The Crisis in Xinjiang China, and Why We Should Call It a Genocide

The People's Republic of China, governed by the Chinese Communist Party, is currently committing an atrocity against a Turkic Muslim minority. This group is known as the Uyghur community of Xinjiang. Seeing Islam, and religiosity generally as inherently subversive, especially if not officially aligned with the government, Beijing wishes to be able to control this community (Çaksu,2020). After the September 11th attacks, government leaders realized that the time had come to forward these policies, as the war on terror would act as cover for longer-standing political goals. Thus began the state subjugation of the community, with the excuse given that policies were tailored to protect the wider country from Islamic terrorism.



Policies included highly developed and intrusive forms of surveillance, destruction of Mosques and other cultural centres, forced sterilizations, child separations and arbitrary sentencing of Uyghurs to “reeducation” (concentration) camps. These Camps are said to hold about a million people, roughly one-sixth of the Uyghur population. Inside, inmates are subjected to torture and anti-Islamic brainwashing (Editorial Board, 2021).



What is Genocide?



The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, a museum created to identify and condemn fascism and genocide, describes it as a collection of criminal acts committed “with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.” Understanding the broadness of this statement, they add, “These acts fall into five categories: 1. Killing members of the group. 2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group. 3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part. 4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group. 5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.




We shall use this definition of Genocide because we believe its source, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, to be an authority on the subject. One might argue that because it’s based in the US, one of China’s largest geopolitical rivals, that Anti-Chinese bias is a possibility. However, we don’t subscribe to this narrative, because this definition was originally meant to describe Nazism, not Modern Chinese Politics, and yet is highly accurate in its description of the ongoing crisis in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region or (XUAR).





Aerial View of Auschwitz-Birkenau II complex, Circa 1944

Aerial view of a re-education camp, Xinjiang, China, Circa 2020




Which aspects of our definition of genocide apply to the XUAR crisis?


1. Killing Members of the group


Yes: Though not their main strategy to end Uyghur culture, China is guilty of unjustly murdering innocent people, simply because they are part of the Uyghur community. Dead Uyghurs posthumously become terrorists, to obscure the injustice of these actions. Military manoeuvres and drills are also common in the area, as a sign of strength. This violence is an intimidation tactic, calculated to scare the population into supporting its own destruction (Finnegan, 2020).


2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group


Yes: Both torture and brainwashing are reported to take place in the 90 concentration camps constructed by the regime. Prisoners are made to denounce their religion and culture and to submit to the culture of the wider Han majority (Editorial Board, 2021).


3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.


Yes: The destruction of ancient mosques and other public spaces, as well as constant pressure from the perpetually present CCP backed regional authority, in the form of police officers and assigned social workers, serve to destroy the native culture of the area, and replace it with Han supremacy (Editorial Board, 2021).


4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.


Yes: China has ramped up its voluntary birth control campaigns in the region, as well as performed countless sterilizations on unwilling participants, with the ultimate goal of allowing the Han majority to take the place of the Uyghur minority. The Han population is encouraged to have more babies, while the Han community are forced to have fewer.


5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.


Yes: Once parents are sent to reeducation camps, their children are then sent to state orphanages, where they have no contact with each other. This is calculated to end the socialization process of the Uyghur community and to instead indoctrinate children into the Han community (Çaksu, 2020).



A Turkish Protest in support of the Uyghur minority group in their time of need.


Conclusion: What does this mean and what can we do?

So, it’s clear that the Crisis in the XUAR is indeed a cultural genocide (Finnegan, 2020). Now what? What can we do to help the inhabitants of the camps and the wider region? As China has taken an adversarial position to the US, and the rest of the Global North, we may have very little direct influence over their actions. Thus, what we must do is be highly vocal about this shameful flouting of universal human rights law. We must donate to related human rights organizations, contact our political representatives, and spread the word to everyone we can. China has hidden this genocide under the narrative of counter-terrorism, which is why we must call it out as totally unjustifiable, and morally bankrupt.



Caleb Whiting-Grant






Relevant Sources:

Auschwitz-Birkenau Ii Complex. (1944). photograph.


Baker, P. (2002). Human Rights, Europe and the People's Republic of China. The China Quarterly, (169), 45-63. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4618705


Çaksu, A. (2020). Islamophobia, Chinese Style: Total Internment of Uyghur Muslims by the People's Republic of China. Islamophobia Studies Journal, 5(2), 175-198. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.13169/islastudj.5.2.0175


Clarke, M. (2013). Ethnic Separatism in the People's Republic of China History, Causes and Contemporary Challenges. European Journal of East Asian Studies, 12(1), 109-133. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23615293


Editorial Board. (2021). China’s repression of Uyghurs is not only cultural but also physical, a new report shows. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/chinas-repression-of-uyghurs-is-not-only-cultural-but-also-physical-a-new-report-shows/2021/05/15/229272e4-b4ca-11eb-a980-a60af976ed44_story.html


Finnegan C. The Uyghur Minority in China: A Case Study of Cultural Genocide, Minority Rights and the Insufficiency of the International Legal Framework in Preventing State-Imposed Extinction. Laws. 2020; 9(1):1. https://doi.org/10.3390/laws9010001


Le Billon, P. (2005). Corruption, Reconstruction and Oil Governance in Iraq. Third World Quarterly, 26(4/5), 685-703. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3993715


Osondu-Oti, A. (2016). China and Africa: Human Rights Perspective. Africa Development / Afrique Et Développement, 41(1), 49-80. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/90001834


Pro-Uyghur Turkish Demonstration. (2020). UAB Institute for Human Rights Blog. photograph. https://sites.uab.edu/humanrights/2020/11/09/the-muslim-uyghur-devastation-and-cultural-genocide-in-the-xinjiang-province-of-china/


The camp at Shufu. (2020). photograph, Xinjiang, China.


United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (n.d.). What is Genocide? United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. https://www.ushmm.org/genocide-prevention/learn-about-genocide-and-other-mass-atrocities/what-is-genocide





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