Understanding the Ongoing Genocide in Xinjiang

Tuesday, August 31, 2021
Uyghur human rights activists participate in a demonstration to protest against Chinese government's policy in Uyghur

Uyghur human rights activists participate in a demonstration to protest against Chinese government's policy in Uyghur in Strasbourg, France. Adrian Hancu

What’s Happening in Xinjiang Province?

Over the last several years, an increasing amount of China’s minority Uyghur population and other Muslim minorities (like Kazakhs) in the western Xinjiang province have been taken and forced into what the government calls re-education camps. Although many of these people have not even committed a crime, downloading “pernicious” apps like WhatsApp, maintaining ties with family abroad, engaging in prayer and visiting foreign websites are all offenses for which people have been sent to camps. 

The Chinese government has rounded up so many people that it had to build vast confinement spaces, some as large as multiple football fields, across the region to hold the population. China continues to run these camps under the guise of “fighting terrorism and alleviating poverty,” but international critics and satellite imagery suggest otherwise. Watch the brief video below on who the Uyghurs are and why China’s actions may constitute genocide.



Start a Discussion

  1. Who are the Uyghurs, and where do they live in China?
  2. Why is Xinjiang province so valuable to the Chinese government? 
  3. Why does the Chinese government view Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the region as “dangerous”?
  4. What is a surveillance state? Why might mass surveillance of a population be concerning for ordinary citizens?
  5. What are re-education camps? The Chinese government claims they are providing skills and training, but do you see these policies as having any other effects?
  6. The U.S. officially condemned China at a U.N. rights forum. Why do you think more hasn’t been done?
  7. Look at the birthrate chart below and refer to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Do you think what’s happening in Xinjiang constitutes genocide according the United Nations?


xinjiang declining birth rate xinjiang lesson plan uyghur genocide


Propaganda and Media Literacy: Comparing Past and Present

Replay the above video from 2:30-2:45. Why does the Chinese government show people in what they call re-education camps as happy and thriving? 

  • Key term: propaganda—“... the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person”

How does propaganda from the Chinese government relate to what happened with Germany in World War II? Read this article about Theresienstadt from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and watch the video. Discuss why governments use propaganda.


Extension Activity: The Influence of Social Media

Have students watch the video below about outrage from Chinese citizens over international brands like H&M, Nike and Adidas boycotting cotton from Xinjiang, and consider China’s global influence. Do you think these brands were right in refusing cotton from Xinjiang? Why or why not? Dig deeper with students and read this brief article.