New human rights concerns are being called into question by the media and countries across the globe regarding what the Chinese are calling “re-education camps” and what others proclaim are internment camps. Xinjiang is an area home to roughly 21 million people (many of whom are Muslim). Some reporters have gone as far as to compare these “re-education” camps in Xinjiang, China to the concentration camps seen in World War II.
Satellite imagery from Dabancheng, Xinjiang in April 2018 shows buildings, resembling barracks, appearing in the desert; as of October, the images show that the size of this “re-education camp” has nearly doubled in size. Thousands of Uyghurs, or Muslim Turks, who have lived in Xinjiang for hundreds of years, are housed inside these barracks. According to sources like The New York Times, the Chinese government has traced numerous terrorist attacks back to extremists within the Uyghur community. Moreover, one attack in December 2016 left five dead, including three armed assailants from Xinjiang. Locals who were interviewed by BBC journalists, were quoted unanimously calling these facilities a “re-education school.”
Since these attacks, Sophie Richardson, Chinese Human Rights Watch Director, has been quoted saying that the Chinese government “considers the distinct religion, language, culture, education and traditional practices of this community to be a political threat.” Released persons from these camps have given their accounts in interviews describing sleep deprivation and other inhumane practices.
There have been numerous cries about human rights violations, exacerbated by the secrecy of the Chinese government and that these people have been forced into facilities without a trial. However, in order to grasp the whole story, both sides must be considered.
Dr. Meny, Upper School Latin teacher who lived in China for seven years in the early 2000s, provided insight into the Chinese culture. Meny discussed that the Western press, who released the majority of articles about the re-education camps, has an inherent negative bias toward communist countries, including China.
China’s version of communism includes Chinese characteristics such as “Confucianism, an old system based on family responsibilities,” Meny says. He explained that China centralizes around the idea of harmony within the country; this idea is shown in that culture which self-proclaims to be governed as “Communism with Chinese characteristics.”
Knowing the Chinese cultural and political climate provides perspective for Richardson’s statement about the Chinese government; some actions from the Uyghur community have disrupted the harmony while trying to spread the ideals of an Islamic state. Although not all Uyghurs are targeted, the Chinese government has chosen to put suspected individuals and their families in these facilities for the purpose of instilling Chinese ideals so they can be integrated back as active members of society.
Yue Wu ’19, an All Saints’ student from Beijing, gave another perspective on the re-education schools. Thinking back to the school she attended in Beijing, Wu stated, “I have never been to Xinjiang….[but] our culture appears very strict to western culture.” Wu argued that there are similarities between the controlled appearance of re-education schools with other schools in China for school-age students.
“[Someone] who does not understand China and what it is like could not have a full grasp on this,” said Wu.
She would go on to discuss how there are extremists in the Uyghur community who have been involved in terrorist-related events. China has chosen to reform suspects within the re-education school in groups rather than deport them or imprison individuals.
The situation in Xinjiang, China with the re-education camps is somewhat murky. Though there have been reports from reputable media sources about alleged mistreatment, the Chinese government and locals in Xinjiang have denied these allegations. One thing is for certain: The Chinese government does not want a lot of commotion about the situation.