New ASPI resource mapping the continually expanded Xinjiang camps, & the destruction of heritage sites (+ call for research, on the big lies covering it up)

Magnus Fiskesjö's picture

Following on Buzzfeed's August scoop on how the Chinese govt has been expanding its Xinjiang concentration camps all the while insisting the camps were closed, with no more detainees ( ), on Sept. 23, a damning new ASPI report details 380 sites built or expanded since 2017, -- including in 2019 and 2020, while the government continued to insisted the camps were being closed and the "trainees" let go. 

The new Australian Strategic Policy Institute website is now "the most comprehensive dataset on Xinjiang’s carceral system in the world" -- and also includes mapping the systematic destruction of heritage sites and mosques:

Project Launch - ASPI 'Xinjiang Data Project' new website mapping Xinjiang’s detention system,
Interactive map,
Explanatory Twitter thread:
Documenting Xinjiang’s detention system - Our key research findings. By Nathan Ruser, ASPI, September 24, 2020.

Various news media have been following up, incl.:

--Some comments:

It's astounding to note the brazen lying about all these matters, from the Chinese government. This aspect has not been adequately discussed by scholars, and we need more research on these lies, as well as on the thinking and conduct of the genocidaires.

As we know, in 2017-18, the Chinese government first denied it had built any camps; then, as the evidence became overwhelming (eyewitnesses; satellite imagery analysis; and analysis of Chinese government documents), they acknowledged they existed but spun new lies about the purpose, even building a few fake camps, to dupe foreign useful idiots. Then, recently, they have said the camps are done: all the detainees have "graduated." ASPI and Buzzfeed have helped expose their shocking lie — the second, or is it the third time around! 

Lying is what the Chinese regime does, on many fronts, of course (such as in the forced confessions I have written about at length), but this is on a staggering level, with consequences in human suffering on a mind-boggling scale, as the Chinese genocide against the Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other indigenous peoples continues unabated in its 4th year, according to plan, and with very little reaction internationally (so far only a few sanctions from the US against individuals and companies involved -- one that may potentially bite is the one on the colonial corporation, the 'Bingtuan'; European leaders belatedly calling for UN inspections -- even though we already have mountains of facts on the crimes committed, and even though we know the regime is insisting on choreographing yet another fake tour; and a long line of Muslim-majority countries led by Iran and Saudi Arabia, which endorse the repression.

The Chinese government's lying, by itself, should be a top research topic for Asia/China scholars. We may ask, how is it possible for Chinese government officials to engage in this lying with a straight face? Of course lying and covering up genocide and famine is a long tradition that goes back to Pol Pot, Mao, the Nazis, and so on. And we can readily see how local quislings like the native Xinjiang governor, who of course serves on pain of death, will keep performing his press conference spectacles of lies, just like the Goebbelsian Chinese foreign ministry people. But the case of the Chinese Communist leaders who are the true genocide perpetrators requires more explanation. Is it like the mafia: Once you've started, you simply have to go on, and live the lie?

Indeed I've suggested part of the answer lies in how the stakes keep rising in a spiral of violence (  ): Anyone that calls for a halt to the cruelties (the torture, the starving, the rapes, the killings and so on), is likely to be jailed himself, as happened to Wang Yongzhi, the Han Chinese Communist party officer in Yarkand, Xinjiang, who refused to go along and was punished for it -- now in jail, he must be hailed as a hero, of course ( ).

In this scenario, a lot of responsibility falls on the top dog, the Communist Party chief Xi Jinping, who has been quoted as instructing his henchmen, "Absolutely No Mercy." Obviously, that sort of leadership has not only brought about the mega-project as a whole (a full-scale state-directed genocide drawing on concentration camps, forced sterilizations, forced assimilation, starvation, forced labor, and so on), but it also ensured that the project is everywhere permeated by cruel violence, as the many witnesses and documents are telling us about.

As earlier scholars have written about, such direction from the top can result in lower-level officials themselves starting up local mass cruelties, inspired by the (correct) belief that they are following the guidance from above. Michael Stewart wrote a fascinating account of how Nazi police officers, inspired by the Leader, started rounding up Roma victims on their own initiative -- "How Does Genocide Happen?" in Rita Astuti, Jonathan Parry, and Charles Stafford, eds. Questions of Anthropology. Oxford, UK; New York: Berg, 2007, Ch. 10, 249-280. This underlines the outsize influence of the negative role of individual authoritarian leaders who can do much additional damage just by waving the wand, and of course by congratulating, encouraging and promoting the lower-level perpetrators (as when Xinjiang's police chief was recently promoted within the Communist Party there), thus encouraging more cruelty throughout.

But such local effects and local initiatives, even though they may account for some of the violence and cruelty, point by point, camp by camp, cannot be the main issue. The overall responsibility for this project belongs with the Chinese state, and its current leadership, which really belongs in court. It is clear that to answer the why of this genocide (and more broadly, the whys of today's China), we also need a new subdiscipline of studies focusing on the very top, its authoritarian mindset, its monopoly on the "truth," its culpability and the compulsive lying about it, which may represent a conflicted, desperate attempt to escape responsibility.


Magnus Fiskesjö, PhD
Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Cornell University
McGraw Hall, Room 201. Ithaca, NY 14853, USA
E-mail:, or:


Online bibliography (periodically updated) on the genocide in the Uyghur region (East Turkestan):