Brainwashing, Police Guards and Coercive Internment: Evidence from Chinese Government Documents about the Nature and Extent of Xinjiang’s “Vocational Training Internment Camps”
  • Mon, 07/01/2019 - 21:48

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2019

By Adrian Zenz, Independent Researcher


In the wake of growing international criticism, the Chinese government has sought to counter human rights accusations over its re-education and internment campaign in Xinjiang through an elaborate propaganda campaign. This campaign portrays the region’s network of so-called “Vocational Skills Education Training Centers” (zhiye jineng jiaoyu peixun zhongxin 职业技能教育培训中心) as benign training institutions that offer persons who committed minor offenses a gracious and beneficial alternative to formal prosecution. Since late 2018, the state has invited media and official representatives from other nations and even from the western media to participate in official and closely-chaperoned tours of a select number of “showcase” centers.[1]

Based on the government’s own statements, this article seeks to decisively refute these propaganda claims. Official documents and related media reports that are not designed for international audiences paint a very different picture of these “centers” – a picture that confirms the growing body of first-hand witness accounts.

Below, Xinjiang’s “Vocational Skills Education Training Centers” are referred to as “Vocational Training Internment Camps” (VTICs). This terminology acknowledges that these facilities offer some form of vocational training, although this “training” only constitutes a relatively small part of the whole indoctrination package. At the same time, this terminology clarifies that these facilities function in a prison-like internment fashion.

Specifically, this article will show the following:

  1. According to numerous Xinjiang government websites, VTICs “wash clean the brains” of those interned in them. Those subjected to such coerced brainwashing are referred to as “re-education persons”, which is the exact same term used for detained Falun Gong members.
  2. Specifically, those interned in VTICs are called “detained re-education persons”. Numerous documents make clear that these “trainees” are in involuntary detention. The author never found a single government document that supports government claims that people willingly consent to being placed into a VTIC, they sign any kind of agreement to that end, or they can request leave.
  3. VTICs are guarded by large, dedicated police detachments. In one case, the number of security guards was over twice as high as that of the camp’s teaching staff. In another county, the wages of the designated VTIC police force were budgeted to be nearly three times as high as this county’s entire regular vocational education budget. Government regulations specify that VTICs must implement “escape prevention” measures that also apply to prisons. Also, VTICs frequently have their own police stations on their compounds.
  4. VTICs are administered by newly established “education and training bureaus” (ETBs) that fall under the authority of the criminal justice system and are funded from domestic security budgets.
  5. VTICs represent only one of up to 8 forms of extrajudicial internment in Xinjiang. In 2016, prior to the large-scale internment campaign, one Uyghur population majority area had already placed nearly 10 percent of its adult population in dedicated re-education facilities. In 2018, the Xinjiang government gave about 1.6 billion RMB in VTIC food subsidies to its minority regions, enough to feed several hundred thousand or more persons. Overall, the author suggests a speculative upper limit estimate of 1.5 million, corresponding to one in six adult members of these minority groups.
  6. Chinese claims that Xinjiang has no “re-education camps” are simultaneously true and false. They are superficially true in that such denials use a Chinese term for “re-education” that the government itself never employs. However, they are also manifestly false, given there is abundant evidence from government documents that there are several types of dedicated re-education facilities in Xinjiang, and that the officially-stated primary goal of the VTICs is not vocational training but “transformation through education”. Government claims that Xinjiang has no “concentration camps” are both semantically and technically false, and contradicted by the state’s own terminology. Even so, using this term as the primary phrase to describe the camps is ultimately not helpful.

Being aware of this, the Chinese state has been using varied and ingenious terms for VTICs in its online publications, some of them evidently designed to obstruct or even prevent targeted keyword searches. For example, some government documents conceal the term “Education Training Center” (教培中心), a common short form of the full term, with an asterisk or other ASCII characters, as in “职业技能*”, or “◇◇◇◇”, or else through a mix of Latin and Chinese characters (“JP 中心”) that appear to serve no other logical purpose than obfuscation.[2] The first method is very effective for preventing keyword searches, because Google and other search engines cannot actually search for the asterisk character itself.

As China’s propaganda campaign progresses, this article urgently seeks to disseminate crucial and potentially incriminating evidence about the real nature and purpose of the region’s VTIC network. The empirical evidence discussed below should suffice to support significant, concrete actions by the international community against this unprecedented atrocity.

Xinjiang’s Vocational Training Internment Camps “Wash Brains”

Official documentation repeatedly and unambiguously testifies to the fact that Xinjiang’s VTICs engage in known and pre-existing forms of coercive and abusive political re-education. At least five different Xinjiang government or educational institution websites clearly and unambiguously state that VTICs are dedicated brain-washing institutions. To quote:

Vocational Skills Education Training Centers wash clean the brains of people who became bewitched by the extreme religious ideologies of the ‘three forces’.[3]

The 2017 work report of Xinyuan County’s justice bureau puts this in perhaps even more drastic terms. Under the heading “centralized transformation through education work”, the report states that re-education work must “wash brains, cleanse hearts, support the right, remove the wrong” (xinao jingxin fuzheng quxie 洗脑净心扶正祛邪).[4]

The method by which the Chinese authorities “wash clean the brains” or “cleanse hearts” is no secret. This Chinese term for the re-education performed in Xinjiang is “transformation through education”, in Chinese jiaoyu zhuanhua (教育转化).[5] The Chinese word zhuanhua, which effectively turns “education” into re-education or indoctrination, literally means to “transform” or to “convert”. It is also used to refer to the chemical process of isomerization by which one molecule is transformed into another.

Transformation through education has its roots in the infamous Re-Education Through Labor (RETL) system which was set up under Mao Zedong in 1957. It is also employed by the Chinese public security authorities to describe the involuntary and often abusive process of coercive isolated detoxification of drug addicts, as well as the treatments administered to Falun Gong members.[6]

Xinjiang’s governor Shohrat Zakir and others have repeatedly denied accusations that the region is detaining vast numbers of ethnic minorities in “re-education camps”. In these denials, Zakir and others use the Chinese term zai jiaoyu ying (再教育营) that has been commonly employed in Chinese language Western media articles. Such denials are simultaneously straightforward and misleading, because this term is in fact never used in Chinese government documents. Instead, Xinjiang’s “vocational training” initiative is intimately associated with transformation through education and follows related naming conventions.

According to Xinjiang’s “de-extremification” ordinance from March 2017, the primary legal document pertaining to the VTIC network, “de-extremification must do transformation through education well, implementing legal education, thought education, psychological counseling, behavioral correction and skills education, … strengthening the outcome of transformation through education”.[7] Skills education is therefore only one singular aspect of an evidently highly coercive re-education procedure. Also, despite the fact that this document represents the main legal basis for Xinjiang’s de-extremification work, the term “vocational” (zhiye 职业) is not even found once in it. In fact, in all relevant government documents and reports published between 2013 and mid-2018, the connection between de-extremification and vocational or skills training is very limited.

It was not until October 2018 that an amendment to Xinjiang’s de-extremification ordinance introduced the concept of “Vocational Skills Education Training Centers” in the context of the region’s de-extremification work.[8] Again, vocational or skills training is only mentioned in connection with the overarching concept of transformation through education. The centers themselves are directly referred to as “re-education institutions” (jiaoyu zhuanhua jigou 教育转化机构), and their stated aim is to “strengthen the effectiveness of transformation through education” (zengqiang jiaoyu zhuanhua shixiao增强教育转化实效).

Recent evidence establishes a close link between Xinjing’s re-education campaign and the brutal indoctrination methods used against Falun Gong members. This campaign is coordinated by government officials who played a key role in the early re-education campaign against the Falun Gong, and have nearly 20 years of experience in transformation through education efforts that targeted religious believers.[9] These campaigns included the establishment of “legal education classes” (fazhi jiaoyu xuexi ban 法制教育学习班), a concept that is also widely used in Xinjiang, where numerous “legal system training schools” (fazhi peixun xuexiao 法制培训学校) were established as part of the re-education campaign. [10]

An August 2017 document published by the website for combating religious cults of the Urumqi County government describes Falun Gong members as “persons in re-education” (zhuanhua renyuan转化人员).[11] This exact and other equivalent terms (such as jiaoyu zhuanhua renyuan教育转化人员, bei shoujiao renyuan 被收教人员, jiaozhuan renyuan 教转人员, or shou jiaoyu peixun renyuan 受教育培训人员) are used in government documents to refer to VTIC “trainees”.[12]

Vocational Training Internment Camp “Trainees” Are In Involuntary Internment

The government’s own documents make clear that persons in VTICs are in involuntary internment.

Numerous documents mention persons in custody or detention (shouya 收押) in the same vein as persons in re-education or “training”, often in the context that these two group’s family members are a special needs group that receive assistance from the government. For example, a September 2017 report by the Xinjiang Science and Technology Department mentions that the department’s village work team donated rice, noodles, cooking oil and sugar to the “family members of those sentenced and in custody, and trainees” (panxing shouya he peixun renyuan jiating 判刑收押和培训人员家庭).[13] Another report by visiting officials from the Xinjiang Branch of the Academy of Sciences from October 2017 uses similarly explicit language, stating that the visitors had purchased coal for the “relatives of strike-hard detainees and educational training students” (yanda shouya ji jiaoyu peixun renyuan qinshu 严打收押及教育培训人员亲属).[14] Other, similar reports of village visits even abolish the distinction between those two groups and directly refer to “detained trainees” (shouya peixun renyuan 收押培训人员 or shouya shoujiao renyuan收押收教人员).[15] The phrases “persons detained in re-education” (bei shoujiao renyuan被收教人员 or shouya zhuanhua renyuan 收押转化人员or bei shouya jiaoyu zhuanhua renyuan 被收押教育转化人员) are employed in numerous other government documents.[16]

The Chinese government claims that VTICs are “just like boarding schools” and that its “students” can regularly ask for home leave.[17] However, the author did not come across a single government document that outlines how VTICs establish voluntary agreements with the “students”, or how and within which parameters the latter can request leave.

Vocational Training Internment Camps are Heavily Guarded, Prison-Like Facilities

In spring 2017, right after the first de-extremification ordinance was issued and people in southern Xinjiang began to be detained by the thousands, numerous minority counties in Xinjiang issued construction bids for heavily secured VTICs, with high walls, barbwire, watchtowers, elaborate internal camera systems, police stations and even bases for special police units.[18] Some bids blatantly stated that vocational training centers are to function as “transformation through education bases”.

For example, in July 2017, Qaraqash County (Hotan Prefecture) commissioned a large “educational training center” (jiaoyu peixun zhongxin 教育培训中心) that was to include multiple buildings, including a “transformation for education center” (jiaoyu zhuanhua zhongxin教育转化中心) and a massive 2,074sqm armed police forces facility.[19]Similarly, a district in Urumqi published a construction bid for a 36,000sqm vocational training compound that was to include a surrounding wall, fences, a 500sqm police station, a surveillance and monitoring system, and “equipment for visiting family members”.[20] The latter is a video-based intercom system typically found in prisons. A vocational training center bid for Yengisar (Yingjisha) County (Kashgar Prefecture) was likewise to include a surrounding wall, a surveillance and monitoring system, equipment for visiting family members, and a police station.[21] In April 2018, a district in Urumqi commissioned a vocational skills education training center with a 500sqm police station, fences and equipment for visiting family members.[22] In some instances, vocational training institutions that may have had an actual educational focus were retrospectively “hardened” for stronger internment capabilities, as with an October 2017 bid for the “centralized closed education and training center” (jizhong fengbi jiaoyu peixun zhongxin 集中封闭教育培训中心) in Nilqa County (Ili Prefecture) to add a security fence and a monitoring and surveillance system.[23]

At least in Kashgar Prefecture, all VTICs must by default be equipped with the so-called “five preventative measures” (wufang 五防) “demanded by Chen Quanguo”.[24] One of these is called “escape prevention” (fang tuopao防脱逃), meaning a facility must be designed so that those inside cannot escape from it.[25] In 2018, two VTICs in Qira (Cele) County (Hotan Prefecture) were budgeted to spend 5 million RMB on “police equipment” (jingyong zhuangbei 警用装备) as part of meeting this “five preventative measures” requirement. [26] The same set of security requirements applies to Xinjiang’s prisons, coerced isolated detoxification centers, and educational correction facilities.[27]Similarly, Sichuan Province mandates the same preventative measures, including the “escape prevention” measure, for its prisons and coerced isolated detoxification facilities.[28] The court of Fuzhou City in Jiangxi Province goes into more detail as to what “escape prevention” means, noting that criminal suspects must be accompanied by two police officers at all times, even when using the toilet.[29]

VTICs are guarded and secured by very large police or security guard units. In December 2017, Qitai County in Changji Prefecture published a procurement bid for 260 special police unit outfits for its “public security bureau vocational skills education training center security guards” (zhiye jingeng jiaoyu peixun zhongxin bao’anyuan 职业技能教育培训中心保安人员).[30] In November 2017, Artux City recruited 100 assistant police staff for its VTIC (zhiye jingeng jiaoyu peixun zhongxin fujing gongzuo renyuan 职业技能教育培训中心辅警工作人员).[31] Similarly, Zepu County’s education and training bureau budget for 2019 states that the county’s VTICs employ 212 teaching staff, but over twice as many (435) security guards (bao’an yuan 保安员).[32]

Finally, Qira (Cele) County’s 2018 budget shows that of a total of  2,619 assistant police officers (xiejing 协警), 810 are assigned to the county’s VTICs (while the Chinese term does not distinguish singular from plural, it can be assumed that the county has more than one VTIC).[33] Consequently, a stunning 31 percent of the county’s entire assistant police force is tasked with guarding VTIC detainees. That year, VTIC police force wages were expected to amount to 36.1 million RMB, nearly three times the county’s entire spending on regular vocational education.[34]

All of this information corresponds to the witness account of a former Xinjiang police officer who helped to bring 600 handcuffed detainees to a VTIC.[35] What he saw there was a highly secured camp that looked like a prison, with extensive camera surveillance and detainees who were barely recognizable because they had lost so much weight.

Eyewitness and satellite evidence shows how the authorities have even been turning even regular vocational schools (hence not VTICs) into internment compounds. An anonymous witness, a Uyghur from Xinjiang, told the author about a late 2018 visit to a facility north of Urumqi, near Beidalu Village (北大路村), that is officially called the “Xinjiang Higher Level Vocational School” (Xinjiang gaoji zhiye xuexiao 新疆高级职业学校).[36] The witness reached this camp by public bus number 3003 and alighted at a bus station with the sign “educational training center” (jiaopei zhongxin 教培中心), the most common term for VTICs.[37]

The same facility was shown in a video taken by the Wall Street Journal in November 2018 during their visit to Urumqi.[38] Both this video and Google Earth satellite footage show a walled compound with watchtowers and large buildings. Satellite images additionally show large fences around the buildings, a typical feature of the region’s re-education and internment camps. According to the eyewitness, these fences separate the buildings, and their gates are guarded by police officers (figure 3). Satellite images indicate that the construction of the internment compound and security features around the original vocational education school began in April 2017, and was apparently completed by November 2017.

Figure 1: Satellite footage of the compound, showing watchtowers in the corners, as well as fencing around each building. Date: October 31, 2018. Source: Google Earth.


Figure 2: Screenshot from video footage of the compound from the main road, showing the same buildings, walls and watchtowers as on the Google Earth images. Note how the yellow-black striped wall that separates each side of the road is also visible on the satellite image. Source: Wall Street Journal (

The eyewitness created a 3D computer model of the compound and of the one building that s/he visited (figures 3 to 5). The model of the teaching building, labeled “B” in figure 3, shows a classroom where detainees are separated from their teacher by a tall metal fence (figure 4). From just outside the classroom, the witness personally saw and heard a large group of women, aged about 20 to 70 years, who were learning basic Mandarin Chinese. One of the women appeared to be fragile and elderly, had all white hair and looked very weak. All of the women were Uyghur in appearance, and the informant was stunned when s/he saw that they were caged in like animals. Their male teacher, dressed in a police uniform, looked like a Han Chinese. Right outside the door sat a Han Chinese looking female security guard in police uniform on a chair.

Figure 3: 3D model of the compound. Building A is the structure with the classroom shown in figure 4. According to the witness, building B had a sign titled “police officer administrative building” (警官办公楼). Yet another building, left of building B and visible in the lower left corner of figure 2, is used for interrogations (its basement bearing the label “interrogation room”, 询问室). Source: anonymous informant.


Figure 4: 3D model of the teaching building with classroom, metal fencing and female security guard outside the classroom door. The witness saw the interior of the classroom through the iron bar doors. Source: anonymous informant.


Figure 5: The eyewitness saw a group of women who were learning Chinese. Source: anonymous informant.


Figure 6: The women were kept in their classroom behind a gated metal fence. Source: anonymous informant.

Outside the compound, the eyewitness met a group of Uyghur women who had come to visit their detained spouses. Because it was around noon, the women had to wait next to the compound until the visiting times resumed in the afternoon. One of the women told the witness that one could only visit the camp every two months or so, and only engage in very short and simple conversations. She stated that during visits, detainees were essentially only allowed to respond to questions with a basic “yes” or “no” response.

While it is impossible to independently verify the interior features of this facility, the external features can be verified from satellite and video footage, and its official name states that it is a “vocational training” facility. Overall, the details of this particular eyewitness account are consistent with numerous other witness accounts and with the general body of evidence gleaned from official documents. For example, the apparent teacher to police guard ratio witnessed by this informant roughly corresponds to the data presented above.

VTICs are Administered by New “Education and Training Bureaus”

In 2018, Xinjiang formalized the re-education system by introducing a new bureau, the “Education and Training Bureau”, abbreviated here as ETB (jiaopeiju 教培局, the full term is zhiye jingeng jiaoyu peixun fuwu guanliju 职业技能教育培训服务管理局).[39]Again, “education and training” is equivalent here to “re-education” (see Appendix). Prior to this, the de-extremification and re-education work had been coordinated by “de-extremification leadership small group offices” (qujiduanhua lingdao xiaozu bangongshi去极端化领导小组办公室).[40]

A widely published propaganda piece cites Kashgar City ETB vice head as explaining the purpose of the local VTIC.[41] Another document from Kashgar Prefecture shows that the deputy head of the prefecture justice bureau (sifaju fujuzhang 司法局副局长) is also the head of the ETB (jiaopeiju juzhang教培局局长).[42] The 2017 final accounts of the Aksu Prefecture justice bureau likewise state that its ETB is part of this institution.[43] Generally, ETBs are listed along with other internal security and law enforcement agencies such as the courts, the inspection bureau, the public security organs and the justice system.[44] Their budgets are part of domestic security budgets.[45]

ETBs are responsible for overseeing the VTICs and their detainees. One government document about rural medical insurance for example states that the “ETBs must pay for the health insurance of each vocational training and education center student” (jiaopeiju fuze ge jiaopei zhongxin xueyuan can baonafei gongzuo 教培局负责各教培中心学员参保缴费工作).[46]

A government notice issued by Aksu City aptly exemplifies this important distinction between VTICs and regular vocational education (zhiye jiaoyu 职业教育) institutions. It groups the four types of institutions together that are administered by the justice bureau and the public security authorities: coerced isolated detoxification centers, (戒毒所), detention centers (kanshousuo看守所), prisons (jianyu监狱) and “Vocational Education Training Centers” (zhiye jiaoyu peixun zhongxin职业教育培训中心).[47] In contrast, the same document places “Vocational Skills Schools” (zhiye jishu xuexiao职业技术学校) and other types of schools in a separate group which is administered by the public education bureau. Whereas regular vocational education takes place in the context of the education system, the VTICs are administered by the same entities that oversaw the former Re-education Through Labor (RETL) system.[48] This is further confirmed by the fact that VTIC trainees are included in the “three types of persons” (sanlei renyuan三类人员), an expression that refers to persons in “prison, custody or in re-education”(beishouya, panxing, jiaoyu zhuanhua被收押,判刑,教育转化).[49]

VTICs only Represent One of Several Forms of Extrajudicial Internment in Xinjiang

The Chinese government pretends that VTICs are the only or primary type of de-extremification facility in Xinjiang. Officials have repeatedly denied the very existence of “re-education camps”. However, VTICs only represent one of multiple forms of internment and re-education in Xinjiang. Government documents, including public bids, indicate up to 8 different types of facilities. This is corroborated by witness statements. For example, Gulzira Auelhan said that she spent a total of 437 days in 5 different forms of internment.[50] Her final internment consisted of one week of vocational training, followed by forced labor in a factory. Several other informants interviewed by the Global and Mail likewise stated that they were kept in an elaborate network of diverse internment facilities, with some being more coercive and brutal than others.

Based on the author’s previous work, we can distinguish several types of extrajudicial internment facilities.[51] In some instances, these facilities might differ only by name and not by function or design. For example, the term “education training centers” is frequently used interchangeably with “vocational skills education training centers”.

  1. Centralized transformation through education training centers (jizhong jiaoyu zhuanhua peixun zhongxin集中教育转化培训中心)
  2. De-extremification transformation through education bases (qujiduanhua jiaoyu zhuanhua jidi去极端化教育转化基地)
  3. Transformation through education and correction centers (jiaoyu zhuanhua ji jiaozhi zhongxin 教育转化及矫治中心)
  4. Legal system schools or legal system training schools (fazhi xuexiao法制学校 or fazhi peixun xuexiao法制培训学校)
  5. Legal system transformation through education centers (sifaju jiaoyu zhuanhua peixun zhongxin司法局教育转化培训中心)
  6. Centralized closed education training centers (jiaoyu peixun zhongxin集中封闭教育培训中心)
  7. Vocational skills education training centers (zhiye jineng jiaoyu peixun zhongxin职业技能教育培训中心), or educational training centers (jiaoyu peixun zhongxin教育培训中心), with the latter presumably representing a short form of the former. Referred to in this article as VTICs.

It is possible that these different terms can be grouped into three types of re-education internment: a) transformation through education camps, b) legal system “schools” (camps), and c) vocational training internment camps.

Notably, the word “centralized” (jizhong集中), which is found in two of the camp labels on the list, can also be translated as “concentrated”. The Chinese word for “concentration camp” (jizhong ying 集中营) employs this term. The claim that Xinjiang does not run any facilities that can technically be referred to as “concentration camps” is therefore both semantically and factually problematic. People are interned in a concentrated fashion in order to more effectively guard and indoctrinate large numbers of them in a limited amount of space. Concentration is therefore only a means to an end, which is why calling these facilities “concentration camps” is technically correct but conceptually not particularly illuminating. Calling them “re-education camps” has the significant advantage of denoting their ultimate purpose.

An eighth form of internment commonly found throughout Xinjiang are the detention centers (kanshousuo看守所).  These are part of the formal criminal justice system throughout China for the temporary detention of criminal suspects (linshi jiya fanzui xianyi ren changsuo 临时羁押犯罪嫌疑人场所) while the state determines whether to press formal charges. They predate the VTICs. However, in the case of Xinjiang, such neat separations are problematic. Detention centers are legally authorized to implement shorter term re-education and educational correction tasks for those convicted of minor offenses, for example in lieu of shorter prison sentences. However, they are not legally authorized to implement longer-term forms of extrajudicial internment. Informants and camp survivors have noted that Xinjiang’s detention centers can in practice keep persons detained for much longer than the 37 days permitted by the law (without formal arrest or a decision to press charges), and are also used as sites of political indoctrination.[52] In 2018, their capacity was massively expanded, and numerous testimonies of ethnic minorities who suffered longer-term internment, humiliating brainwashing procedures or even brutal torture are from detention centers.[53] Despite its different legal status and function within the justice system compared to re-education or “training” camps, the detention center network appears to complement the former in the overall large-scale internment and indoctrination effort.

The total number of persons in Xinjiang who have gone through some form of internment since 2016 or 2017 must be very substantial. A government notice from Akedunjiemi Village, Selibuya Township, Bachu County (Kashgar Prefecture) about political and social control work in villages mentions the use of the 4th re-education facility on the list: “strengthen re-education,  send focus persons and daily management persons in separate batches to the township legal system training school [法制培训学校] to implement transformation through education”.[54] The context makes it clear that this form of re-education targets persons that are considered to be more “problematic”. The document also indicates the scale of the detentions. In that particular village in 2016, of 1,750 persons (of all ages), 110 were subjected to re-education in the legal system training school. This figure represents 6.3 percent of the total population or 9.3 percent of the adult population.[55] Given that this was before the massive re-education internment campaign in spring 2017, the total number of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities who have gone through some form of extrajudicial internment since then appears to be very substantial.

Xinjiang’s budget shows that in 2018, the regional government gave 1.59 billion RMB of food allowance subsidies for VTIC persons (zhiye jiaoyu peixun xueyuan 职业教育培训中心学员) to its minority prefectures, most of it to Uyghur majority regions.[56] It is possible that the prefectures and counties supplement this further with their own funding, although the author did not analyze this in detail. Witness accounts note that VTIC meals are extremely low in quality and quantity. If we take the Chinese military’s food allowance for ordinary soldiers of 11 RMB per person per day as the standard and assume that local regions do not furnish any additional funds, that would mean that these subsidies could have fed about 395,000 persons.[57] If the cost (and quality) of the food given to VTIC detainee is only half that of the average PLA soldier, which appears more than likely, then that figure doubles. If detainees were on a very poor diet below common calorie intake requirements for adults, and we assumed a daily food allowance of 4.5 RMB (such as 1.5 RMB per meal with three daily meals), the VTIC detainee figure could be just below one million. Given that the VTICs appear to be one of the most prevalent forms of internment, such numbers are generally within a realistic range.

Specifically, Kashgar Prefecture alone received 666 million RMB in such food subsidies, sufficient for about 166,000 VTIC persons at the average PLA soldier’s daily allowance level, which equates to approximately 5.4 percent of that region’s adult population (in 2018).[58] Again, this would refer to only one of up to 8 forms of extrajudicial internment. If the daily allowance were less than at the PLA, which is more than likely given witness statements, or if the prefecture added its own funding to this budget, then the number of VTIC detainees alone could be around 10 percent. Together with other forms of internment, Kashgar Prefecture’s internment share could be significantly higher than 10 percent. The same figures for Hotan Prefecture are very similar. With VTIC food subsidies of 360 million RMB and assuming the daily PLA food allowance rate, the share of its adult population detained in VTICs alone would amount to 5.5 percent (about 90,000 persons). Again, the actual share is likely substantially higher than this rather conservative estimate.

In January 2018, Radio Free Asia cited a Kashgar security chief as saying that the region had about 120,000 persons in internment.[59] Given the dramatic expansion of different internment facilities throughout 2018 and the fact that this figure may only have pertained to a subset of all the different forms of internment, the internment number by the end of 2018 could have been substantially higher than 120,000.

Virtually every Uyghur family has at least one, and in numerous instances several family members in detention. Visiting reporters and academics have reported observing empty streets, deserted bazars, boarded-up homes and shops, and many fewer men than women on public streets.[60] Detentions among Kazakhs and Kyrgyz have also drastically increased, especially in 2018. Large numbers of all of these ethnic minority groups are kept in the detention centers mentioned above, whose total capacity has drastically risen in the past two years.[61] Witnesses report that all or many of these facilities are severely over-crowded. Spending on Xinjiang’s justice system facilities and detention center management and related domestic security budgets multiplied in 2017.[62]

Together with the new data presented in this article, the author considers it is necessary to increase the estimate of those who are and have been directly affected by Xinjiang’s extrajudicial internment and re-education drive from the previous speculative upper limit of up to 1.06 million.[63] Although speculative, it seems appropriate to estimate that up 1.5 million ethnic minorities, equivalent to just under one in six adult members of a Turkic and predominantly Muslim minority group in Xinjiang, are or have been interned in some form of extrajudicial internment (excluding formal prisons). An unknown subset of these persons will have been interned in VTICs. Claims by the Chinese government that the VTICs alone do not contain one million persons are therefore self-evident but highly misleading. They constitute no refutation of the estimation that this many or more persons are or have been interned in all of the above-mentioned facilities combined.


On June 25 this year, Aierken Tuniyazi, vice chairman of the Xinjiang government, was given substantial speaking time during the United Nations 41st Human Rights Council session in Geneva, during which he unashamedly glorified the region’s “achievements” and protection of religious rights. Tuniyazi reiterated the official propaganda line that Xinjiang’s “vocational education and training centers” function to “save” persons who committed “minor offences” in order to “protect the basic rights of the citizens”.[64] Many trainees are now supposedly living “a happy life”.

China’s propaganda campaign to counter the substantial body of evidence-based research and many corroborating and consistent eyewitness statements has had some very unfortunate successes. The lack of action by the international community has clearly served to embolden Beijing to proudly showcase its “successful” counter-extremism operation, and to promote it and the related surveillance and security technology as a model for other nations to imitate.

Decisive international action in response to the atrocities that are being perpetrated in Xinjiang is certainly not hampered by a lack of evidence on the true nature of this extrajudicial and inhumane internment campaign, where Xinjiang’s minorities are caged in like animals. If little or no action is taken to sanction these grave human rights violations, then it is likely because other, self-serving interests are being placed above the basic wellbeing of up to 1.5 million innocent human beings, not to mention those who live under fear of being sent to the camps.

Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang are nothing less than a litmus test for our most basic shared values. If these values are not demonstrated by decisive actions, then they are a mere sham. As a religious devotee worded it thousands of year ago: “Faith without works is dead”.[65]

Appendix: Chinese Terms for Vocational Training Internment Camps (VTICs)

In Chinese, “Vocational Skills Education Training Centers” (职业技能教育培训中心) are often abbreviated as “Education Training Centers” (教培中心). [66] These are the only types of extrajudicial forms of internment whose existence Beijing has officially acknowledged, although it argues that they have a legal basis.

In Xinjiang, the abbreviated form “Education Training Centers” (教培中心) very consistently refers to the “Vocational Skills Education Training Centers” (职业技能教育培训中心). An alternative spelling is “Education Training Centers” with all characters spelled out (教育培训中心). Another common use is the term “Vocational Education Training Center” (职业教育培训中心 ) which leaves out the word “skills”.[67]

Generally, VTICs in Xinjiang can typically be distinguished from other vocational facilities by the ending “center” (中心).  If a facility or institution ends with the word “school”, as in “Vocational Skills School” (职业技术学校), then it is typically not a VTIC. This distinction is for example evident from a document that lists the “Lop County Vocational Skills School” next to the “Education Training Center” (洛浦县职业技术学校和教培中心).[68] However, the term “Education Training Center” (教育培训中心) by itself is commonly used in Xinjiang and elsewhere for other types of training, including teacher training, cadre training, or for private learning institutions. It can denote a VTIC, but this must be established from the context.

Dr. Adrian Zenz is an independent researcher and Ph.D. supervisor at the European School of Culture and Theology, Korntal, Germany. He specializes in researching China’s ethnic minority policy, minority education systems, public recruitment (especially teacher and police/security-related recruitment), public bid documentation, domestic security budgets and securitization practices in China’s Tibetan regions and Xinjiang.
He has authored Tibetanness under Threat (Global Oriental, 2013) and co-edited Mapping Amdo: Dynamics of Change (Prague: Oriental Institute, 2017). Dr. Zenz is a frequent contributor to the international media. JPR Status: Working Paper.


[2] See or, and or

[3] Chinese: 职业技能教育培训中心把宗教极端思想从那些受到“三股势力”蛊惑的人的头脑中清除出去. Sources: or, or or, or or, or or, or or

[4] or Compare this with the similar statement “伊犁州关于开展“清脑净心、扶正祛邪”专项行动的实施方案” from or

[5] For a detailed discussion refer to the author’s full academic paper on Xinjiang’s re-education campaign at or

[6] or




[10] or

[11] or

[12] or

[13] or

[14] or

[15] or, and or

[16] For example:


or or

[17] or

[18] See or for details.

[19] (link dead) and and and

[20] (link dead). See also or Chinese state TV footage of a “vocational training center” model classroom showed numerous cameras and microphones on the walls and the ceiling (see


[22] or

[23] or

[24] Compare

[25] 把“防闹事”摆在突出位置的同时,统筹抓好防脱逃、防疾病、防火、防地震等工作措施.Source: or

[26] Download page: or

[27] or

[28] or

[29] or


[31] or

[32] or

[33] Download page: or

[34] or


[36] GPS coordinates: 43°59’52.5″N 87°31’00.8″E

[37] The author verified that bus number 3003 does indeed go right past the location of the compound, using the main road shown in figure 2.

[38], the relevant video section is from 0:15 to 0:23. The video shows the same buildings, walls and watchtowers as on the Google Earth images. Note how the yellow-black striped wall that separates each side of the road is also visible on the satellite image.

[39] This must be distinguished from the related aministrative bureau for vocational skills training (zhiye jineng peixun fuwu guanliju 职业技能培训服务管理局).

[40] or Compare

[41] or

[42] or

[43] The document ends with the signature line: 阿克苏地区司法局(教培局). Source:

[44] or

[45] See e.g.

[46] or The original phrase is concealed in the document as “教培局:负责各◇◇◇◇学员参保缴费工作”. Compare also this document, where this fact is confirmed, and the phrase “教培中心” is not concealed but spelled out: or

[47] or

[48] The distinction between “vocational skills training” that mainly serves “transformation through education” purposes and genuine (professional) “vocational educational” (zhiye jiaoyu 职业教育) based on vocational skills institutions or schools (zhiye jishu xuexiao 职业技术学校) is confirmed by an analysis of Xinjiang’s budgets and spending patterns. In 2017, the region’s spending on “vocational education” (zhiye jiaoyu 职业教育), which is administered by the education system, was actually below the national average on a per capita basis.[48] In contrast, spending on the justice system (sifa xitong 司法系统) amounted to over three times the national average (7.9 versus 2.5 per capita). Between 2016 and 2017, Xinjiang’s spending on “vocational education” actually decreased by 7.1 percent (in a sample of minority regions by 3.3 percent), while spending on the justice system rose by 118 percent (in the minority region sample by 235 percent). The explanation for this is simple: just like the PRC’s former re-education through labor system, Xinjiang’s re-education campaign appears to be managed by the Ministry of Justice, administered by the public security agencies, and funded largely out of the budgets of these same authorities. Construction and procurement bids confirm these two agencies as the two main issuing authorities. Related expenditures are accounted under domestic security spending, not education system spending. See

[49] For the definition of sanlei renyuan 三类人员, see for example or; also or


[51] See or

[52] Pils, E. 2017. “Human rights in China”.

[53] For example, Mirigul Tursun (although she was in different facilities):; Gulbahar Jelil:


[55] Based on the 2015 mini census (2015年1%人口抽样调查) for Bachu County and Xinjiang. The population aged 0-17 years was estimated based on the 0-14 year cohort from the 2015 mini census and the 15-19 year cohort (multiplied by 0.5) from the 2010 census. Rapid population growth in Uyghur majority regions means that using 2015 census data makes for a much more accurate estimate than solely relying on the 2010 census data.

[56] Subsidy term: 职业教育培训中心学员伙食费补助

[57] or Compare this figure with the food budgets or allowances of private companies, for example 3.50 RMB per warm meal:

[58] Sources: or, and the 2010 and 2015 census age cohort data (see footnote 55 for the calculation method).


[60]  Various conversations and message exchanges conducted by the author in the second half of 2018.

[61] See e.g.


[63] or

[64] or


[66] or Compare or

[67] or

Yet another spelling is 职业技能教培中心, e.g. in