Innovating Repression: Policy Experimentation and the Evolution of Beijing’s Re-Education Campaign in Xinjiang


New research by Dr. Adrian Zenz, Senior Fellow and Director in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC), shows in greater detail than before how Xinjiang’s mass internment campaign was masterminded and directed by the central Chinese government and Xi Jinping.

According to analysis of internal Chinese documents intense pressure to “round up all who should be rounded up” led authorities in Xinjiang to detain far more Uyghurs than planned, an over-enforcement resulting from political paranoia, similar to zero-covid mandates.

The evidence shows how—as part of the brutal “strike hard” campaign ordered by Beijing in 2014—senior officials ordered local cadres to “innovate” to “remove religious extremism,” leading to the campaign of mass internment in re-education camps.

For the first time, the paper analyzes a new secret speech by Chen Quanguo, Beijing’s former Xinjiang Party Secretary who oversaw the mass internments, contained in the hacked Xinjiang Police Files. Dated from late 2016 and specifically designed to communicate “Xi Jinping’s Overall Work Goals for Southern Xinjiang” to party cadres, Chen’s speech leaves no doubt that the coming crackdown was at Beijing’s behest, and repeats Xi’s exhortation to “show no mercy.”

The paper also reveals new firsthand testimony from a camp survivor, who was directly told by a camp interrogator in 2018 that each detainees’ fate was being decided by officials in China’s central government. Police told the same witness that “[camps] like this one” are “everywhere.” Then in 2019, over 66% of its detainees were shifted to prisons.

The new paper, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Contemporary China, draws on Chinese sources including state media reports, a rare new eyewitness account, and the hacked Xinjiang Police Files that VOC partially released in 2022 with a media consortium of 14 leading outlets including the BBC, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El País.

Download the full report here.