As the crisis in Xinjiang continues, new information continues to reveal the Chinese government’s pernicious and deceptive methods of political control. New reports detail how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is now systematically separating Uighur children and parents to transform their communities and shape their individual responses to God-given choices.
Many children who have lost one or both parents to internment or prison camps are evaluated for “centralized care.” Satellite imagery evidence confirms the state-sponsored construction of dormitories and boarding schools within the past year; this has been coupled with a spike in preschool enrollment in Xinjiang that is 12 times higher than the national average. Large numbers of children have been relocated to areas for schooling or are placed in orphanages.
Due to a lack of reporting and the Chinese government’s unwillingness to release statistics, the exact size and scope of this intergenerational separation are unclear. However, an estimated 800,000 – 1.1 million Uighurs are currently held in political reeducation centers. And this is a conservative estimate—the number is perhaps closer to 3 million Uighurs. This psychological endeavor is part of the Chinese government’s campaign to “Sinicize religion”—a phrase describing the secularization of religion to suit the CCP’s ends.
At a press conference in 2018, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said the camps in Xinjiang would promote “stability, development, and harmony.” But the world knows better. This is transformation through coerced reeducation.
The campaign for intergenerational separation should not be surprising. It is clearly part of a broader tactic by the Chinese government to brainwash and reeducate the Uighur population, ridding of them of so-called “wrong thinking” or extremism, which the CCP associates with their Muslim faith.
It also shouldn’t come as a surprise that the tactics bear a striking resemblance to those used in the Cultural Revolution. As Olivia Enos of the Heritage Foundation notes:
The underlying premise of China’s mass incarceration of Uighurs is to re-educate and reorient their lives and culture around the Chinese Communist Party.
Now, the CCP severs children from their roots by engineering the minds of little ones under the guise of education. Teachers argue the children will create “better life habits” through prescribed thought education that involves eliminating the use of the Uighur language and using repetitive, forced lessons in Mandarin. Mesmerizing and deceptive words like “love,” “nurture,” and “kindness” mask the distorted reality of what is taking place—essentially cultural genocide. These “Little Angel Schools”—complete with surveillance systems, alarms, patrol officers, and electric fences—betray the ugly truth that they are designed to imprison children. The reality is these children will check into school but never leave.
There are several policy solutions the US should implement—which Enos outlines in detail here. Ultimately, this new evidence of the Chinese crackdown on religious thought and practice should reaffirm the United States’ need to continue championing one of the most important and basic human rights: the right to religious freedom. The Heritage Foundation recently hosted a talk with Robert George, director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, on the link between natural law and religious freedom. In the talk, George remarked that one of the fundamental rights of human existence is the ability to exercise religious freedom—to raise fundamental questions of meaning and value, answer them honestly, and then live with authenticity and integrity in light of those answers. Religious freedom entails both the freedom to personally hold beliefs and also advocate peacefully for them in the public square.
In light of this understanding of religious freedom, the cultural genocide of Uighurs at the hands of the CCP becomes especially chilling. The Chinese government doesn’t even want to grant the Uighur people the basic religious freedom to personally hold a belief, much less to advocate for it in the marketplace of ideas. The logic is simple and cruel: there will be no marketplace of ideas if people are not allowed to think certain thoughts.
There is no question that the CCP does not uphold religious freedom. Law-abiding Uighurs have a fundamental right to religious freedom, not only to hold beliefs personally but to express them publicly. Children deserve to be taught by this principle and educated by their parents, not brainwashed by government-run prisons. Any attempts to silence and reeducate these little ones in the name of harmony and stability should be unequivocally condemned.