In recent years, Chinese re-education camps have become widely known in the Western press. According to Wikipedia:

As of 2018, it was estimated that the Chinese authorities may have detained hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million, Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other ethnic Turkic Muslims, Christians as well as some foreign citizens such as Kazakhstanis, who are being held in these secretive internment camps which are located throughout the region. In August 2018, a United Nations human rights panel said that it had received many credible reports that 1 million ethnic Uyghurs in China have been held in "re-education camps".

Why are Uyghurs the primary minority targeted by Chinese authorities?

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    As there is plenty written in wiki under the link you show, the main Uyghur page and the Cultural Genocide of Uyghurs, perhaps you could tell us what you are not understanding about what you have read? They are a Muslim predominant society and maintaining their cultural and religious identity is the antithesis of the CCP's ideals.
    – CGCampbell
    Jul 17, 2020 at 0:08
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    @CGCampbell why aren't people from Tibet sent to these camps, for example, given that they're also opposed to Chinese rule? Jul 17, 2020 at 1:24
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    Please remember that comments should not be used to answer the question. If you would like to share your knowledge about the topic, please write a proper answer below.
    – Philipp
    Jul 17, 2020 at 8:27

6 Answers 6


The question you added in comments I think is more specifically interesting; We mostly know why the CCP does what it does in Xinjiang (GC Campbell comment), but following that logic, it would do the same in Tibet.

The answer is they did! And the same Party member that was in charge of developing the surveilllance state and re-education camps in Tibet (Chen Quanguo), was transfered to Xinjiang's camp in 2017. Tibet seems to have been a pre-cursor, where either it wasn't as extensive, or not talked as much by medias. Tibet now seems to be in next phase; Flood with investment and people from Mainland, to dilute the other culture, which is also slowly happening in Xinjiang.

  • Could you add some more details/links/citations? The Wikipedia article you linked mostly talks about economic development in Tibet, not the surveillance state or ethnic assimilation or anything similar. Also could you explain why they started on a small scale in Tibet specifically, then large scale in Xinjiang, then back to Tibet?
    – wjandrea
    Jul 17, 2020 at 19:44
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    Surveillance state is covered widely (heres one: hrw.org/news/2016/01/18/china-no-end-tibet-surveillance-program). As for re-education camp in Tibet, I can't find any mainstream source mentioning, but many smaller news mention them only since ~2019 so possible that world focus is on the ones in Xinjiang (you may also chose to not believe). As for ethnic assimilation that would be first hand info from my time in mainland, and major CCP incentive given to businesses and people to move there, change of official language to mandarin , etc. Similar to what they have been doing in HK..!
    – J.C
    Jul 17, 2020 at 20:12
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    A thing I just thought about is that @BurnsBA answer hits the nail on the head because we need to remember that out of 55 ethnic minorities in China, Uyghur are 4th most populus, with Zhang, Hui and Manchu, all much closer to Han's in term of culture (and looks..!), in front.
    – J.C
    Jul 17, 2020 at 20:33
  • CGCampbell posted a comment with two links about Tibetan camps: unpo.org/article/21403, voanews.com/south-central-asia/…. You could add these to the answer.
    – wjandrea
    Jul 17, 2020 at 20:57

I think the other-ness (Muslim) and Soviet-backed separatist movements play a role in why Uyghur people specifically are targeted. Though as the other answer points out, this had previously been happening with other ethnic groups (and still continues). But I wanted to make another point.

There are roughly 11,191,500 Uyghur in the Xinjiang region. This is almost three times the total population of the Tibet Autonomous Region. (per wiki 1 2 )

This gives a much larger pool to draw on for prison/slave labor, so there's a strong financial incentive to target the area. Even doctors are given "vocational training" to be forced to sew. Some comments from wiki:

Adrian Zenz reported that the re-education camps also function as forced labor camps in which Uyghurs and Kazakhs produce various products for export, especially those made from cotton grown in Xinjiang.[215][216][217][218] The growing of cotton is central to the industry of the region as "43 percent of Xinjiang's exports are apparel, footwear, or textiles". In 2018, 84% of China's cotton was produced in the Xinjiang province.[219] Since cotton is grown and processed into textiles in Xinjiang, a November 2019 article from The Diplomat said that "the risk of forced labor exists at multiple steps in the creation of a product".[220]

In 2018, the Financial Times reported that the Yutian / Keriya county vocational training centre, among the largest of the Xinjiang re-education camps, had opened a forced labour facility including eight factories spanning shoemaking, mobile phone assembly and tea packaging, giving a base monthly salary of CN¥1,500. Between 2016 and 2018, the centre expanded 269 percent in total area.[221]

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute reported that from 2017-19 more than 80,000 Uyghurs were shipped elsewhere in China for factory jobs that "strongly suggest forced labour".[222] Conditions of these factories were consistent with the stipulations of forced labor as defined by the International Labor Organization.[223]

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    I think this is not true. There is the muslim Hui minority, which lives throughout the whole country and is well integrated. As far as I understand university canteens serve Halal food. The difference really is different language and seperatism.
    – lalala
    Jul 17, 2020 at 18:17
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    @lalala Separatism doesn't seem to be much of an explanation. There are plenty of separatist movements in the world that aren't being sent to internment camps (Quebec, Texas). There are also separatist movements in China that aren't treated this way (such as Inner Mongolia). Jul 17, 2020 at 22:26
  • I have to say that this is not the original reason that they were targeted. They were targeted for historical/cultural reasons. Particularly their resistance to Han assimilation over the last few years. Aug 18, 2020 at 17:52

Uyghurs are a convenient scapegoat since they are mostly Muslims so they can easily tarred as terrorists and given how hard the CCP is pushing them with not just the internment camps but also the heaviest most intrusive surveillance in all of China and no doubt even more instigation many are bound to support Islamic extremists.

The CCP considers everyone a threat- the entire population as demonstrated by all the restrictions- the surveillance, the great Firewall, black prisons... The Uyghurs being a big population that takes a while to develop the domination strategy. Anticommunists then Chinese traditional culture being amongst the first to eliminated. The CCP knows the domination of Uyghurs would take time.


I'm going to try to condense two thousand years of history into a few paragraphs:

Ürümqi, the capital of Xinjiang, was founded by the Tang dynasty, at the time, possibly the most advanced civilization that had ever existed, which was predominantly Han. It's founding was motivated by its proximity to the Northern Silk Road.

At the time of its founding, the Han were not indigenous to the region. It was populated by a variety of ethnic groups, including the Dzungar, Tibetans, Hui, and the Uyghur, but over the many years that have passed since, it has accommodated many waves of Han migration. Even so, up until about twenty years ago, the region operated with a considerable degree of autonomy, evidenced by it's present day formal name, the "Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region". If you like, it was a early success of multi-culturalism, but it was decidedly subservient as a tribute state to the central Han/Manchu/Mongol "Chinese" dynasties of the day. Autonomy was tolerated, but only up to a point.

The "annexation" of Tibet in 1949, was the beginning of the end for that autonomy. Mao declared an intention to liberate the Tibetans from their supposed "theocratic feudal system". In reality this was mainly a response to fear of invasion by the West and neighboring countries. To properly understand this, you need to appreciate that the visceral insecurity of the Han people, bordering on paranoia, to being invaded by the bordering "barbarian" tribes had been a central feature of their culture for at least two millennia and was more than justified.

In recent years, the growing strength of the Chinese nation has given them the confidence to solve their border issues once and for all. In 2009 the local Uyghur people revolted against their Han neighbours, and in subsequent years committed acts of terrorism against the Han. The C.C.P. had had enough and began a crackdown. Fueled by Xi Jinping's personal distrust of other religions and cultures, and a long-running resentment by the general public for their (largely imagined) criminality, and for receiving favorable treatment under the one child policy, it wasn't hard to convince the masses that they were undesireables, a threat, and needed to be dealt with harshly.

The C.C.P. have evolved recently to become even less tolerant of dissent. Xinjiang had to be "standardized", and the only approach known to work (in Tibet) was utter assimilation. Xinjiang also has significant energy resources (particularly coal), and is hugely important to the Belt and Road Programme (the modern-day equivalent to the Silk Road). Other factors are also relevant, but these are probably the main ones.


This is because the Uyghurs are one of the largest non-Han Chinese minorities, and therefore they pose a threat to the increasingly fascistic and pro-Han CCP, and coincidentally, a perfect scapegoat.

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    This answer could be improved by providing more justification around "therefore they pose a threat". The "therefore" seems to be making a lot of implicit assumptions that are not spelled out. And probably helpful to explain why "a perfect scapegoat".
    – BurnsBA
    Jul 18, 2020 at 3:15
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    This answer starts out great, since one of the main reasons is indeed the Uyghurs are considered a bigger threat than other minorities, but you don't explain why.
    – Mast
    Jul 18, 2020 at 9:25
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    Not sure the numbers would offer a logical explanations, Manzu, Zhang and Hui are all more populous minorities but barely bothered. Tibetans are even farther down the list! Geo-politics and history offers a better view I think
    – J.C
    Jul 19, 2020 at 20:00

What I can speculate is it is to suppress the separatist movements. Uyghur separatist movements have been somehow active during the past. China has also tried other methods like inducting Chinese speaking people in the offices in Xinjiang.


Explained: Why has China put Uighur Muslims in camps, and what happens inside?

The Uighurs are Muslim, they don’t speak Mandarin as their native language, and have ethnicity and culture that is different from that of mainland China.

Over the past few decades, as economic prosperity has come to Xinjiang, it has brought with it in large numbers the majority Han Chinese, who have cornered the better jobs, and left the Uighurs feeling their livelihoods and identity were under threat.

This led to sporadic violence, in 2009 culminating in a riot that killed 200 people, mostly Han Chinese, in the region’s capital Urumqi.

In 2014, President Xi visited Xinjiang. On the last day of his trip, a suicide bombing at a railway station in Urumqi killed one person and injured nearly 80.

Weeks previously, Uighur militants had gone on a stabbing spree at a railway station, killing 31. The following month, in May, 39 people were killed in a blast in a vegetable market in the region.

The government had anyway been cracking down on the Uighurs. After this spell of violence, retaliation hardened.

With terror attacks in other parts of the world and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, a local militancy was viewed as something that could grow into a terrorist-secessionist force, determined to break away from China to form an independent “East Turkestan”.

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