China has been one of too few countries that have not experienced many actions of terrorism in their recent history, and has often felt pride in that.
That pride changed to fear in 2013, when three individuals drove a car into a crowd full of people at the Gate of Heavenly Peace on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The drivers were Muslim extremists from Uyghur.
Shortly after this attack occurred, China opened these re-education camps and began to force parents and children with any ties to this region into them.
Reporters from BBC have inside information from individuals who have been separated from their children. They claim Uyghur Muslims are not only being placed into these camps if they express any extreme thoughts or ideas, but are ripped from their children if they are merely practicing their faith.
China has made claims that these camps are only in place to combat violent extremism, but some are comparing them to concentration camps.
“They are two completely different things. These are education camps. The chinese online news also mention that they’re education camps, different from what the Western media has reported,” said Dr. Liping Bu, chair of the history department here at Alma.
This is not the first time that China has put its residents into education camps. The People’s Republic of China came to be in the 1950s, and this brought forth major social changes; the biggest being socialist values within the country. At this time, China instituted re-education classes for its upper-class citizens.
“[China] conducted re-education classes for people who used to be of the upper class who had biased toward ordinary people to try to reshape their attitude so they could reshape their thinking,” said Dr. Bu.
While some countries may feel as though the actions of China are on the extreme side, this is not the first time that China has used these tactics to reshape the ideas of their society.
These camps were first instituted in China in 2014, but they haven’t gained much media attention overseas until now. The reasoning: leaked documents from China that tell officials within these camps to treat the individuals with “absolutely no mercy.”
This document has just recently come to light, and many other countries are now looking to China for an explanation, but some say that you must remain cautious of what you hear and see in the media.
“You’ve got to check the sources in their original form. In the past, I have seen reports, which were in the Western news, that were completely off of the original documents. Read the original language, what does it say there?” said Dr. Bu.
No matter what the document may say, China is still building more and more education camps, and is placing Muslims into them each day.
Many Uighurs have come from the Xijian region to leave behind China’s birth control limits, study and have more religious freedom. They are now facing oppression at the hands of the Chinese government.
“My understanding is that the government is trying to educate these people so they don’t use terrorist tactics. Once the political situation becomes tight the government can go beyond expectation,” said Dr. Bu.
These camps, and all that they entail, are just now being questioned by other countries. While many nations are aware of their existence, the secrecy of China’s government makes it difficult for many to know what is actually occurring within these “re-education” camps.