China took over the Xinjiang region (formerly known as East Turkestan) in 1949 (BBC, 2014). After the takeover, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) began to promote the enrollment of students in public schools, while seemingly also embracing the use of regional languages other than Mandarin. Due to this initial embrace the state saw a massive uptick in people enrolling in public schools. Social reform in the CCP took place between the years 1958 and 1976 however, and with this reform came confusion as to what the language being taught should be. During that time, this confusion caused large amounts of illiteracy within minority populations like the Uyghurs [wee-gers]. (Grose, 2010)
Article 12 of the Chinese constitution (established in 1982) guarantees that “minority nationalities may use in education the language of the respective nationality or the native language commonly adopted in that region” (Grose, 2010, pg. 98). In 2002 however, Xinjiang University announced that it would no longer teach classes in Uyghur. Children in the region as early as third grade now see over 10% of their school curriculum in Mandarin. Presently the cost of education is also a barrier to entry for Uyghur populations, which may be a reason for high unemployment numbers for Uyghurs in Xinjiang (as of 2006 they were nearly double that of their Han majority counterparts). (Grose, 2010)
Today, Uyghurs are facing massive persecution from the state, and according to the United Nations over one million Uyghur have already been sent to what the CCP deems “re-education” camps (Nebehay, 2018). In reality they are a form of concentration camp. The persecution goes further than just language however, and fits much of the criteria for cultural genocide put forth by international law. One major focus is on Uyghur religious affiliation.
Research published in the International Journal of Human Rights has concluded that Civil Society Organizations (CSO’s) within China are unable to protect the religious freedoms of peoples within China (Chaney, 2017). This is important because the Uyghurs are a majority Muslim population. Recent footage shot by the BBC shows before and after satellite pictures of areas where Uyghur mosques have been demolished all over the Xinjiang region (Sudworth 1, 2019).
In most cases Uyghurs who have not yet been sent are usually too afraid to speak out against what’s happening. In a recent episode of Vice News Tonight aired on HBO, satellite images and in-person footage both show the cropping up of large colorful castle-like structures where the children of Uyghur families are being held (Yeung 1, 2019). Further footage from the BBC features a showcased version (meaning a visit staged for journalists) of the inside of the some of the adult re-education camps (Sudworth 2, 2019). There is currently vast family separation, and Uyghur parents are worried that their culture is being driven from the heads of their children through the aforementioned castle camps they are being kept in (Yeung 2, 2019).
The CCP says that the main goal (in what are being deemed as human rights violations by most western countries) is to unite China.
BBC (2014). “Why is there tension between China and the Uighurs?”. from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-26414014.
Chaney, P. (2017). “Civil Society, human rights and religious freedom in the People’s Republic of China: analysis of CSOs’ Universal Periodic Review discourse.” The International Journal of Human Rights 22(4): 503-524.
Grose, T. A. (2010). “The Xinjiang Class: Education, Integration, and the Uyghurs.” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 30(1): 97-109.
Nebehay, S. (2018). “U.N. says it has credible reports that China holds million Uighurs in secret camps.” from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-rights-un/u-n-says-it-has-credible-reports-that-china-holds-million-uighurs-in-secret-camps-idUSKBN1KV1SU.
Sudworth, J (1). [BBC News]. (2019, June 20). “China’s Vanishing Mosques – BBC News.” from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DewWSGTwOXo
Sudworth, J (2). [BBC News]. (2019, June 18). “Inside China’s ‘Thought Transformation Camps’ – BBC News.” from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmId2ZP3h0c&t=5s
Yeung, I. (1) [Vice News]. (2019, June 29). “China’s Vanishing Muslims: Undercover In The Most Dystopian Place In The World.” from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7AYyUqrMuQ
Yeung, N. B. I. (2) (2019). “Uighur Parents Say China is Ripping Their Children Away and Brainwashing Them.” from https://news.vice.com/en_us/article/7xgj5y/these-uighur-parents-say-china-is-ripping-their-children-away-and-brainwashing-them.