Imposing the Party’s “Core Values” in Xinjiang
More Analysis

Imposing the Party’s “Core Values” in Xinjiang

Kelly Hammond, Darren Byler, and David Tobin, experts on Xinjiang, analyze a 2017 speech by former Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, where he outlines the specifics of “Sinicization” of the region to ensure “stability and harmony.”

FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrintCopy Link

To read the translated article discussed below, see “Speech by Comrade Chen Quanguo at the First and Second Plenary Sessions of the Fourth Plenary Session of the Ninth Committee of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Jump to commentary from:
Kelly Hammond | Darren Byler | David Tobin

Kelly Hammond

Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Arkansas
Associate Director, International and Global Studies Program

The ongoing human rights crisis in Xinjiang, a predominantly Muslim-populated region in far western China, is now well documented. In September 2021, a leak of classified government documents produced between 2014 and 2018 provided researchers with more evidence about the development, implementation, and motivations behind these draconian policies.

After the documents—known as the “Xinjiang Papers”—were leaked from within China, a prominent group of scholars spent months authenticating the sources and cross-referencing them with other sources of similar pedigree. The documents can be roughly divided into two categories: seemingly benign information about things like construction contracts and population transfers; and political and ideological documents like the speeches by Chen Quanguo featured here. In these classified speeches, we get a glimpse of what the Chinese party-state apparatus was saying about Xinjiang to a particular audience within China.

Chen Quanguo made an illustrious career for himself within the Chinese Communist Party as an oppressor of ethnic minorities who find themselves living within the boundaries of the Chinese nation-state. Before being transferred to Xinjiang to serve as Communist Party secretary in August 2016, he served as party secretary of Tibet for five years. During his time in Tibet, there was a dramatic increase in self-immolations, often understood by specialists as a response to the harsh assimilative policies he imposed in the region. Chen was removed from his post in Xinjiang in December 2021 and succeeded by Ma Xingrui.

Chen is known for his “Sinicization” policies. These assimilative policies are meant to make minorities conform to the dominant Han culture. They run the gamut from Uyghurs being forced to learn Mandarin and Uyghur children being removed from their homes to the well-documented, forced-labor reeducation camps where ideological training in Xi Jinping Thought is a part of daily life.

These speeches are classified, official party documents that were produced to be disseminated to local cadres, police officers, and prison staff in Xinjiang. Over time, documents like Chen’s speeches filter down from the national and provincial levels and are incorporated into ideological training for local cadres. Essentially, they are policy and ideological directives that are meant to be followed at the local level and enforced by higher-ranking cadres.

The confidential and classified nature of the documents highlight their political sensitivity. As several of my colleagues have argued elsewhere, these speeches are significant because they draw a clear line between Xi Jinping in Beijing and the oppressive policies in Xinjiang.

Another reason these speeches are so important is because they show just how concerned Beijing is with “harmony” and “stability” in Xinjiang. By framing the Uyghurs as terrorists and separatists, the party has successfully branded them as an internal security problem that needs to be resolved. Chen’s model of suppression and repression worked in the eyes of the party, and his actions were glorified. According to Chen, Xinjiang first had to go through “sacrifices and struggles” to build a “Xinjiang with Chinese socialist characteristics.”

These speeches highlight how the securitization of Xinjiang was intended to be carried out in the name of ensuring “harmony and stability” and for the sake of “frontier consolidation” in the region to ensure economic, political, and social stability within China’s borders. It seems that now, in 2022, Xi and Chen’s objectives from 2017 have been achieved—at least at the domestic level.

Darren Byler

Assistant Professor of International Studies, Simon Fraser University

In his October 2017 speech to the Xinjiang branch of the Chinese Communist Party, Party Secretary Chen Quanguo mentions the official euphemism for the camp system—“Vocational Training and Education Centers”—only once. These centers, known by Uyghurs whom I spoke with in informal Uyghur-language interviews across the region when I last visited in 2018 as “concentration camps” (Uy: lager), are mentioned as the foremost element of the “Four Matters”—one of the many lists of imperatives that he outlines within the euphemism-laden speech. Echoing other internal documents, Chen describes these four elements as the need for “absolute security of the vocational skills education and training centers and supervision sites.” This is to be supplemented by a grassroots campaign to “deeply root” the spirit of Xi Jinping Thought in the hearts and minds of the entire population while normalizing a system of preventative policing and control by normalizing the role of police and military in social life. Yet, though he mentions the camps only once, the speech nevertheless provides a blueprint for what he describes as a campaign to “cut off the generations, cut off the roots, cut off the connections, and cut off the sources” that could provide Xinjiang’s 15 million Muslims with religious and cultural instruction outside of state control. It is clear that this is an expansive campaign in terms of its scope, scale, and intensity and is not tightly focused on violent crime. It is aimed at autonomous thought and knowledge deemed outside of the party-state’s “core values” and, more specifically, the ability of Uyghurs and other Muslim groups to reproduce autonomous identities.

The tools such a campaign requires are extensive. In Chen’s formulation, they start with offering “free medical exams,” three years of “free bilingual instruction” to preschoolers, and job assignment programs—tools of coercive family planning and family separation. Other documents have shown that in neither case are Muslims able to refuse such “free” government services without threat of investigation, and since Chen’s administration mandated the hiring of approximately 90,000 new Mandarin-speaking teachers, much of the “bilingual” instruction is primarily Chinese-medium. Another tool in the “People’s War” comes from achieving full control of the “three linkages” which allow Muslim knowledge to circulate. Chen says this means establishing a type of full-spectrum intelligence of Xinjiang communications between “areas inside and outside China’s mainland, areas inside and outside Xinjiang, and online and offline.”

In spite of the absence of an organized Uyghur insurgency, Chen is nevertheless outlining a kind of “counterinsurgency theory,” often referred to as COIN by military theorists, and countering violent extremism (CVE) practice with Chinese and Marxist “characteristics”—a qualifier which Chen uses repeatedly. Following the U.S.-led war in Iraq, COIN became the dominant military theory used by states around the world. It centers on full-spectrum intelligence, evaluating the population in the occupied war space, and placing them in three categories—insurgent, neutral, and counterinsurgent. Insurgent populations are then placed in administrative detention while the government tries to “win the hearts and minds” of the remaining population by developing vital infrastructure and education programs while using the “predictive policing” technologies of CVE to prevent the neutral population from being radicalized. Chen’s plan to use what he calls a “combination punch” of simultaneous coercive detention and assigned labor programs should be read with this in mind. An important difference from other deployments of COIN, however, is that the success of the program depends less on “winning” Muslims over on their own terms, instead it strives to proletarianize Uyghurs and others as unfree yet productive industrial workers. The language slips from winning over to “imprinting,” “deeply rooting,” and “ensure entering” the hearts of the targeted population. The 1.5 million Chinese Communist Party cadres in Xinjiang are being given a mandate to make sure the winning over happens at any cost. Cutting Uyghurs off from the world, removing their children from their homes, eliminating “illegal births,” and criminalizing normative Muslim practice such as mosque attendance are aspects of what makes the Chinese uptake of COIN uniquely coercive in its scale and scope. In this system, radicalization means refusing to allow Uyghur traditions and Islamic practice to be “cut off” as Chen mandates.

To a certain extent, the language of reeducation and tactics of social engineering that the system it carries are derived from Maoist campaigns against those deemed “counterrevolutionaries.” But in this case, it is the ideological “disease” and “virus,” which Chen connects to religious and ethnic difference, that stands in the way of China achieving its ethnonationalist goals. What Chen is mandating as a way of overcoming what he describes as Xinjiang’s “growing pains” is the forcible assimilation of its native people. In short, he is outlining an atrocity.      

David Tobin

Lecturer in East Asian Studies, The University of Sheffield

The “Xinjiang Papers1 reveal Xi Jinping’s centralization of authority and policy supervision in the Chinese party-state. Under Xi’s rule, at least one million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have been extralegally detained in camps, facing family separation, sexual violence, surveillance, and trauma. Outside the camps, Uyghurs and Kazakhs are subject to networks of checkpoints and interpersonal monitoring, high-tech surveillance, and forced labor.

This intensification of state violence against Uyghurs has been driven by Xi’s policy and supervision demands that are reflected in the document below. His 2014 speeches on “ethnic work [minzu gongzuo 民族工作] under new conditions” 2—along with public announcements of a new “great wall of iron” to secure the region—explain and command this intensified targeting of Uyghurs. These commands were recirculated in cadre meetings during 2016 as the party built toward the 2017 high period of mass detention.

Xi has been clear that “Xinjiang is the frontline and combat theatre of fighting terrorism, infiltration, and separatism,” so all ethnic work and Xinjiang policy are directly related to “social stability,” “long-term stability,” and the “overall situation of the whole nation’s development, unification of the motherland [zuguo], ethnic unity, national security, and great revival of the Chinese nation [Zhonghua minzu].” 3 Conducting research in an environment where almost every aspect of Uyghur society and personal life are considered security matters has been impossible. A lack of access behind the “great wall of iron” means that government document leaks, including the “Karakax List” and “China Cables,” have provided invaluable evidence on the policy practices of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—specifically the racial targeting of Uyghurs—but not on its decisionmaking processes. Unlike prior leaks, these papers revealed the CCP’s centralized chain of command and Xi Jinping’s micromanaged supervision of daily policy implementation in the XUAR.

The specific document below contains two key speeches made by former regional party chief, Chen Quanguo, that the Xinjiang Party Committee office distributed as a circular to all counties, military regiments, and paramilitary regiments. The document consists of two similar speeches from the first and second sessions of the ninth Xinjiang Party Committee and focuses on praising and summarizing Xi Jinping’s new policy framework, announced at the 19th Party Congress. The document describes the new policy framework as “a milestone in the history of the Party, the history of the People’s Republic of China, and the history of the development of the Chinese nation,” as well as “an event of epoch-making and milestone significance.” The speeches repeat widely observed slogans related to national politics (e.g., “the Great Revival”) and Xinjiang policy (e.g., ethnic unity), but also lesser-heard instructions for cadres, such as the “four breaks” (break their roots, lineage, connections, and origins) and the “four things” (absolute security of camps and training centers, mass work, and normalization of control and military forces).

The key themes in Chen’s speeches are the “new era” of Xi Jinping, the centralization of party-state authority, and the struggle against the threat of ethnic separatism. The “new era” describes Xi’s rule, which drives China toward both the “great revival” on the international stage and toward the “fusion” or assimilation of Uyghurs. When Chen says, “it is an era when all Chinese sons and daughters [Zhonghua nu’er] work together with one heart and strive to realize the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” 4 it reflects the convergence of international and domestic goals in the party’s policy approach. It also contributes to the assimilation of Uyghurs who are a Turkic-speaking, predominantly Islamic people and not historically considered Zhonghua—that is, racially Chinese.

A considerable amount of the speech text, like most regional government and party documents, is devoted to praising Xi’s policy framework and to reminding cadres of his absolute authority in both matters of thought and practical policy implementation. The first speech describes the party’s “primary political task,” (i.e., the practical everyday work of all cadres) as “the study, propagation, and implementation of the spirit of the 19th Party Congress and the study, propagation, and implementation of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.” 5 The second concludes that cadres must “unite more closely around the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as its core.” 6 These words resonate as commands because they are backed up by physical force for those who fail to implement policy severely enough, such as Wang Yongzhi.

Here, we see how the party-state considers ethnic identity as a security matter because even Han cadres are treated as threats if they do not strictly follow orders in this targeting process. Chen repeats Xi’s words that “the longest-term problem in Xinjiang is the issue of ethnic unity,” and that the solution is to “resolutely implement the General Secretary’s important instructions” and the “Party’s ethnic policy.” 7 The “struggle” for ethnic unity—namely, state security and assimilation of non-Han—is “protracted, complex, and arduous.”8 Chen calls for the party-state’s approach to the region—targeting Uyghur identity as a security problem—to be made permanent through “normalization,” particularly the normalization of “anti-terrorism” and “stability maintenance” conducted by the Party and by recruited citizens in the “becoming family” [fanghuiju 访惠聚] and “ten family joint defense groups” [shihulianfang 十户联防] campaigns. New Party chief, Ma Xingrui, is considered to be more technocratic than Chen, but this permanent normalization of arbitrary detention, forced labor, and assimilation of Uyghurs is a long-term project.

To top