China’s glittering glamour disguises a fist of tyranny

By David Von Drehle
October 26

First-time visitors to the booming cities of Eastern China invariably marvel at everything new — the gleaming airports, super-fast trains, luxury emporia and glamorous rich. But in Western China, where foreigners are forbidden to look too closely, the ruling Communist Party remains as brutal and totalitarian as ever.

An estimated 1 million people, perhaps more, are imprisoned in concentration camps in Xinjiang province. New camps are going up at a furious pace, signaling even more widespread repression ahead. After many months of flat denials, the government in Beijing has finally admitted to the mass roundup of Turkic Muslims, primarily ethnic Uighurs and Kazakhs. The explanation is straight out of Mao’s disastrous Cultural Revolution of a half-century ago: “to cure ideological diseases,” as one party official put it.

The primary disease, in this case, is religious freedom and cultural identity. A campaign begun in the 1950s and accelerated in 1999 to conquer Xinjiang by filling the region with Han Chinese settlers only embittered the native populations. So in 2014, under the guise of fighting Islamist terrorism, communist authorities began herding Xinjiang’s Muslims — men and women, young and elderly — into so-called reeducation facilities ringed with guard towers and barbed wire.