“Like we were enemies in a war”

China’s Mass Internment, Torture and Persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang

“Like we were enemies in a war” China’s Mass Internment, Torture and Persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang

Illustrations by Molly Crabapple


Language training

Teaching Chinese was a primary objective of the “education” that detainees received in the camps. Speaking in any other language was forbidden and was a punishable offence. Language classes took up the majority of the time in a day. Nearly all former detainees reported having to regularly pass language exams and being required to learn a certain number of Chinese characters – often 3,000 – before being released. [[[Amnesty International interviews.]]] This is consistent with leaked government documents that stipulate regular examinations and state that test scores “will be aggregated to form study points, which are used to evaluate the effect of the education and training and form the main basis to determine whether a student has completed (their course).” [[[The Telegram (previously cited), para 10.]]] Inmates who failed to memorize words or songs were often physically punished. [[[Amnesty International interviews.]]]

Detainees were sometimes divided according to their language abilities; however, many former detainees who spoke fluent Chinese reported being forced to sit in basic classes and many former detainees who did not speak any Chinese reported not understanding anything said in class for months. [[[Amnesty International interviews.]]] Many detainees expressed difficulty with the classes. “The classes were mainly Chinese language, but it wasn’t helpful. Each day they just wrote hundreds of characters on the board. We just copied. No one tried to explain,” Erkin told Amnesty International. [[[Amnesty International interviews.]]] “We were under pressure to learn 3,000 characters. There were many exams. I graduated from high school and it was hard for me. It was very hard for old people and for farmers,” Aitugan told Amnesty. [[[Amnesty International interviews.]]]

Daulet, who spent a year in a camp for visiting Kazakhstan and for an alleged offence related to religion, told Amnesty how the language classes involved rote memorization:

During the class there was a Han teacher who wrote Chinese characters on a board and we just copied it without knowing what it was. That was it. We just wrote characters… It was just language… We were not allowed to speak Uyghur in class. If you did [speak a language other than Mandarin], you got punished. You were taken to a room with a tiger chair… I was taken twice. [[[Amnesty International interviews.]]]