Welcome to China’s new vocational education colleges

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Totalitarianism, as Orwell noted, has always been big on euphemisms to disguise the true nature of its activities. Chinese Marxism-Leninism-Maoism has given the modern world its fair share of innocuously sounding terms like “Cultural Revolution”, “Great Leap Forward”, “self-criticism session”, all rather bloodless unlike the reality they fail to adequately describe. Speaking of Cultural Revolution, the old Maoist blueprint is being applied yet again on a mass scale, this time in the far-Western province of Xinjiang (or Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to us its full name), which is ethnically and religiously different to the Han Chinese majority of the country. Some estimates put at one million (or five per cent of the population) the number of Muslim Uighur people currently in detention camps, where they are being “re-educated” to ditch the bad old cultural habits and embrace the modernity as brought by the Chinese Communist Party.

The official Chinese news agency Xinhua has recently published an extraordinary interview with Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the Government of Xinjiang, titled “Interview with Xinjiang government chief on counterterrorism, vocational education and training in Xinjiang”, which already gives you an idea of where it’s all going (in Zakir’s words):

Since the 1990s, the “three evil forces” (terrorism, extremism and separatism) in China and abroad have plotted, organized and conducted thousands of violent terrorist attacks including bombings, assassinations, poisoning, arson, assaults, unrest and riots, causing the deaths of a large number of innocent people and hundreds of police officers, as well as immeasurable property damage. The horrific crimes of terrorists not only severely undermined the stable and peaceful order and the atmosphere of solidarity and progress of Xinjiang, but also trampled upon the essential human rights of people of all ethnic groups in the region, such as their rights to life, health, property and development.

It’s true that Uighurs, if given free choice, would rather not be a part of China, with which they have little in common, and it’s also true that the province has been quite restive, leading to numerous security crackdowns and now mass incarceration. There is nothing new about the situation in Xinjiang or indeed the Chinese obsession with territorial integrity and the lengths they will go to to preserve it despite the wishes of the populations in questions. Indeed Xinjiang is very much like Tibet, except with Muslims instead of Buddhists. China still sees itself as a multi-ethnic empire rather than a nation state, with the result that the non-Han minorities are to be not only kept in check, but in a version of a “yellow man’s burden”, they are to be civilised by the Chinese. Who says that colonialism is old and busted?

Chairman Zakir waxes lyrically throughout the interview about the goodness that are the camps housing one million Uighurs. It’s both tragic and ridiculous at the same time:

Xinjiang has launched a vocational education and training program according to the law. Its purpose is to get rid of the environment and soil that breeds terrorism and religious extremism and stop violent terrorist activities from happening…

Most people who are influenced by terrorism and extremism, those suspected of minor criminal offenses but do not have to be subject to penalties or can be exempted from criminal punishment, Xinjiang has provided them with free vocational training through vocational education institutions to improve their ability in commanding the country’s common language, acquiring legal knowledge and vocational skills, among others… The detailed procedures include, on the premise that training goals, methods, program completion standards and testing methods are clearly identified, that vocational training institutions sign an agreement with the trainees. The institutions will then conduct the free programs through various forms such as collective courses, boarding schools and hands-on training. The trainees will be issued certificates of completion after they meet the required standards…

Currently, Xinjiang has established a training model with professional vocational training institutions as the platform, learning the country’s common language, legal knowledge, vocational skills, along with de-extremization education, as the main content, with achieving employment as the key direction. The vocational training institutions have set up departments of teaching, management, medical care, logistics and security, and allocated a corresponding number of faculty, class advisors, medical, catering, logistics and security staff…

Faculties of the institutions and schools also try their best to ensure and meet the trainees’ needs in study, life, and entertainment on the basis of free education. The cafeteria prepares nutritious free diets, and the dormitories are fully equipped with radio, TV, air conditioning, bathroom and shower. Indoor and outdoor sports venues for basketball, volleyball and table tennis have been built, along with reading rooms, computer labs, film screening rooms, as well as performance venues such as small auditoriums and open-air stages. Various activities such as contests on speech, writing, dancing, singing and sports are organized. Many trainees have said that they were previously affected by extremist thought and had never participated in such kinds of art and sports activities, and now they have realized that life can be so colorful.

Moreover, the vocational institutions and schools pay high attention to the trainees’ mental health and helped them solve problems in life. They not only provide professional psychological counseling services, but also duly deal with complaints from the trainees and their families. All this shows that the management of the vocational institutions and schools are people-oriented…

“I didn’t understand the country’s common language, nor did I know about the laws. I wouldn’t even have known that I had made mistakes. But the government didn’t give me up. It has actively saved and assisted me, giving me free food, accommodation and education. Now I have made great progress in many aspects. I will cherish this opportunity and become a person useful to the country and society,” a trainee said…

I wonder if these vocational education institutions operate under the slogan that “Work makes you free”?

OK, listen, both de-radicalisation and education are important and valuable for a stable and prosperous society. But let’s not kid ourselves that five percent of the Uighur population is now resident at boarding schools. Sure, these institutions are not death camps like Auschwitz or absolute hell holes like the old Soviet gulags and Maoist working camps where the inmates used to be “re-educated through work”, or just as often killed through work. It’s not picnic either:

Ethnic Uighurs and Kazakhs have told The Associated Press that ostensibly innocuous acts such as praying regularly, viewing a foreign website or taking phone calls from relatives abroad could land one in a camp…

Omir Bekali, a Xinjiang-born Kazakh citizen, said he was kept in a cell with 40 people inside a heavily guarded facility.

Bekali said he was kept in a locked room with eight other internees. They shared beds and a wretched toilet. Baths were rare.

Before meals, they were told to chant “Thank the party! Thank the motherland!” During daily mandatory classes, they were told that their people were backward before being “liberated” by the party in the 1950s.

This is all a lot softer than the communist holocausts of the 1930s to 70s, but it’s still mass repression, whose overarching purpose is to isolate and de-Islamise the population.  And there is still barely a peep from the worldwide Muslim ummah or from the human rights-loving left. Don’t expect “Free Xinjiang” bumper stickers to replace the old “Free Tibet” ones, which mysteriously disappeared over the past decade or two. We have learned not to worry and to love our Chinese Marketist-Leninist trading partners.

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