A Response to the Report Compiled by Lin Fangfei, Associate Professor at Xinjiang University

October 6, 2020

Dr. Adrian Zenz
Senior Fellow in China Studies
Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation
Twitter: @adrianzenz

On September 14, 2020, Dr. Lin Fangfei, associate professor at Xinjiang University, wrote a report which critiques my June 29, 2020, report titled “Sterilizations, IUDs, and Mandatory Birth Control”, published by the Jamestown Foundation. Lin’s piece was cited by an article in the South China Morning Post.

Before engaging with the details of Lin’s report, I would like to point out some general structural observations.

First, Lin’s report does not start out as an academic exchange. Instead, she opens with the line that my work was endorsed by Mike Pompeo and then refers to me as someone who is part of an “extreme right-wing organization sponsored by the U.S. government.”

Second, Lin report’s is structured around “six lies” that she charges me to have made. This a very unusual format for what is billed as an independent review by an academic. Notable, state media outlets quickly reproduced this convenient format, as in the CGTN report titled “Six lies in Adrian Zenz’s Xinjiang report of ‘genocide’”.

Third, Lin largely avoids engaging with the actual text of the government policies and reports I cite, instead focusing on critiquing the accuracy and context of the numbers I cite. This is less dangerous for the Chinese state, because numbers are only meaningful in context. One can then discredit the numbers by carefully shifting the context through manipulation, doing so selectively so that incriminating correlations are not shown. That approach allows attacking select aspects of my work without “spilling any beans”, meaning without admitting facts that are problematic for the state. Properly engaging with text, however, is not possible without citing it, which comes at a great risk if said texts are actually quite incriminating.

Fourth, Lin’s report does not actually link to my Jamestown research paper, but only to the Associated Press report. A likely reason for doing so is that my report contains the actual details of what Lin is seeking to refute. If a reader engaged with those details, they would realize that Lin’s refutations do not constitute any substantive refutation of my actual work. Therefore, it is more strategic for her to link to the AP version and hope that most of her readers will not search for and read my original work. This matches the goals of the Chinese state, which does not want people read and engage with my work. Linking to the AP is therefore the lesser evil (her report had to provide some link).

Also notable is the fact that Lin is a junior academic, who just published her PhD in 2018. Besides defending her PhD thesis, her publication record does not show a single peer-reviewed academic publication, neither internationally nor domestically.[1] Her PhD subject area and stated fields of research are anthropology and gender studies. At Xinjiang University, she lectures in foreign social theory and social work theory. There is no indication that she has accumulated significant academic experience in the areas of demography, family planning or ethnic minority policy. Based on her biography, publications and teaching, she would have gathered expertise in qualitative research, but the extent of her expertise in quantitative data analysis is unclear.

Below, I will engage in detail with several of her key allegations.

Lin disputes that the natural population growth rate in Xinjiang has sharply decreased

Lin disputes that Xinjiang’s population growth has “dropped sharply”, arguing that Xinjiang’s 2018 natural population growth rate was higher than the national figure (6.13‰ versus 3.81‰; ‰ stands for per thousand or per mille). Rather than being related to state intervention, she argues that birth rate declines are a “reasonable phenomenon” and caused by a decreasing desire of minority women to have more children, in line with modernization and the lawful implementation of China’s family planning policies.

In response, I would argue that the decline of Xinjiang’s birth rate from 15.88‰ in 2017 to 8.14‰ in 2019 (by 48.7%) and of its natural population growth rate from 11.40‰ in 2017 to 3.69‰ in 2019 (by 67.6%) is sharp and staggering. These are not gradual changes in preference, linked to higher education or livelihood changes, but the result of draconian state interventions detailed in my report: the campaign of mass internment and a systematic state effort to reduce minority births.

These declines are most staggering in Uyghur regions, which is likely the reason why Chinese state avoids citing their numbers. Lin’s report likewise is very careful to avoid citing past and present population growth figures from Uyghur regions next to each other, so as to not show how dramatic the changes have been.

Importantly, the sharpest birth and natural population growth rate declines have taken place in rural Uyghur regions and not in urban centers. This fact most clearly contradicts Beijing’s assertions that demographic trends in Xinjiang are explained by the forces of modernization. For example, Hotan City’s 2018 natural population growth rate stood at 4.13‰, 40% higher than the 2.96‰ growth seen in the rest of the predominantly rural prefecture. In Kashgar City, the 2018 natural population growth rate of 3.96‰ exceeded the 2.38‰ rate of the entire prefecture by 66%. This does not reflect a genuine change in people’s choices, but rather mirrors the reality that the government’s actions in rural Uyghur regions have been especially heavy-handed. (Kashgar City has since removed all reports containing annual population growth data from its website except the one from 2017.)

In Hotan Prefecture, natural population growth fell from 15.79‰ in 2016 to 2.96‰ in 2018, an 81.3% decline in the space of two years. Note that this sharp drop occurred at the onset of the campaign of mass internment. Importantly, Hotan’s 2019 natural population growth figure has not been published, despite the fact that in previous years, this figure was always published between March and May of the following year. Instead, the region removed all prior local reports from the relevant section of its website after my report was published (compare snapshots from May 2020 and September 2020).

In Hotan’s Yutian Prefecture, natural population growth fell from 15.46‰ in 2015 to 10.35‰ in 2017, and then sharply turned negative (-0.49‰) in 2018 (sources: Xinjiang Statistical Yearbook [below abbreviated as XSY], tables 3–6). My analysis of Xinjiang’s related family planning policy and measures indicates that coercive measures were drastically ramped up during that very year.

In Kashgar Prefecture, natural population growth fell from 12.54‰ in 2016 to 2.38‰ in 2018, an 81.0% decline in the space of two years. Again, this sharp drop occurred at the onset of the campaign of mass internment. Kashgar’s 2019 annual report failed to report birth, death, and natural population growth rates, a noteworthy departure from having done so consistently during the previous 20 years.

Lin’s report notably fails to discuss the most recent local population statistics from 2019, a fairly glaring omission given than many of them were published in the first half of 2020 and therefore readily available. These figures indicate a further drastic decline in birth and natural population growth rates.

For example, Qira (Cele) County‘s birth rate declined from an already low 9.36‰ in 2018 to 6.54‰ in 2019, a decline of 30%. Wushi County’s birth rate nearly halved from 14.58‰ in 2018 to 7.58‰ in 2019, a 48.0% decline.

Importantly, Xinjiang’s local governments frequently put a cap on future population growth by mandating very specific growth limits. For example Hotan City’s family planning documents state that for 2019, the natural population growth rate must not exceed that of 2018, which in this document is given as 3.89‰ (Figure 1; the 4.13‰ figure cited above is from its 2019 SEDR). This growth rate is 76.2% lower than the 16.36‰ rate of 2015 (XSY, table 3–6).

Figure 1: Hotan City maximum target figures for allowed birth and natural population growth rates for 2019 (2019年人口自然增长率≦2018年同期数3.89‰). Source: Hotan City.

These sharp declines are not merely related to the campaign of mass internment, which itself would create a noticeable drop. The fact that they are so dramatic is due to additional, highly coercive birth prevention measures, including the threat of internment for those who violate family planning policies, insertion targets for Intra-Uterine Contraceptive Devices (IUDs) of at least 80% for southern Xinjiang, and specific plans to sterilize a certain percentage of all women of childbearing age in rural minority regions.[2] Documents from 2019 reveal plans for a campaign of mass female sterilization in rural Uyghur regions, targeting 14 and 34% of all married women of childbearing age in two Uyghur counties that year.[3] This project targeted all of southern Xinjiang and continued in 2020 with increased funding. Lin omitted to mention these documents, which I therefore reproduce below (Figures 2 and 2).

Figure 2: Guma (Pishan) County 2019 family planning targets for birth prevention measures among pastoralist and farming populations, which include the “target” figure of sterilization 14,872 persons. Source: see note [3].
Figure 3: Guma (Pishan) County 2019 family planning targets for birth prevention measures among pastoralist and farming populations. Source: see note [3].

Xinjiang’s number of performed sterilization surgeries increased from 3,214 in 2014 to 60,440 in 2018, representing an 18.8-fold increase.[4]

Lin argues that I misrepresent population growth data by falsely quoting lower natural population growth figures

Lin correctly notes a discrepancy between the 2.38% rate for Kashgar used in my report, and the 6.93% contained in the 2019 Xinjiang Statistical Yearbook (XSY). This results from a reporting difference that is found for some regions and some years between the XSY and the Xinjiang regional Social and Economic Development Reports (SEDR), which are clearly cited as a second population data source in my report (e.g. under figure 5). Given that Lin is a social scientist at Xinjiang University, one would expect her to be aware of these different data sources.

I decided to use the SEDR as the source for Kashgar because of extreme discrepancies between both sources for some years. XSY tables cite extremely high birth and natural population growth rates for Kashgar for select recent years. The likely difference between both data sources is in fact discussed in my report. To quote: “Spikes in the reported population during census years (1990, 2000) reflect more rigorous population counts, while increasingly stringent grassroots population control mechanisms are a likely reason behind the 2014 spike in Uyghur population growth.”

Below is a detailed comparison of these discrepancies:

Table 1: Comparison of Kasghar natural population growth rates (in per mille) by data source.

Natural population growth does not typically double, quadruple, or halve, all in the space of 12 months. My tentative analysis of these discrepancies is that the XSYs figures were used by the authorities to include previously undiscovered (“illegal”) births. The discrepancy and related spike was most notable in 2014, the first year of Zhang Chunxian’s campaign to send cadres to villages. Then, in 2017, Kashgar’s natural population growth according to the XSY was nearly twice as high as in 2016, which is explained by Chen Quanguo’s intensified campaign of sending these cadres to Uyghur households in a bid to uncover information that was then used to internment and other draconian measures. Several government documents cited in my Jamestown report speak of a detailed, “dragnet-style” investigation and prosecution of illegal births, especially those since the middle of 2017. This was also combined with the setup of detailed digital Population Information Systems. Overall, the population data contained in the SEDR appear to be much closer to actual reality that the wildly varying XSY figures.

Interestingly, the drop of natural population growth in Kashgar between 2017 and 2018 was in fact “sharp” according to either source: 70.3% (SEDR) and 77.2% (XSY). Lin’s piece, however, avoids making such comparisons.

Lin argues that the government documents I cite do not say that those who violate family planning regulations may be subject to internment

Rather than actually quoting from these documents, Lin cites from Xinjiang’s White Book to argue that these are just “training centers” that help to reform persons affected by “religious extremism”.

Notably, Lin does not actually dispute that those who violate the policies are in fact sent to these “centers” as punishment for their behaviors. She simply argues that these facilities are lawful and beneficial.

Given what we know about the true nature of these so-called “education and training centers” from witness accounts, satellite images, the government’s own documents or documents such as the China Cables, there is nothing further to add here.

Lin argues that I miscalculated Xinjiang’s national share of newly-inserted IUDs as 80%, whereas it should be 8.7%

Lin arrives at a 8.7% IUD insertion share for Xinjiang (among total national IUD placements) by only taking account of IUD insertions. However, my research report explicitly and clearly states that I estimated newly added IUDs by subtracting IUD removals from insertions (net added IUDs = new insertions — removals).

This is a very important difference, because on the national level, the figure for IUD removals was very high. Nationally, 3,774,318 IUDs were inserted and 3,474,467 IUDs removed (2018), allowing us to estimate net added IUD placements at 299,851. In contrast, Xinjiang had 328,475 IUD insertions but only 89,018 removals, resulting in 239,457 newly added IUDs, or 80% of the national total.

Lin possibly took the 8.7% calculation idea from a Global Times article against my research from early July. Given that Lin is an academic and evidently familiar with the China’s statistical yearbooks, it would have been uncomplicated for her to correctly reproduce my calculations.

Lin further notes that the number of IUD placements in Xinjiang in 2015 and 2018 was roughly comparable, and therefore does not indicate a marked upwards trend. This is correct, and in fact reproduced by my chart of net added IUDs between 2010 and 2018 (p.14, figure 6).

Similarly, Chinese state media has sought to attack my work by claiming that I omitted key facts, such as that Han population growth has been lower than that of the ethnic minorities. However, the entire first half of my report is dedicated to a comparison of Han and minority population growth. Rather than being selective, my work contextualizes these facts in light of most recent demographic and policy developments. Here, Lin’s work reproduces a state media propaganda tactic of accusing me of omitting that which I had included. This strategy relies on the fact that most people will not read my full report.

Lin critiques my statement that the natural population growth rate of a residential district in Hotan City, where the Han make up the majority, was nearly 8 times higher (in 2018) as that of the surrounding Uyghur majority population regions

Lin first states that I did not indicate the data source for natural population growth in Hotan City’s Gulbagh Residential District. That is incorrect. I give the source on p.9, see full quote:

Even more dramatic is the difference between the Uyghur-dominated countryside and Han majority suburbs in Hotan City. Gulbagh Residential District (古勒巴格街道), which is 54.1 percent Han, boosted a natural population growth of 15.17 percent in 2018, a full 7.8 times higher than that of Hotan County (Hotan City, November 12, 2019).

[Note: the hyperlink links to the source: http://archive.is/UUO4F; Hotan County’s figure is here]

Lin correctly notes that the birth and natural population growth rates of a city district can be affected by various factors in the space of one year, including e.g. population movements. While correct in essence, that assertion is hardly sufficient nor the most logical explanation for a nearly 8-times discrepancy, especially given that rural birth rates consistently exceeded urban ones for decades (if not centuries). Gulbagh Districts’s figure is in fact very similar to those found in southern Xinjiang before the onset of the drastic birth prevention policies.

The more logical explanation, drawn from the body of evidence presented in my report, is that the Han majority regions benefited from considerable leniency, following the expansion of birth quotas for the Han in mid-2017. In contrast, rural Uyghur majority regions have had their birth rates slashed because these regions constituted the main target of the campaign of mass internment and of the most recent draconian birth prevention measures.

Lin also states that Hotan’s Prefecture’s Uyghur population increased while its Han population decreased. That is accurate but entirely beside the point. Han population decreases took place in several Uyghur majority regions, and in fact all across Xinjiang. There are most likely the result of the extreme securitization measures and related reasons, such as drastic changes in the socio-economic and business environments in these regions. Natural population growth must be analyzed in distinction from total population count.

Lin argues that Kizilsu Prefecture’s 2020 population growth target is not that different from previous years, contrary to my claim that the region lowered its growth targets to an unprecedented low level

Lin cites from a government family planning document from my report to argue that Kizilsu Prefecture, a region mainly populated by Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities, set a natural population growth target for 2020 of 10.5‰ (1.05%), and therefore not that different from that of previous years (of 11.45‰ in 2018). She therefore argues — in contrast to my report — that Kizilsu is not a case of a minority region where the state on purpose planned for a dramatically lower population growth.

The number cited by Lin refers to a “quality indicator” (质量指标) that outlines a maximum population growth rate (and birth rate) ceiling that must not be exceeded (hence the use of the ≤ symbol). The region does, however, specify a concrete target for 2020, found in the text at the top of that table and stated in my report (Figure 1). This text mandates that for 2020 (compared to the previous year), the birth rate must be reduced by 7.13‰ and the natural population growth rate by 6.14‰.[5]

Figure 4: Kizilsu family planning document — project effectiveness indicator table (note highlighted section). Source: http://archive.is/4AHOr.

Kizilsu’s 2019 birth rate stood at 8.18‰ and its natural population growth at 3.57‰, meaning that means that the region’s targets for 2020 amounted to a 1.05‰ birth rate and a negative (-2.83‰) population growth rate. This represents a stunning 87.2% decline in Kizilsu’s planned 2020 birth rate compared to the 2019 figure.

Lin argues that the quarterly IUD check list from Kumarik District, Payzawat (Ch. Jiashi) County, that is shown in my report (p.13, table 2) does not prove that China has implemented coercive birth control measures even on Uyghur women who have had only one child

I will respond to this by quoting the text above and below that table in my report:

By 2019, Xinjiang planned for over 80 percent of women of childbearing age in the rural southern four minority prefectures to be subjected to “birth control measures with long-term effectiveness” (长效避孕率, changxiao biyun lü). [35] This was to be verified through quarterly IUD checks (see Table 2), along with monthly family visits and bi-monthly pregnancy tests. However, “focus persons,” those deemed more problematic by the government, were to receive more frequent checks (e.g. Nilka County, November 20, 2019).

At least for ethnic minorities, these measures are not voluntary. For example, Bayingol Prefecture’s related stipulation from May 2018 (Bayingol Prefecture Government, May 10, 2018), stated:

After checking… all [women] that meet IUD placement conditions and are without contraindications must have them placed immediately. If there are contraindications, a diagnosis certificate must be issued at a minimum by a level-two health care institution, and follow-up must be strengthened.

Birth control statistics between spring 2017 and autumn 2018 for 12 villages and urban districts in Kök Gumbez District, Kuqa County (Aksu Prefecture) show that 73.5 percent of married women of childbearing age (已婚育龄妇女, yihun yuling funu) had IUDs fitted. [36] Clearly, IUDs are not only used for women with three or more children, nor just for those with two children, but also for at least half of those with just one child (see Table 3; compare with Table 2). [Emphasis added]

You will note that my report does not primarily cite table 2, but table 3, as evidence of my statement regarding IUD placements and number of children. Table 2 shows a roster for quarterly IUD checks, which includes the names of women together with their number of children. This illustrates the wider point. The main argument of state coercion even over women with one child is however based on table 3, which Lin notably did not want to reproduce or quote from. Consequently, she neither engages with that body of evidence from local data presented in my work nor with the related policy documents.

Lin goes on to say that my report alleges that the share of women in menopause in Kök Gümbez District, Kuqa County (Aksu Prefecture) doubled because of Depo-Provera injections given during internment (my report, p.20, figure 11). She argues that my assertion that this drug is used in the camps to render women infertile is misleading.

However, Lin evidently misread my report, or perhaps it was mistranslated, or else misinterpreted on purpose. I simply note that government documents from Kashgar City and Bagrax County state that Depo-Provera is being used for family planning in general. Then my report says: “The drugs administered in internment camps may be more directly targeted at suppressing menstrual cycles.” (p.19) I only state that Depo-Provera can cause a loss of fertility until up to 18 months after injections are stopped, and I only name this drug to show that drugs that induce changes in fertility and menstrual cycles are part of the routine repertoire used for birth prevention in Uyghur regions. However, I suspect that the drugs given to women in internment differ, because their effects seem to be more immediate and more extreme.

What did Lin and the governments in Beijing and Xinjiang not comment on?

Both Lin and the various Chinese government entities that commented on my report chose not to comment on a number of extremely important claims made in that report. Given their vigorous denouncements of both my person and my research, these omissions are noteworthy. If any of the facts cited in my work were incorrect, Beijing would certainly have seized upon that fact. These omissions are therefore noteworthy.

First, they did not comment on detailed family planning indicators and related sterilization targets in Pishan County and Hotan City, two regions with Uyghur majority populations, which planned in 2019 to respectively sterilize approximately 14.1% and 34.3% of rural married women of childbearing age. These documents are easily accessible. Their contents directly contradict Lin’s and the Chinese government’s assertions about supposedly “voluntary” fertility choices.

Second, they did not comment on Xinjiang Health Commission budget documents that show that the region budgeted a combined 1.5 billion RMB in 2019 and 2020 for birth prevention award monies, including rewards for “voluntary” IUD placements and sterilizations, and a combined 260 million (also 2019–20) for “free birth prevention surgeries” in southern Xinjiang, to include health checks, IUD services, abortions, and sterilizations.

Third, they did not comment on the fact that from 2018, Xinjiang began to commonly use the term “zero birth control violation incidents” (违法生育零发生), a term that has not been routinely used elsewhere in the PRC nor in Xinjiang prior to 2018. “Zero birth control violations” became a standard family planning target in 2018 and 2019. A particularly strict case here is Hotan Prefecture, a region with a population of 2.53 million, which in 2019 planned to have no more than exactly 21 birth control policy violations (sources: my report, p.12).

Conclusion

Unfortunately, I have to conclude that Lin’s report does not aim to constructively and fairly discuss the strengths or weaknesses of my work or analysis, but rather seeks to discredit it outright.

Her report is a piece of sophisticated propaganda, published under the guise of academia.

NOTES

[1] See https://archive.is/sAZOG. Her publication with the Journal of Peasant Studies is a book review.

[2] Download page: http://archive.is/hfGL6 (file 2019年自治区卫生健康委员会机关及直属(管)单位绩效目标.xls). Archived download of the spreadsheet: https://bit.ly/31FcswE.

[3] Sources: a) Guma County government website, download page at http://archive.is/F86ts, file 皮山县计生委.pdf contained in archive at http://www.ps.gov.cn/Upload/main/InfoPublicity/PublicInformation/File/2019/03/04/201903041238580250.rar. Alternative archived download at https://bit.ly/3fOCTEH.

b) Hotan City: http://web.archive.org/web/20200514171345/https://www.hts.gov.cn/file/upload/201904/02/161938677.pdf.

For both Guma County and Hotan City, the 600 RMB price tag shown in the respective government planning documents indicates that these are female sterilizations (输卵管结扎), which throughout Xinjiang are budgeted at a standard 600 RMB per procedure, while male sterilizations (输精管结扎) are budgeted at 220 RMB. See e.g. http://archive.is/wip/m2b9x.

[4] Source: China Health and Hygiene Statistical Yearbook, table 8–8–2.

[5] Note: the June 29 version of my report incorrectly stated that Kizilsu’s 1.05‰ target for 2020 referred to natural population growth. A July 21 correction, published well before Lin’s report, corrected this to say that this target refers to the birth rate, not the natural population growth rate.

Senior Fellow in China Studies, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (Twitter: @adrianzenz)

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store