Parent-Child Separation in Yarkand County, Kashgar

Adrian Zenz
24 min readOct 13, 2020

Evidence From Local Government Spreadsheets about the Fate of Thousands of Students With One or Both Parents in Internment Camps

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

Date: October 15, 2020

Overview of Key Findings

  • New local government data from Yarkand (Xinjiang) shows over 10,000 mostly Uyghur children in “hardship” due to one or both parents detained.
  • About 1,000 of these children have both parents in detention. A number of them have been put into state orphanages, some of which are directly next to schools.
  • The number of students in Xinjiang who live in boarding facilities grew by over 380,000 between 2017 and 2019, from about 500,000 to just below 900,000.
  • Local government lists of households confirm that there are numerous families with both parents in detention, with children shown to be in orphanages (younger ages) or boarding schools (older ages).


In July 2019, the author’s detailed report on parent-child separation provided comprehensive evidence from government sources that Beijing’s campaign of mass internment in Xinjiang was separating large numbers of children from their parents. [1] It showed that the state was engaging in a construction drive to add boarding facilities to educational settings, ranging from preschools to secondary schools.

Now, for the first time, new evidence from non-public Xinjiang government spreadsheets has come to light that details the fate of over 10,000 children from the Uyghur majority population county of Yarkand (Kashgar Prefecture). All of these children have one or both parents in internment (detention centers, re-education camps or prisons). The documents show how the state is caring for these children.

About 1,000 of these children have both parents in detention. The spreadsheets indicate that a number of them have been placed into state-run orphanages, while others are kept in full-time boarding school facilities. Other spreadsheets show entire households along with the internment status of their members, corroborating the veracity of these lists of “children in difficult circumstances” and giving us a full picture of their actual family situation.

By giving unprecedented detail and insight into the fate of these children, the new data represents a highly incriminating set of information that sheds further light on the dramatic social ramifications of Beijing’s actions against these ethnic minorities.

1. Context: Boarding Education and Students With Detained Parents in Yarkand and Xinjiang

1.1 Xinjiang’s Boarding School Campaign

China, and specifically Xinjiang, have different categories of needy children. Besides outright orphans (孤儿), there are:

  • Left-behind children (留守儿童), typically defined in state documentation as caused by either both parents being away for work reasons, or one parent being away and the other unable to take care of the children.
  • Street children (流浪少年儿), who are without proper guardianship.
  • Children from “poor families” (贫困家庭), whose situation is impacted by difficult economic circumstances.

All of the above types of children can be referred to as “children in difficult circumstances” (困境儿童) or “children in especially difficult circumstances” (特殊困境儿童). By the end of 2017, Xinjiang officially had 80,933 orphaned, disabled or other children from such “population groups in difficult circumstances” (困难群体) in centralized state care facilities alone.[2] The local government spreadsheets analyzed below indicate that many more children in difficult circumstances are cared for in full-time boarding school facilities.

In 2018, Xinjiang embarked on a campaign to centralize and expand the boarding capacities of schools across all levels. In March 2018, the regional government issued a call to strengthen the construction of boarding schools throughout the region.[3] An government directive from Kashgar Prefecture from August 2018 states that the region is “striving to complete the 2020 goal of completing the construction of dormitory-based schools (寄宿制学校)”.[4] For 2020, Kashgar Prefecture planned to expand the comprehensive construction of boarding facilities for countryside schools located in townships.[5]

The directive further states that for grades 4 and higher, boarding is mandatory (应寄尽寄), while boarding for younger students is dependent on the wishes and circumstances of parents and guardians. Importantly, boarding facilities are to play a key role in the retention of “students from families with hardships” (家庭困难学生). The text states that for families with hardships and with children grade 3 and below, the state must “implement boarding school education well”. Mandatory boarding schooling for such children above grade 3 is not just limited to Kashgar; related directives can be found for numerous other minority counties in Xinjiang.[6]

Specifically, Kashgar set aside 60 million RMB for special subsidies for “students from families with hardships”: 2.50 RMB per day for “single-hardship students” (单困生), and 5 RMB per day for “double-hardship students” (双困生). The expressions “single- / double-hardships” indicate whether one or both parents are part of the difficult situation. The evidence presented below indicates that this includes situations where one or both parents are in some form of internment.

Government statistics show that between 2017 and 2019, the numbers of boarding students in primary and middle schools (grades 1 to 9) increased by 76.9 percent, from 497,800 to 880,500 (Figure 1).[7] This increase of 382,000 boarding school students occurred during the time frame of the internment campaign, and would have predominantly taken place in minority regions.

Figure 1: Xinjiang boarding school students.

Previously, a New York Times article on parent-child separation in Xinjiang reported the 497,800 figure by stating that “[n]early a half million children have been separated from their families and placed in boarding schools so far”.[8] That wording is potentially misleading, given that this figure simply reports the total number of boarding students (of all ethnic groups) in Xinjiang, without saying anything about separation from parents due to internment or other reasons (at my request, the New York Times kindly agreed to change their subtitle). However, the drastic (76.9 percent) increase of this figure since 2017 is clearly a reflection of both the mandatory boarding policy and of the ongoing detentions.

Between 2016 and 2019, the number of primary and middle schools in Xinjiang decreased while their total floor space areas grew significantly, reflecting a centralization of educational facilities in larger boarding school complexes. During these years, the average floor space per primary school rose by 44.8 percent, from 3,742sqm to 5,420sqm, and for middle schools by 43.4 percent, from 12,393sqm to 17,766sqm.[9]

According to the government, boarding schooling improves the educational situation of students from underdeveloped regions, given that local schools are under-resourced, commutes can be long, and parents may struggle to provide materially for their offspring. Boarding school campaigns have featured in other lesser developed parts of the country, notably in Tibetan regions.

However, these campaigns have been criticized for promoting environments where minority students face greater pressures to assimilate culturally and linguistically, and where they cannot at all engage in religious practices. Separated from their parents, students are exposed to the full force of the state’s indoctrination apparatus.

In Xinjiang, these issues are severely compounded against the backdrop of the region’s unprecedented police state and campaign of mass internment, measures that amount to a large-scale cultural and even demographic genocide.

According to the author’s previous research, Xinjiang’s educational facilities have become highly securitized and intensely political environments, where students live and study under the careful watch of a sophisticated high-tech surveillance apparatus.[10] Schools must employ security guards with “firm political views”, feature multi-tiered defensive intrusion prevention systems that rival those installed in internment camps or prisons, install full-coverage video surveillance systems, and some boast electric fences and computerized security patrol management systems equipped with one-button alarms. One Xinjiang middle school published a procurement bid for a 2.1 million RMB campus video surveillance system, which is more than what some re-education camps have spent on such systems.[11]

Xinjiang’s weaponized boarding education system represents powerful tool of assimilation. A June 2018 notice issued by the Xinjiang Education Department proclaimed that by the end of that year, the region’s 2.94 million students in mandatory education (grades 1–9) were expected to have a fully Chinese-medium language education.[12]

A specific example comes from the Tuokezhake Township Central Primary School (托克扎克镇中心小学), located in Shufu County and therefore in the same prefecture (Kashgar) as Yarkand.[13] The school’s document titled “Implementation Plan for a Completely Chinese-Speaking School Environment” (校园内全部讲国语实施方案) stipulates that all classes except for Uyghur language classes must be entirely taught in Chinese, and within the confines of the entire school, Chinese can be the only language for school management and teaching activities. Even teachers who teach the Uyghur language class are “encouraged” to use Chinese for the preparation and teaching of the class, and for any school management related activities. If at any time a teacher or student uses Uyghur, this must immediately be reported and dealt with as if it were a “serious teaching incident” (严重教学事故). Staff members who fail to immediately report such incidents receive the same punishment.

1.2 Yarkand County: Boarding Schooling and “Students with Hardships”

In Yarkand, the implementation of the boarding policy is reflected in rising education budgets, especially at the secondary level, where expenditures grew by over 20 percent in 2018.

Table 1: Yarkand (Shache) County educational expenditures. Source: Finance department final accounts.

Between 2018 and 2020, the county’s plans for expanding school boarding facilities specified the addition of 818,426sqm of floor space at a cost of 900.7 million RMB.

In 2018, the county budgeted 337.4 million RMB to expand or construct boarding and other facilities in 63 schools, and to construct 5 new schools, with a total floor space of 361,650sqm. The same document also outlined the construction of 222 securitized preschools, with surrounding walls and police guards. For 2019, the county budgeted another 165.2 million RMB for this ongoing project, involving now the expansion of 75 existing boarding schools, adding 257,731sqm of new floor space.[14] In 2020, the boarding school expansion involved 59 existing primary and middle school, with a floor space expansion of 199,045sqm and a budget of 398.1 million RMB.[15] The focus of this latest expansion were village and township schools, which is consistent with Kashgar’s 2020 notice cited above that stipulated the expansion of boarding education into the countryside.

The most important data point in Yarkand’s 2018 Poverty Alleviation Project Overview is the statement that the expansion of boarding floor space was intended to “solve the livelihood problems of 44,488 hardship students [困难学生].”

In Xinjiang and elsewhere in China, “children in difficult circumstances” (困境儿童) are typically defined as children where at least one parent is severely disabled or seriously ill, where the children themselves have a serious disability, where at least one parent is dead or serving a long-term prison sentence, or children with a single parent and a low household income where the remaining parent is either unable to financially support the child or unable to fulfill parental guardianship duties.[16] All of these children are “included in centralized [state] care” (纳入集中供养). Whether such “inclusion” is a choice or not is not stated in that particular policy document.

Yarkand’s figure of 44,488 “students in difficult circumstances” only refers to primary and secondary school students (including secondary vocational schools). Given that in 2019, the county had 225,286 primary and secondary school students, 19.7 percent of them were therefore considered to be “in difficult circumstances”.[17] However, according to county government data, in 2016 the county only had 8,544 poor households with 31,256 persons in poverty (贫困人口).[18] Numerous local government documents testify to the fact that between 2017 and 2019, ethnic minority families fell into poverty as a direct result of the campaign of mass internment.[19] Consequently, it seems evident that Yarkand’s numbers of “students in difficult circumstances” were greatly boosted by the internment campaign.

As a result, Yarkand’s share of such students is dramatically higher than in other Chinese regions. In 2019, neighboring Gansu province, which is also a much lesser developed region than the prosperous east, had a share of “students from families in difficult economic circumstances” (家庭经济困难学生) share of 8.7 percent among all primary and secondary students (including the secondary vocational level).[20] While Yarkand has long been a very poor county in China, the evidence presented below clearly indicates that the campaign of mass internment has greatly exacerbated this situation.

1.3 Internment Camps and Interned Population Statistics for Yarkand County

Figures of “students in difficult circumstances” need to be examined in the context of the wider internment campaign. Hotan and Kashgar Prefecture, which form a core part of the Uyghur heartland, have been at the center of Chen Quanguo’s re-education and social reengineering drive. Yarkand County has been even more a focus of Beijing’s security crackdown in the region because of the deadly July 28, 2014 incident, where 37 “civilians” (mostly Han Chinese) were killed and 59 assailants (Uyghurs) were shot dead by the police.[21]

The China Cables, a set of leaked, classified documents issued by the Xinjiang government, indicate that each county in Xinjiang must establish a “vocational skills education and training leadership small group” (职业技能教育培训领导小组). More specifically, Uyghur majority population counties such as Yarkand appear to have such internment facilities in every township. For example, local government spreadsheets obtained by the author indicate that Alslan Bagh Township (阿尔斯兰巴格乡) shows that this and two other neighboring townships, Hoshrap Township (藿什拉甫乡) and Udalik Township (乌达力克乡), have vocational training internment camps, along with at least two such camps in the Yarkand County seat: the Yarkand Industrial Park Vocational Training Internment Camp (莎车县工业园区教培中心) and the Yarkand County Southern City District Vocational Training Internment Camp (莎车县城南教培中心). Moreover, Alslan Bagh Township has both a vocational training internment camp and a transformation through education camp (教转中心).[22]

Local spreadsheets from six villages in three townships located in Yarkand County detail the situation of 1,138 households with 5,407 persons in 2018, all of them ethnic Uyghurs.[23] Of the 3,249 adults, 511 or 15.7 percent were classified as either in re-education, detention or prison (三类人员). Within this data set, the spreadsheet from no. 12 village in Azatbag Township (阿扎提巴格乡) showed an overall adult internment share of 28.4 percent, most of them male heads of households.

A different document shows the internment shares for villages that were implicated in Yarkand’s July 28, 2014 attack. A report about “issues with poverty alleviation” from October 2018 names two locations in that county, Elishku Town (艾力西湖镇诺其巴扎) and Akbash Village (阿克巴什村), both in Kosherik Township (阔什艾日克乡), that are “heavily polluted by extremist ideology” and were involved in that incident. A stunning 59.0 percent (440 of 746) of all households in these two villages are “three types of persons households” (三类人员). In one of the spreadsheets discussed below, which shows the situation of 9,537 students with single- or double-detained parents, 204 of them are from Kosherik Township.

Previously, the author estimated that up to 15.4 percent of Xinjiang’s Turkic minority adults are or were at one point in some form of extralegal detention. The data from Yarkand presented above feature an average internment adult share of 15.7 percent. The fact that nearly 20 percent of the county’s primary and secondary school students are designated as being in “difficult circumstances” must be viewed against this backdrop.

Overall, it should not come as a surprise that Yarkand County features an unusually high share of children with one or both parents in some form of internment or imprisonment.

1.4 Publicly-Available Evidence of Minority Students with “Single-Detained“ or “Double-Detained” Parents

The evidence contained in the local government spreadsheets on “children in difficult circumstances” with one or both parents in detention can be corroborated through several publicly-available sources, most of them government-issued documents.

A notice issued by the Kashgar Prefecture government in September 2018 uses f the terms “couples where both partners are detained in re-education” (夫妻双方被收教), and “couples where both partners are in vocational training internment camps” (夫妻双方在教培中心).[24] These parents are classified as “especially needy groups” (特殊困难群体), and their children are referred to as “children in difficult circumstances” (困境儿童). The document states that when these children’s parents are both in re-education camps (教培中心) and the family cannot pay their medical insurance bills, the insurance for them and for their children who are at school must be paid for by the local financial authorities.

Similarly, the Kashgar Prefecture Poverty Alleviation Policy Interpretation document, issued in May 2018, states that for “children from families in difficult circumstances [due to parents in] prison, custody or re-education” (三类人员家庭困境儿童), the prefecture has earmarked annual livelihood subsidies of 60 million RMB.[25]

Another reference to the children of parents who are both in detention comes from a website linked to the Kuytun government.[26] The document contains detailed entries about persons, their government-issued ID numbers, their livelihood situation, information about their parents and siblings, and so on. One of the entries pertains to a person with a female Uyghur name whose parents are both detained in re-education (父母被收教). Her little brother is in primary school. The household is categorized as low-income and receiving minimum living allowance welfare payments (低保户). Another entry in the same spreadsheet mentions a person with a Kazakh name who is the “child of persons detained for re-education” (收教人员子女). This household is likewise classified as being in “difficult living conditions” and “low income” (生活困难, 低收入).

Another distinct piece of evidence of the fate of children with parents in detention comes from the report of a young graduate from Zhejiang Province who volunteered to teach Chinese in a rural primary school in Pishan County.[27] Dated December 2018, the report details how in the middle of winter, with temperatures as low as -20 degrees Celsius, many children were still wearing thin clothes. These clothes also had not been changed or washed in a long time so that the entire classroom stank. The young teacher learned that the pupils’ parents were away picking cotton or “studying at the VTIC” (在jp中心学习). With both parents away, the “students were in an extremely pitiful state” (学生非常可怜).

A similar predicament appears to prevail at the Yarkand County №3 Primary School, one of the schools where many children of single- and double-detained parents are listed in the government spreadsheets. A news article from October 2018 (pertaining to the same winter season), shows students lined up with winter clothes donated by the “Love Volunteer Association” (Figure 2).[28]

Figure 2

1.5 Behavioral Correction and Preventative Monitoring: Mitigating the “Security Risks” Posed by Students with Detained Parents

In November 2016, the XUAR government issued a document outlining the region’s implementation of the central government mandate to organize systematic, centralized care for all rural “left-behind children” (农村留守儿童) by 2020.[29] This included the establishment of a computerized left-behind children information system in order to achieve complete reporting. However, as with the preschool construction drive, the state decided to drastically accelerate this policy. In June 2017, shortly after the begin of the internment campaign, the State Council Information Office (SCIO) in Beijing published a notice that required all left-behind children in Xinjiang to be in state care by the end of that year.[30] The notice further called for a comprehensive information system and an early intervention mechanism. Children with significant behavioral issues were to be subjected to “behavioral correction”.

Specifically, a Kashgar City notice from February 2018, which pertained to the expansion of boarding schools, mandates special attention for children whose parents have both either been “sentenced” or are in “vocational training”.[31] Here, “school children where one parent has been sentenced” (父母单方被判刑的困境学生) and “school children where [both] parents [are] in vocational skills training” (父母参加职业技能培训的困境学生; refers to vocational internment camps) are both referred to as “students in difficult circumstances” (困境学生).

The wording of the notice reflects a distinct urgency, indicating that the care of children whose parents are both in re-education had developed into a significant issue. These children are to be monitored and cared for by teachers and student class leaders helping the school leadership, class leaders helping teachers and teachers in charge of dormitory management (宿管老师), as well as student cadres and dormitory heads (宿舍长). All of these groups must “resolutely put an end to negligence in monitoring students in distress.” (坚决杜绝困境学生漏管).

The notice places similar urgency on “emphasizing and strengthening psychological counseling” (注重加强心理疏导) of all students in difficult circumstances, and to “strengthen students’ thought education” (强化学生思想教育). In particular, all those responsible are to “grasp students’ state of mind in a timely manner, implement one-on-one psychological counseling and psychological correction to the few students in difficult circumstances, … make up for the lack of family ties, and eliminate the negative impact on personality development ” (及时掌握学生思想动态,针对个别困境学生采取“一对一”心理疏导、心理矫正、…弥补亲情缺失,消除人格发展的消极影响). To this end, the affected students are permitted and encouraged to write letters to their detained parents and even to send them short video clips.

The fact that the state appears to have made detailed provisions for the situation of such schoolchildren provides further evidence of the systemic nature of this issue. Clearly, the boarding school system is used to contain and manage the fallout of the campaign of mass internment, while representing a core mechanism within Xinjiang’s long-term cultural genocide approach.

2. Local Government Spreadsheets Show Children with One or Both Parents in Detention

2.1 Data Source

In the summer of 2019, the author obtained a cache of over 25,000 files from different government departments. Government authorities exchange data via local networks, sorted by departments and departmental groups. Higher-level agencies send down policy documents, manuals, software and prepared spreadsheets that are to be filled out in order to meet extensive reporting requirements. The lower levels fill out these sheets, take photos or other evidence of activities, and return them to their superiors. These files are kept in large folders which can be downloaded all at once. The process of obtaining this data set did not involve any form of hacking into computer systems.

The obtained data pertains mostly to rural minority regions in Hotan, Kashgar and Kizilsu Prefectures, containing information collected or compiled by local government authorities between the years of 2015 and 2019. The key data presented in this paper consist of spreadsheets compiled or completed by local authorities to meet reporting requirements. Some files list all citizens within a local region, at times with their internment status. Other files serve more dedicated purposes, such as showing only the status of certain population groups.

The spreadsheets analyzed in this section pertain to “students / children in difficult circumstances” (困难学生 / 困境儿童). All of these files list student names, ID numbers, gender, a partial or complete address, their grade, the internment status of their parents, and their care status (cared for at home, at a boarding facility, or at an orphanage). Some files provide additional details such as ethnicity, their school’s name, or the number of their class in their school’s grade level. Some only state whether one or both parents are in some form of internment, while others state the form of internment (prison, detention, re-education).

2.1 Spreadsheet with 9,357 Students in Difficult Circumstances in Yarkand County (Grades 1 to 6)

The first file is a “roster of students in difficult circumstances in Yarkand County (grades 1 to 6)” (莎车县家庭困难学生花名册(1–6年级)). It lists 9,537 students with addresses, ID numbers, school names, ethnicity, grade level, and the internment status of their parents. All of these students have one thing in common: at least one of their parents is either a) in prison (监, short for 监狱), b) in detention (押, short for 收押), which would typically be in a detention center (看守所), or in re-education (教, short for 收教). Nearly all are Uyghur, besides 7 Kazakh and 4 Tajiks. Notably, in 2018 Yarkand only had 1,194 Kazaks and 2,918 Tajiks, but 24,958 Han. The list however does not contain a single Han student.

Of all students, 822 are listed as “double-hardship” (双困), and the remaining 8,715 are shown as “single- hardship” (单困). The column showing the parental internment status directly corresponds to this: “double-hardship” students are shown as having both parents in internment or prison.

The data indicates that 53.1 percent of all students were kept in boarding facilities: 49.8 percent of the “single-hardship” students, and 88.2 percent of the “double-hardship” students. As previously estimated by the author, the boarding education system plays a major role in caring for students whose parents are in detention. In line with policy requirements, boarding shares are especially high for students in grades 4 and higher (92.2 percent), while only 24.1 percent of grade 1–3 students are in dormitories. However, “double-hardship” students in these lower grades featured a boarding share of 82.1 percent, nearly as high as that of students in the higher grades.

The document reveals that 10,359 parents were still in internment (note that this figure and related calculations do not account for double-counting due to multiple children per set of parents). Of these, 20.2 percent were in prison, 18.5 percent in “detention”, and 59.4 percent in re-education. When both parents were interned, the most common form was both of them in re-education (298), followed by both of them in detention (136) and one in prison and one in re-education (122).

Of all students, 287 were shown as attending the Yarkand №3 Primary School (莎车县第三小学, see also section 1.4). This school has both a regular school building with boarding facilities, and an orphanage (福利院). This fact is confirmed by a teacher’s account, which says that: “next to our school is an orphanage, [whose] children also come to our school during the day and go back to the orphanage at night. The principal has to worry about their food and accommodation.”[32] Among the 287, 139 were “double-hardship” children, and 99 of them are shown to be located in the school orphanage. The teacher describes the conditions as extremely crowded: her class has 54 children. Since there are no spare rooms, the classroom also functions as the office space for several teachers. Students can stay at the school on the weekends and are then cared for by a “dorm auntie”, who helps them take baths and wash clothes.[33] Evidently, a number of students have no functioning family to return to. The teacher’s comment on this is telling: “Therefore, it is not the parents who know the students best, but the teachers and classmates…”.

The author attempted to identify the likely location of the school and its two distinct buildings on satellite images. According to a public construction bid document, they are located in the Southern City Education District (城南教学园区).[34] Their compound does not appear to have any visible security features. They are located directly next to a securitized compound that appears to be a vocational-type internment facility, with building styles and security features (including the internal fencing) being similar to other re-education and vocational training camps previously studied by the author.[35] This compound, which is quite likely the Yarkand County Southern City District Vocational Training Internment Camp mentioned above (both itself and the school are said to be located in the “Southern City District”), had its security features were removed in the spring of 2019, which is consistent with many such modifications of camps in the first half of 2019.[36]

Figure 3: Yarkand №3 Primary School and orphanage are on the top right, the internment camp is on the left hand side. Location: 38°23'11.07"N 77°13'33.87"E.
Figure 4: Close-up of the Yarkand County Southern City District Vocational Training Internment Camp (next to primary school and orphanage), showing security features such as internal fences and surrounding walls.

2.2 Spreadsheet with 1,619 Children in Difficult Circumstances from Azatbag Township (All Grades)

Five students from this extensive spreadsheet are also found in a spreadsheet of “children in difficult circumstances” (困境儿童) from Azatbag Township (阿扎提巴格乡). This file contains four different lists and shows the details of 1,619 children, including their care status and the internment situation of their parents.

The first list shows 85 students under the age of 10 with both parents in internment or prison, with their status being described as “double-parent [in internment]” (双亲). The youngest child on this list was born in March 2017 and is shown on the roster as being one years old. Along with all the other 84 children, this toddler is listed as living in the Yarkand orphanage (福利院).

The same file contains a separate list of 812 “single-parent” (单亲) children under age 10 where only one parent is detained (in nearly all cases the father). These children are shown to be either “at home” (在家), in a “nursery” (托儿所), or in a “preschool” (幼儿园). None of them is based at an orphanage.

The file further contains a third list of 715 children who are in grade 4 or higher, featuring the same information. About two-thirds of these children where both parents in detention live in an orphanage, with the others being in school boarding facilities (Table 1). In total, only 5 students live at home. Here, it is notable that 30 of the 31 students in boarding facilities, where both parents are in internment, do not have a specific description of the exact internment status of these parents, and the 31st case has both parents in re-education (“爸爸和妈妈收教”). In contrast, of 16 students where both parents are imprisoned (双亲判刑), all were in the orphanage. Further evidence would be needed to determine whether children are more likely to be sent to orphanages when both parents serve (potentially lengthy) prison terms.

Table 2. Care status of students grades 4 and above.

The fourth list found in this file shows actual “orphans” (孤儿), of which there are only 7 cases. These all live in an orphanage. Here, only two children received this classification due to the imprisonments of their fathers. The main reasons for their status are that parents are missing, dead, divorced, and/or a general lack of parental care. This list provides clear evidence that the “orphan” status requires a very different family situation than the “single/double-hardship” status.

2.3 Spreadsheet with 5,110 Students in Difficult Circumstances in Yarkand County (Grades 1 to 6)

The final document (spreadsheet) examined in this paper is dated May 18, 2018. It contains a list of 5,110 primary school students (grades 1 to 6) with one or both parents in some form of internment (473 of them have both parents in detention, re-education or prison). Of these, 4,744 children are also listed in the first document examined in section 2.1, which appears to be a more recent version of this file. Consequently, no detailed analysis will be presented.

However, this file contains an additional piece of information: reasons why these students (who have at least one parent in internment) are not living in school boarding facilities. Of the 5,110, 3,028 or 59.3 percent do not live in school dorms. Again, dorm shares are much higher for students in grades 4–6, but they only average 69.4 percent, much lower than in the 92.2 percent share from the list discussed in section 2.1. In 90.3 percent of cases where students are not in dorms, the reason is that the school cannot accommodate them due to limited facilities or insufficient funding. Given that the campaign of mass internment was in full swing in 2018, with new internment camps being built and existing ones being expanded, this must have been a high priority for the state. The list from section 2.1 indicates that, in line with the boarding school expansion plans presented in section 1.2, significant progress was made.

2.4 Individual Case Studies

The author compared the list of 85 students with both parents interned (section 2.2) with the list of 9,537 students in difficult circumstances (section 2.1), and found five matches (via names and ID numbers), all of them from the Yarkand №3 Primary School, the one with the attached orphanage. These matching cases were then identified in a list of households and their members, also from Azatbagh Township, dated January 26, 2019. This list, which featured in one of the author’s previous publication, shows households as grouped units and identifies the internment status of each member.[37]

Among the 85 students under the age of 10 from Azatbag Township, there is a 9-year old boy who is shown to live in a county orphanage. His older siblings (ages 12 and 16) are listed as living in school boarding facilities. The other spreadsheet that shows household members confirms their identities, and shows that their parents are both in detention. In another family, the two young children, a 3-year old boy and a 7-year old girl, are listed as being in the orphanage, while both parents are in “re-education” (教转, short form of 教育转化).

There are many similar cases.

3. Conclusions

Increasingly, Beijing’s strategy to subdue its restive minorities in Xinjiang is shifting away from internment and towards mechanisms of long-term social control. At the forefront of this effort is a battle over the hearts and minds of the next generation. By separating children from parents and making itself the primary parent, the state is moving towards the crucial stage of its coercive project of social re-engineering in the region.

It is not by coincidence that Xinjiang’s expenditures on education have consistently exceeded those on domestic security, even in most recent years.[38] Police officers can arrest or intimidate people and surveillance systems can track their movements, keeping a recalcitrant population in oppression. A weaponized education system, however, enables the state to control a group from within their core and their roots rather than merely from the top down.

The data presented above indicates that in Yarkand, significant shares of children have one or both parents in some form of internment. Some of them end up living alongside actual orphans. Others are put into boarding schools — highly securitized environments where students are monitored around the clock, where all human interaction inside must be conducted in the Chinese language, and where political propaganda and indoctrination are a daily ritual. In at least one instance, the orphanage is right next to the regular school, with “orphans” attending school during the day and returning to the orphanage at night.

The psychological impact of Xinjiang’s state-sponsored scheme of separating children from parents must be horrific. Children know that their parents’ fate can become their own if they fail to conform to the whims of the state. Securitized orphanage and boarding settings become environments of fear and of potential mental disorders and self-radicalization. Beijing’s battle for the hearts and minds of the next generation constitutes a particularly despicable aspect of its crimes against humanity in the region.

[1] See also the related BBC report at





[6] See e.g. or or

[7] Sources: (p.232) and


[9] See and



[12] or

[13] or or

[14] Excel spreadsheet download at


[16] or, see also or

[17] In 2010, the national census puts Yarkand’s population aged 5 to 19 at 185,523. The cited figure was estimated by multiplying this number with 17/19, and then increasing it by the region’s total population increase between 2010 and 2018 (17.0 percent).


[19], especially section 10.2.

[20] and


[22] See, section 9.1.

[23] See, section 9.2.2.

[24] or In the document, the commonly used shorthand phrase for “re-education center” (教培中心) is replaced with four diamond shaped ASCII characters, presumably to fool search engines or full text searches. However, the context surrounding each occurrence makes the decoding of this replacement quite straightforward. For evidence of the use and meaning of the term 教培中心, see for example or

[25] For a definition of三类人员, see for example

[26] Raw data: Compare main page at

[27] or, or or


[29] or

[30] or

[31] or or


[33] Called宿管阿姨 in the account; the formal term is 保育员.

[34], compare also

[35] See and


[37], section 9.

[38], Figure 9.



Adrian Zenz

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