Truth, Inspiration, Hope.

Han Chinese Prisoner Describes Atrocities in Xinjiang Concentration Camps

Lucy Crawford
Born and raised in China, Lucy Crawford has been living in Canada for over 20 years. She has great sympathy for Chinese and human suffering in general. With a Master's degree in Education and having worked on various professions, she now translates and writes about stories in ancient and modern China. She lives in Calgary with her husband and four children.
Published: February 17, 2022
Chinese paramilitary policemen stand guard on a street in the Uyghur district of Urumqi city, in China's Xinjiang region, on July 14, 2009. A mosque was closed and many businesses were shuttered a day after police shot dead two Muslim Uyghurs, as ethnic tensions simmered in China's restive Urumqi city.(Image: PETER PARKS/AFP via Getty Images)

Xinjiang’s re-education camps for Uyghur Muslims are becoming widely known across the media. A recent interview reveals that Han Chinese people — the ethnic group that makes up 90 percent of the country’s 1.4 billion people — aren’t spared by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) either. 

In an interview with overseas Chinese media The Epoch Times and New Tang Dynasty, a Han Chinese individual who spent 35 days in a “re-education camp” in Xinjiang recounted his experience of survival. 

He describes a place where people are treated like animals and forced to do labor. 

The Xinjiang concentration camp and its surroundings are covered with cameras. (Image: courtesy of Jiang Yuan, by The Epoch Times)

Crackdown on Uyghur Muslims began after the 2008 Olympics

Jiang Yuan (an alias) moved to Xinjiang with his parents when he was 12 years old. He said, “I was very enthusiastic about the land and would go to the Uyghurs’ Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, the two official holidays which are celebrated within Islam. I integrated very well.”

Before 2008, many Han and Uyghur people lived in mixed communities.  Jiang Yuan visited Uyghur homes as a child. He said, “Growing up in the same courtyard, there was no separation or differentiation.”

But after 2008, the CCP tightened its policies and forced Uyghurs to relocate, leaving only two or three Uyghurs in a courtyard. Shortly after the Olympics, the authorities began heavily cracking down on Muslims in Xinjiang. 

Most Uyghurs used to wear headscarves. Women wore their hair long in traditional veils, while men grew their beards out because of their culture and beliefs. But after 2008, the authorities in Xinjiang began to crack down on these customs. 

Jiang Yuan said that those who disagreed with government policy, regardless of gender or age, would be taken into a re-education camp. Labeled as a “vocational skills training center,” they are actually  concentration camps for dissidents that force Communist ideology and exploit people for labor while perpetuating brainwashing propaganda.

The July 5th massacre

When the July 5th incident took place in Urumqi in 2009, Jiang Yuan was near the market. He heard the soldiers’ gunshots clearly.  

“The Chinese Communist Party sent soldiers to surround the bazaar and asked the people inside to surrender. When the deadline finally came, they opened fire with machine guns. We could all hear the gunfire, and the sound of loading bullets, and people were shot to pieces,” he said. 

According to the CCP, the July 5 incident was a clash between Han Chinese and Uyghurs.  The military saw all Uyghurs as terrorists and ordered a crackdown in the region. But Jiang Yuan said the military didn’t care if there were any Han Chinese in the bazaar. When the time came, they started shooting at everyone, regardless of ethnicity. 

He recalled that soldiers used shovels to move pieces of corpses and flesh remnants while water trucks came to wash the floor covered in blood. The massacre was cleaned overnight, and soldiers came to re-paint the walls the next day. To cover up the incident, Xinjiang also cut off the Internet for two years.

Xinjiang concentration camp. (Image: courtesy of Jiang Yuan, interviewee)

Demolition of civilian houses to build concentration camps

To Jiang Yuan’s knowledge, the Communist Party is still working hard to build new concentration camps in Xinjiang today. Because of the lack of police control, the camps aren’t built too big. Since Xinjiang is a vast territory, many camps can be built to separate the population as much as possible and to produce so-called “economic benefits” for all. 

Jiang Yuan also mentioned a business owner who is being contracted to build the camps. According to him, most of the workers who built the camps were ethnic Uyghurs. The police officers who brought them in were compensated for their recruits. Jiang Yuan questioned, “Where did the police bring these people from? Why is the money going to the police?”

Jiang Yuan’s house was also forcefully demolished because the compound he lived in was within the area where the Communist authorities were building the camps. 

He said, “There is no compensation. People have to be relocated when the time comes. No matter what you do, when the three weeks are up, the construction trucks will come in and bulldoze everything, whether you want to move or not.” 

Jiang Yuan’s four-bedroom, two-bathroom house of about 100 square meters was just razed over. All he could do was blame his bad luck. Jiang said, “About five kilometers near the vicinity of my house was bulldozed and built into a concentration camp.” 

“The police will patrol the site with loaded guns. People aren’t allowed to take pictures, and there are surveillance cameras in all directions,” Jiang Yuan said, “Even though we are a small place in the countryside, there are high-definition cameras all along the road.”

Imprisoned in a concentration camp

In 2019, Jiang Yuan wrote an article about what he had seen in his 15 years living in Xinjiang and published it online. He didn’t expect to be approached by police shortly afterward and was thrown into a concentration camp himself for this publication. 

At first, the police asked Jiang Yuan to sign a “mandatory pledge” and told him that he could be released if he signed. But Jiang refused, “I’m telling the truth. I haven’t committed a crime and I’m a law-abiding citizen no matter where I am.” 

Because of his refusal to sign a confession, Jiang Yuan was tortured and beaten by police, “My head was smashed and I still have scars where hair can’t grow,” he said.

According to Jiang Yuan, Uyghurs and Han Chinese were housed separately in the camp. He lived alone in a single room with only one window high up on the wall. Living in these conditions, he quickly lost track of time. 

“I don’t even remember the date anymore,” he said. “It was my family who told me I had been in the camp for 35 days.”

During this time, he woke up at 7 a.m. every day to participate in a group flag-raising ceremony, singing China’s national anthem, and receiving brainwash training. He then went to work.  

Inside the camps, there were large sheds for people to work inside. They were given meals which included a plate of pickles and a bun, which was nowhere near enough to be filling. In addition, everyone had to recite the educational rhetoric pledging loyalty to the Party. If they were lucky enough to leave the camp, they were given a pamphlet that they had to carry with them and underwent checks at all times.

The flag-raising ceremony inside a Xinjiang concentration camp. (Image: courtesy of interviewee Jiang Yuan)

Women’s hair cut off to make wigs

Men and women were kept separate. Seven or eight people shared one room and sometimes even a dozen people were placed into one small space. Jiang Yuan discovered that camp guards forced women to take hormonal drugs to stop their periods in order to have women continuously work without interference. 

Moreover, Uyghur women no longer have long hair. All the women’s hair has been cut off to make wigs that are exported internationally. 

Jiang Yuan said, “Where do the Xinjiang wigs come from, you ask? When entering a concentration camp, your hair is cut off first.” 

The camps aren’t for vocational training as the CCP claims publicly. Most of the time, Jiang Yuan planted vegetables and took out weeds. Camp inmates are all forced to work without any compensation. 

Jiang Yuan said that Uyghurs of both genders have their blood drawn while in the Xinjiang camps. Doctors draw large vials of their blood without explaining what it is used for — a phenomenon many Chinese prisoners of conscience have witnessed. Researchers have linked these blood tests to widespread organ harvesting carried out in state and military-linked hospitals.

Jiang Yuan recalled that there would often be people who would disappear overnight. People in the camps know that the disappearance of their cellmates means they might have been chosen for organ transplants and are never to be seen again, he said. 

Fleeing to the United States

The police in the camps were armed, and prisoners would be beaten with plastic bludgeons at the slightest hint of disobedience. The wounds aren’t too visible on the surface but can leave severe internal injuries. Jiang Yuan said, “In the concentration camp, people are treated like slaves, becoming numb, afraid to resist, losing track of time.”

After 35 days in the camp, Jiang was finally released after rescue efforts by his family and friends. Despite this, he was required to go to the police station periodically to serve as a laborer, performing manual tasks like housekeeping and car washing. Jiang Yuan eventually found a way to leave Xinjiang and fled to the United States.

Jiang Yuan said, “In the United States, people who don’t know the Chinese government may be deceived, but the locals in Xinjiang know the truth.”