The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion China is brainwashing Uighur children. How much longer will the world look away?

Razor wire and security cameras top a wall of a kindergarten in Hotan in China's Xinjiang region. (Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW EVIDENCE is emerging that the Chinese campaign to exterminate the culture and traditions of Turkic Muslim people, chiefly Uighurs, in the Xinjiang region also includes a generation of children and young people. As their parents are hauled off to concentration camps — euphemistically called “vocational education” by the Chinese authorities — the children are being herded into special boarding schools and orphanages. At these schools, the children can check in but they cannot leave. The comprehensive effort to create a separate brainwashing and imprisonment system for children deepens the evidence that China is committing a cultural genocide.

Up to 1.5 million adults in Xinjiang have been forced into the camps, where China is attempting to reeducate them as part of the Han Chinese majority, wiping out their language, traditions and culture, essentially assassinating their identity. China at first denied this was going on, but in the past year or so, incontrovertible evidence has accumulated that China is trying to delete the mind-set of a whole people. That evidence includes eyewitnesses and satellite photographs that identify the new camps.

In the last half of 2018, fresh evidence began to surface that Uighur children, too, were being sucked into the brainwashing machine. In July, the Financial Times identified the new orphanages, and in September, the Associated Press talked to 15 Muslims who described how China was separating the young children. Human Rights Watch called attention to the practices in October.

Now the BBC and a German researcher have published new details of a chilling operation to reeducate the children. Adrian Zenz of the European School of Culture and Theology in Korntal, Germany, writes in the Journal of Political Risk that China has built a system for the children that is “taking place in highly secured, centralized boarding facilities” and “driven by multi-billion dollar budgets, tight deadlines, and sophisticated digital database systems.” He adds that “this unprecedented campaign has enabled Xinjiang’s government to assimilate and indoctrinate children in closed environments by separating them from their parents.” China, Mr. Zenz says, is carrying out a “systematic campaign of social re-engineering and cultural genocide in Xinjiang.”

While the duration and intensity differ in places, he found, “In some instances, parental influence is quite possibly almost completely eliminated.” Mr. Zenz reports that in some Uighur majority regions in southern Xinjiang, preschool enrollment more than quadrupled in recent years, exceeding the average national enrollment growth rate by more than 12 times. Why? Because the parents, and in some cases both parents, have disappeared into the camps. Mr. Zenz found that lower-level governments have been keeping records that “list the exact detention situation of children with one or both parents in detention or external work, grouped by age, who are ‘in need of being cared for.’ ” He also notes the absurd doublespeak being used by the Chinese Communist Party to mask the cultural genocide, with emotional language such as “care,” “love” and “nurture” to describe the state’s facilities to brainwash the children.

How much longer will the world continue to look the other way?

Read more:

Carl Gershman: The world knows about Uighurs. There should be a rallying cry to save them.

Nathan Sales and Sam Brownback: China’s attack on Uighurs isn’t counterterrorism. It’s ugly repression.

Jonathan Schanzer: Why the United States should sanction the mastermind of China’s crackdown on the Uighurs

Rian Thum: How an American TV show captured the extent of Chinese repression

The Post’s View: What Congress can do now to combat China’s mass ethnic cleansing of Uighurs