Exposed: China’s great brainwashing scandal

Camps: More than a million Uighurs and other muslim minorities are being held without trial. © Getty

Is it any of our business? Leaked documents reveal the “brainwashing” of hundreds of thousands in Chinese prison centres, but critics caution against comparisons to Nazi concentration camps.

Can you imagine being jailed for two years for having WhatsApp on your phone?

This is what happened to Sarsenbek Akaruli from Xinjiang, a remote mountainous region on the northwest border of China.

WhatsApp is used for private communication and is banned in China. The government says it is used by terrorists and it sent Akaruli to a “vocational education and training centre” in November 2017.

His family haven’t seen him since.

On Monday, the BBC released shocking evidence of what is really going on in these training centres.

Leaked government instruction manuals explain how these centres are run.

According to Sophie Richardson at Human Rights Watch, they reveal “a gross human rights violation”.

A million people detained without trial, brainwashed and subjected to psychological and physical torture.

These are not education centres. They are “concentration camps”.

Eleven million Muslim Uighurs live in Xinjiang. Culturally distinct from the Chinese, they have long resisted attempts to integrate their region into the rest of China.

China says it is fighting terrorism. The leaked memos show how the government monitors the daily lives of Uighurs for suspicious behaviour.

Something as ordinary as leaving your house by the back door can trigger a red-flag and a visit from the police.

Grow your beard or download an app and you can be put in a camp for a year.

Uighurs have their own language, dress and customs but, inside the camps, they are forced to learn Chinese, abandon their religion, dress and think of themselves as Chinese.

“Behavioural violations”, says the manual, must be punished to make sure that “students truly transform”.

Before returning to their families, they are forced to work in closely monitored factories. If they fail to speak Chinese, they can be sent back to the camps for further education.

It is described as the largest internment since the Holocaust, and compared to “ethnic cleansing” and “cultural genocide”.

China calls this “fabricated fake news”.

But does comparing China to Nazi Germany help the Uighurs? And is it any of our business what goes on inside China?

Chinese whispers

Some argue that all countries monitor and educate their citizens to control extremism and prevent terrorism. Comparisons to Nazi Germany are neither accurate nor helpful and will only make things worse for the Uighurs, as China will become more defensive, aggressive and isolated. This is just another example of “Sinophobia” and it’s easier to blame China than it is to focus on our own problems.

Others say this is moral cowardice. Look down at the label on your shoes: Made in China. We buy cheap products churned out of Chinese factories and these leaks show that China is guilty of forced labour and ethnic cleansing. If we want Chinese goods and investment, we must insist that China abides by basic human rights and international law. China must allow independent observers into the camps.

You Decide

  1. Is the way other countries treat their people any of our business?
  2. Is it helpful to compare modern-day atrocities with the crimes of Nazi Germany?


  1. The Chinese government is accused of trying to destroy Uighur culture. Design a poster to celebrate what is most important about your culture.
  2. Imagine you are representing your country in China. Brainstorm in groups how to raise the issue of the Uighurs with the Chinese government.

Some People Say...

“In countries and epochs in which communication is impeded, soon all other liberties wither.”

Primo Levi (1919-1987), Italian Jewish author and Holocaust survivor

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
A high-ranking member of the Chinese government leaked 400 top-secret government papers to the world media, exposing a vast network of prison camps in China. Six of the documents give instructions on how to monitor, educate and punish detainees. Experts estimate that there are between 900,000 and 1.8 million in the camps. Although 23 countries (including the US and UK) have signed a letter to the UN, urging China to close the camps, 54 countries have signed a letter in support of China.
What do we not know?
The Chinese government is highly secretive and will not allow independent external observers into the camps to verify China’s claims that these are education centres. Without independent observers, we cannot know exactly how many people are being detained. If it is difficult for people outside China to find out what is going on, it is even harder for people inside China. The media is censored and state-controlled, and the so-called “Great Firewall” of China limits people’s access to the internet.

Word Watch

Uses encrypted software, making it very difficult for governments to monitor. The internet in China is heavily controlled and censored, with many websites and services like Facebook and Twitter blocked.
Concentration camps
An emotive and politically charged term, referring to the network of prison camps established by Nazis Germany between 1933 and 1945.
An ethnic group in Central and East Asia, most of whom live in the Xinjiang region of China.
The mass murder of six million Jews between 1941 and 1945 in Nazi-occupied Europe.
Ethnic cleansing
The mass expulsion or killing of members of one ethnic or religious group in an area by those of another.
Anti-Chinese sentiments or fear of China. As China has become more economically and politically powerful, anti-Chinese opinion has become more vocal and more popular. For example, anti-Chinese views were very important in the election of President Trump.


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