China cuts children’s Uighur roots

The Chinese government’s mass detentions of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities is creating a generation of virtual orphans, children who won’t know their culture, experts say.

“The Chinese government takes them to the orphanages, and there the government basically brainwashes them,” Alim Seytoff of the Uyghur Service at Radio Free Asia said during an August 7 State Department panel discussion on Chinese repression of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, China.

Since 2017, Chinese authorities have imprisoned in camps more than 1 million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other members of ethnic Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. In the camps, prisoners are forced to renounce their ethnic identities and religious beliefs and practices. Some detainees are reportedly subjected to torture or other inhumane treatment, including sexual abuse.

Their children are sent to orphanages and forced to shout patriotic slogans, learn Mandarin Chinese and answer questions about their parents’ religious beliefs and practices. These institutions are “bringing up the next generation of Uighurs without any kind of Uighur tradition, Uighur education or Islamic faith,” said Seytoff, who has done extensive reporting on Uighur issues.

Woman and child standing outside barricaded school with Chinese signs (© Ng Han Guan/AP Images)
Schools for ethnic minorities in Xinjiang are guarded with multiple layers of cameras, barbed wire and barricades. (© Ng Han Guan/AP Images)

Even the names of children in Xinjiang are controlled by authorities. Regulations ban the use of some Islamic names when naming newborns and set punishments for the teaching of religion to children.

Independent researcher Adrian Zenz in a recent report cites an official Chinese government document discussing a campaign against ethnic minorities to “break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections, and break their origins.”

Nury Turkel of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, who also spoke at the State Department panel session, said that if China’s policies in Xinjiang succeed, “Uighur ethno-national identity will be destroyed.”