Letter to Canterbury University

October 5, 2020

Dr. Adrian Zenz
Senior Fellow in China Studies
Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation
Washington, D.C.

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Shihezi University Village Work Team Report (source: http://archive.is/Vdys4)

To :
The Vice-Chancellor
University of Canterbury
New Zealand

To Whom it May Concern:

I am writing to you in reference to the publication titled “Holding a Pen in One Hand, Gripping a Gun in the Other”, compiled by Professor Anne-Marie Brady.[1]

Under the subheading “Massey University” (pp.15), Brady’s paper explores Massey’s links with PLA-affiliated entities in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Specifically, Brady notes that Massey has an established partnership with Shihezi University in Xinjiang, which is part of the Xinjiang production and Construction Corps (XPCC).

It is my understanding that Brady’s publication has sparked criticism, and that her work is under review by her academic institution.[2] Massey University has responded to Brady’s allegations by stating that its connection with Shihezi​ University is solely related to work in agriculture, and that “[t]here is no direct relationship between Massey University and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC)”.[3]

In my capacity as an internationally-known and widely-cited expert on Beijing’s policies and actions in Xinjiang, I have decided to undertake and present a concise and careful evaluation of Brady’s claims.[4]

There is a comprehensive consensus among scholars of Xinjiang and of China’s ethnic minority policy that the XPCC, a paramilitary entity, has played an integral part in the colonization and “development” of Xinjiang and its ethnic minorities.[5] Specifically, the XPCC operates prisons, re-education camps and other internment camps for ethnic minorities, and plays an important role in Xinjiang’s more recent scheme of “poverty alleviation” through various forms of coercive labor.[6] The XPCC, also nicknamed the “farming militia”, was founded with the mission to colonize in particular the less habitable parts of Xinjiang through agriculture.[7] In November 2019, the Better Cotton Initiative cut ties with the XPCC over severe allegations of forced minority labor.[8] In July 2020, the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted the XPCC and its current and former party secretaries over human rights abuses related to “surveillance, detention and indoctrination”.[9]

The city of Shihezi is the largest XPCC city and served as XPCC headquarter until it was moved to Urumqi.[10] Shihezi​ University traces its origins to an institution founded in 1949 by the PLA, the year when Mao’s troops invaded Xinjiang and integrated it into the PRC.[11] It currently offers 92 majors, has over 40,000 students, and forms one of only two top-level (“211”) universities in Xinjiang (and the only one associated with the XPCC).[12]

The sources cited by Brady indicate that the collaboration with Massey in the area of sheep farming was formalized in 2006 (other articles note 2005 as the starting point).[13] Brady states that “[i]n 2015, the pioneering partnership between Massey, Beijing, and Shihezi universities was praised by then-ambassador Wang Lutong as one of the many “firsts” that characterise China’s relationship with New Zealand.” (p.15).

After conducting further research, I conclude that in respect to Massey’s involvement in Xinjiang, Brady’s paper does not include a number of important additional empirical data points as well as pertinent further contextual material.

According to relevant Chinese government, state media and other sources (referenced in footnotes throughout), Hugh Blair, Massey University Professor of Animal Science, who was part of the collaboration from its inception, has visited China about 20 times. His Xinjiang visits took place on a regular (annual) basis, meaning that Blair would have been thoroughly familiar with the developing situation in the region.[14] In October 2016, Blair received the China Friendship Award in Beijing through the recommendation of Shihezi University.[15] In September 2019, he received Shihezi University’s own Friendship Award.[16] These international collaborations fulfil an important government mandate for such government institutions in the context of the development of the Belt and Road Initiative, and are prominently showcased in related articles and publications.[17]

Given its history, the XPCC and its previous long-standing headquarter city of Shihezi have both long been deeply involved in Xinjiang’s military and security apparatus. XPCC regions are part of the campaign of mass internment in extrajudicial re-education camps that began in early 2017. Shihezi City’s Political and Legal Affairs Committee (政法委), an entity that overseas all domestic security work (including police, law enforcement in general, and administrative detentions), stated in its 2018 final financial accounts that its project-related expenses rose by 74 percent. The main reason for this drastic increase were “re-education center operating expenses” (教育转化中心日常经费).[18] Further evidence that the city also operates the infamous, so-called “vocational training and education centers” (or what I have referred to as vocational training internment camps), the most common form of extrajudicial internment and forced labor in Xinjiang, comes from the 2018 budget spreadsheets of the justice system (司法局), the government entity that operates the re-education network together with the Public Security Bureaus. These list some of the 2018 operating expenses of these centers (职业技能教育培训中心).[19] According to the China Cables, a leaked set of classified internal government documents from Xinjiang that discuss the prison-style operation of the vocational training internment camps, every administrative region in Xinjiang at county or city level (or above) had to establish a so-called “Education and Training Bureau” (教培局).[20]

According to the latest report published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute on Xinjiang’s re-education and detention facility network, Shihezi City operates both prisons and a detention facility with a large sports ground, several factory buildings and other buildings that are very similar to those found in other extrajudicial re-education or vocational internment facilities (distinct from the building types found in prisons or detention centers).[21] In autumn 2017, the facility was expanded with a large new factory building, which further substantiates this assessment. My own research paper from September 2018 identified construction bids for XPCC re-education camps in southern Xinjiang from May 2017.[22]

In Xinjiang, larger government entities of any type are invariably implicated in the policing, surveillance and even potentially the internment of ethnic minorities. This takes place through so-called “village-based work teams” (驻村工作队), a highly intrusive social control mechanism pioneered by Xinjiang’s party secretary Chen Quanguo during his tenure in Tibet.[23] The role played by these teams in the internment of minorities, the surveillance and appraisal of the family members of camp detainees, and the close surveillance of persons released from the camps, was laid bare in another leaked internal Xinjiang government document referred to as the Karakax List”.[24]

In April 2018, the AFP reported how a village work team from an XPCC academic entity, the XPCC Broadcast Television University (兵团广播电视大学) based in Urumqi, was responsible for identifying approximately one fifth of the adult population of a minority village for internment.[25]

According to government documents, public construction notices and anecdotal evidence, Xinjiang’s internment campaign began in March and April 2017. In my research paper on the Karakax List, I outline how the timing of this campaign was almost certainly determined by the deployment of the village-based work teams, which took place after Chinese New Year, between February 2nd and March 1st, 2017.

The village work team from Shihezi University was right at the forefront of this effort.

The university website states that the team was deployed to a township in Shule County, a Uyghur majority region in southern Xinjiang, in February 2017.[26] The team was charged with “gathering people’s hearts”, “get familiar with the basic situation of the village”, “integrate with the masses” and “preach the party’s policies”. The work team participated in “grid management” team meetings, a key social control and surveillance mechanism pioneered by Chen Quanguo that enables the micromanaged and close surveillance of community units down to the household level. At these meetings, the Shihezi University work team “promptly reported…problems found in the households visited…and proposed corrective measures.” Other documents indicate that this typically refers to “religious problems”, such as any religious custom, practice or material found in a household. At the grid management meetings, the work team and local officials also discussed the reasons why not all village members attend the mandatory flag raising ceremonies, a key event during which villagers are counted and subjected to intensive propaganda sessions (the Karakax List shows that some persons were interned because they failed to attend flag raising ceremonies, and that others were not being released from the camps because the family members had failed to attend in a “timely manner”). Accompanying images published with the account show Shihezi University team members in military fatigues.

Without going into further details, the evidence contained in this account makes it abundantly clear that the Shihezi University work team was right at the forefront of the social control drive that formed the core of the state’s effort to identify Uyghurs and other minorities for extrajudicial internment and other forms of punishment.

Shortly afterwards, on March 13, a Shihezi University village work team was again (or was still) active in Shule County’s Uyghur regions. This time, the team gathered individuals and their family members who had been imprisoned, were in detention, or were in re-education (camps) — all persons who had “poisoned” those around them (with the “poison” of religion).[27] This event appears to have been a combination of confessions and of extolling the need to “bravely fight religious extremism”, parading the victims of the internment campaign in front of fellow villagers. The details of and terminology used in the account would in my view be sufficient in an international criminal court of law to charge the Shihezi University village work team with direct involvement in “crimes against humanity”, or whatever legal appraisal the Xinjiang atrocities will end up receiving. As early as 2016, the university itself held meetings that evaluated the past three years worth of re-education work against “evil religious cults”. [28] Further teaching sessions on de-extremification and re-education work were held by Shihezi University lecturers in December 2017. All this indicates that the institution did not simply take a passive role in the region’s brutal re-education campaign, but that it closely followed and studied it, and may even have played a role in developing it further.

The Shihezi University website outlines several other subsequent accounts of university work teams visiting Uyghur villages and implementing government propaganda and social control work. An account from December 2018 shows that a Shihezi University village work team is now directly involved implementing the government next phase in dealing with the minorities: poverty alleviation and labor transfer (i.e. coercive labor).[29] The work team is described to have assisted the state’s “one household one job” policy, explaining the transfer of rural surplus laborers, and helping 124 villages in Shule County to transform their livelihoods. In this instance, the Shihezi University work team helped organize handicraft trainings and aided in the establishment of a village cooperative, into which individual households subsume (transfer) their labor and means of production. Besides work team members, this effort involved 83 Shihezi University students, who together visited homes in order to propagate “modern thinking”. Between 2017 and 2019, XPCC regions planned to receive 10,500 transferred Uyghur laborers from southern Xinjiang as part of the labor transfer program, which puts minority adults through internment camp-like militarized drill, thought transformation (political re-education) and vocational skills training, after which they are shipped off in large batches to their state-designated work destinations.[30] To further understand the full and complex implications of coercive labor transfer and “poverty alleviation” in the Xinjiang policy context, the reader is advised to consult detailed related research.[31]

In October 2016, when Professor Blair received the China Friendship Award in Beijing through the recommendation of Shihezi University, Xinjiang’s new party secretary Chen Quanguo had begun to dramatically ramp up police recruitment and the construction of local neighborhood police stations and checkpoints. My research indicates that these measures were implemented at a drastic speed and scale between September 2016 and the summer of 2017.[32] Xinjiang’s surveillance state was established in preparation for the unprecedented campaign of mass internment, which began in early 2017 and accelerated through 2018. In early 2019, the atrocity in Xinjiang was further scrutinized when Xinjiang’s governor Shohrat Zakir claimed that all “students” would be released from the camps, and when the first western media outlets were given a tour of de-securitized “model” camps.[33] In July 2019, the BBC published a detailed account of systematic parent-child separation in Xinjiang, caused by the scale and impact of the internment campaign.[34] In the summer of 2019, unknown persons in Xinjiang leaked two internal sets of government documents at great risk to their lives to the outside world. They were later passed to myself and others and subsequently published, revealing the prison-like nature of the vocational training camps and the local control mechanisms by which minorities were placed into internment camps. In September 2019, Blair, who is said to have visited Xinjiang annually, received the friendship award from Shihezi University. In June 2020, I published research proving that Xinjiang is committing acts of what might be referred to as “demographic genocide” among the Uyghurs and other ethnic groups.[35] Soon after the publication, editorials in the New York Times and the Washington Post called for the withdrawal of the 2022 Winter Olympics from Beijing. In July 2020, exile Uyghur groups and a British law team submitted evidence to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, accusing Beijing of crimes against humanity and potential genocide in Xinjiang.[36] Meanwhile, the New Zealand government has said that it “would encourage all New Zealand businesses operating in Xinjiang to be conscious of these well documented abuses and how their actions could be interpreted as an endorsement of them.”[37]

It should be quite clear that Massey University’s and Professor Blair’s continued and regular involvement with Shihezi University in the context of the evolving large-scale atrocities in Xinjiang is extremely problematic and entirely inappropriate. Even the otherwise quite harmless development of sheep genetics and sheep raising methods is unacceptable when taking into account the context in which this collaboration takes place, and in light of the propaganda material that such a collaboration generates for the XPCC and Xinjiang governments. Foreign collaborations in Xinjiang in the era of these atrocities are routinely utilized to whitewash the atrocity by showcasing “development” and mutually beneficial international exchanges of scientific knowledge. Shihezi University’s related grandiose statements in the context of Blair’s 2019 Friendship Award Ceremony are a case in point.[38]

Massey’s and Blair’s entanglement in Xinjiang is in fact unprecedented. I am not aware of any other western university’s involvement in Xinjiang at such a blatant and regular level, even since the onset of the most egregious atrocities in 2017. If Massey decides to continue this collaboration, it will likely find itself being subjected to much scrutiny and mounting criticism.

This brief research excursion to fact check Professor Brady’s allegations indicates that her findings merely represent the tip of an iceberg that has been allowed to grow for the past decades and years. As the global community carefully and closely observes how Canterbury University is embarking on an investigation of her publication, I urge you to consider the importance on Brady’s work. Many of her peers around the world would not remain silent if her important research efforts were to be unfairly suppressed or silenced.


Dr. Adrian Zenz


[1] https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/media/uploads/documents/2020-07-HoldingAPenInOneHand-Brady.pdf

[2] https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/122405759/canterbury-uni-orders-review-into-publication-by-china-expert-annemarie-brady

[3] https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/300101155/massey-defends-links-with-university-connected-to-xinjiang-paramilitary-group

[4] See e.g. https://victimsofcommunism.org/leader/adrian-zenz-phd/, https://jamestown.org/analyst/adrian-zenz/, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/24/opinion/china-xinjiang-files.html.

[5] See e.g. https://cset.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/Chinas-System-of-Oppression-in-Xinjiang-How-It-Developed-and-How-to-Curb-It.pdf by Dr. James Millward, among many other pertinent examples.

[6] See https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02634937.2018.1507997?journalCode=ccas20, https://cset.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/Chinas-System-of-Oppression-in-Xinjiang-How-It-Developed-and-How-to-Curb-It.pdf, or e.g. https://archive.is/De1r4.

[7] https://foreignpolicy.com/2014/10/08/chinas-vast-strange-and-powerful-farming-militia-turns-60/

[8] https://apparelinsider.com/bci-ditches-chinese-partner-with-prison-labour-links/

[9] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-trump-idUSKCN24W29O

[10] https://archive.is/wip/hdF96.

[11] https://archive.is/qybaF

[12] https://archive.is/wip/RfRdi

[13] http://web.archive.org/web/20180923151956/http://www.gov.cn/jrzg/2010-06/15/content_1628385.htm

[14] http://archive.is/yMMFy#selection-637.61-637.80

[15] http://archive.is/yMMFy

[16] https://archive.is/DfHEr and http://archive.is/zcd4r.

[17] See e.g. http://archive.is/zcd4r.

[18] Budget spreadsheet titled “政法委2018年部门决算公开信息情况说明”, downloaded from the Shihezi government website (www.shz.gov.cn).

[19] Budget spreadsheet titled “新疆兵团第八师司法局”, downloaded from the Shihezi government website (www.shz.gov.cn).

[20] https://www.jpolrisk.com/wash-brains-cleanse-hearts/

[21] ASPI report, Shihezi Facility #1 (facility number 236), satellite coordinates 44.2361, 85.969).

[22] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02634937.2018.1507997?journalCode=ccas20

[23] See e.g. https://www.jpolrisk.com/karakax/.

[24] See e.g. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/17/world/asia/china-reeducation-camps-leaked.html for an overview of the document and the investigation. Detailed research paper: https://www.jpolrisk.com/karakax/.

[25] https://www.afp.com/en/eradicate-tumours-chinese-civilians-drive-xinjiang-crackdown.

[26] http://archive.is/Vdys4

[27] https://archive.is/wip/1YyMw

[28] https://archive.is/NEYGE

[29] http://archive.is/T0EbE

[30] https://archive.is/De1r4

[31] See e.g. https://www.jpolrisk.com/beyond-the-camps-beijings-long-term-scheme-of-coercive-labor-poverty-alleviation-and-social-control-in-xinjiang, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/30/world/asia/china-xinjiang-muslims-labor.html, https://www.aspi.org.au/report/uyghurs-sale.

[32] https://jamestown.org/program/chen-quanguo-the-strongman-behind-beijings-securitization-strategy-in-tibet-and-xinjiang/

[33] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-48825090

[34] https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-asia-china-48873934

[35] https://jamestown.org/program/sterilizations-iuds-and-mandatory-birth-control-the-ccps-campaign-to-suppress-uyghur-birth-rates-in-xinjiang/

[36] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/07/exiled-uighurs-call-on-icc-to-investigate-chinese-genocide-in-xinjiang

[37] https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/300101155/massey-defends-links-with-university-connected-to-xinjiang-paramilitary-group

[38] http://archive.is/zcd4r

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

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