The Launch of The Xinjiang Documentation Project

September 21, 2020

Since 2017, the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been holding Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other ethnic groups in internment camps throughout Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Northwestern China. While the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership claims that the extrajudicial detainment of these groups is part of the country’s fight against terrorism, these developments have also drawn widespread international criticism of potential human rights violations. Researchers have estimated that a million or more people have passed through the state’s internment camps, officially called “vocational education and training centers,” since the policy began. The government maintains that these sites combat religious extremism and promote closer identification with the state. Critics charge that these camps facilitate cultural genocide, break apart families, and enable the government to coerce labour from detainees.

The Xinjiang Documentation Project (, a multi-disciplinary research project based at the Institute of Asian Research in UBC’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and assessing documentation of these events as they unfold. The Project assesses the reliability of these documents, identifies key patterns as they emerge, and provides a platform to highlight the lived experiences of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other communities affected by internment camps and other related policies. Rather than simply function as a repository for all related materials, the Project is curated. Each document or entry is annotated and placed among other related items in the archive.

The Project seeks to equip instructors at all levels and from a variety of disciplines with useful and effective teaching materials. The Project hopes to reach a wide audience that includes scholars, students, journalists, and the general public. Taken as a whole, the archive produced by the Project offers a comprehensive, authoritative, and ever-expanding resource for understanding China’s internment of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other ethnic groups, as well as the policy’s developments and its far-reaching implications.

The Project consists of seven major sections or tabs. The Timelines section makes sense of complex patterns in a concise and easily digestible format. Along with Xinjiang’s history and the specific context of the internment camps’ creation, these timelines also track the arrests and detentions of major figures and how the Chinese state has framed the camps in light of overwhelmingly negative international attention.

In Key Documents, the Project collects and summarizes several groups of related documents, ranging from Chinese Government White Papers—documents the state has released to provide a rationale for its actions—to scholarship on Xinjiang published both within and outside of China. This section is a critical asset for anybody searching for primary or secondary sources directly connected to the context and development of Xinjiang’s internment camps.

The Glossary contains a growing collection of key terms that appear in Chinese political and academic discourse. Its entries contain definitions, etymologies, guides to pronunciation, and links to relevant articles, documents, or news stories.

The Teaching section is designed for instructors seeking to add materials related to Xinjiang’s internment camps to their lectures and assignments. It contains syllabi and teaching plans already in use by instructors who are experts on ethnic politics, anthropology, and the history of China and Xinjiang. It also features downloadable infographics that present complex information like timelines, maps, and official forms in a clear and comprehensive format. Finally, the Project curates a series of visual materials such as propaganda artworks used in the Chinese state’s counterterrorism campaigns in Xinjiang.  

A section dedicated to Lived Experiences contains visual materials produced by and in solidarity with interned Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other minorities, firsthand accounts produced by those who have escaped, and databases created to track detainees currently navigating this opaque system.

The Media section collects and annotates the various blogs, news reports, interviews, and investigative reports conducted about the internment camps. This section features competing narratives from both international media organizations and China’s own official media outlet, the China Global Television Network.

Translations features a series of English publications that have been translated into Chinese by both the Project and other institutions. These are English-language articles and news stories that concern the events in Xinjiang and may be of special interest to Chinese-speaking audiences.

This Project is co-directed by Dr. Timothy Cheek and Dr. Guldana Salimjan, a joint effort between the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia and the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Department at Simon Fraser University.

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