a year old and many under ten, admitted to orphanages while one or both of their parents languished in camps of one sort or another. He concludes his report by suggesting that Beijing’s tactic of making itself the primary parent, is crucial to its “coercive project of social re-engineering in the region.” “At the forefront of this effort is a battle over the hearts and minds of the next generation,” he says. “A weaponized education system, enables the state to control a group from within their core and their roots rather than merely from the top down.”
Describing the boarding schools as, “highly securitized environments where students are monitored around the clock, where all human interaction inside must be conducted in the Chinese language, and where political propaganda and indoctrination are a daily ritual,” Zenz points out the horrific psychological impact of separating children from parents. “Children know that their parents’ fate can become their own if they fail to conform to the whims of the state,” he cautioned, adding that “securitized orphanage and boarding settings become environments of fear and of potential mental disorders and self-radicalization.”
He warned “Beijing’s battle for the hearts and minds of the next generation constitutes a particularly despicable aspect of its crimes against humanity in the region.”
Inabet returned ashen faced from a three-week placement to help her Han boss fulfil his obligations as a “relative” in a remote village near Hotan. It is 2018. Chen Quanguo’s plans are in full swing. She hated the drunken, overindulgent trips down to the south but knew she would be in trouble if she refused to go, or commented negatively about the visits. She tried as hard as she could to show sympathy in private to the elderly people she met on the dusty village tracks.
She was visibly shaking and tearful as she recounted the latest trip to Bitter Winter. It had only been a matter of three months since her last visit and the village had changed beyond recognition. “The only people I saw were elderly grandparents caring for toddlers,” she said. She spoke of a massive orphanage that had been built, now full of children whose parents had been taken away to camps. “They are building a second,” she said. “But they have no idea who will staff it or how they will feed the children.” She started to sob. She lived in the capital, removed from the worst excesses of government policies and so far, she had only half believed the rumors of internment and disappearance. She had not even thought about the children.
Her last foray into the heart of Xi Jinping’s “New Era” for the south of her homeland had convinced herself that the rumors were not only true, but far worse than she could have ever imagined. “Where have their parents gone?” She sobbed. “And what will become of their orphans?”