The official “Pair Up and Become Family” campaign in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) highlights a deep power imbalance based on the personal information shared between Uyghur families and the Han Chinese “relatives” assigned to monitor their homes, according to sources.
Since late 2017, Muslim—and particularly Uyghur—families in the XUAR have been required to invite officials into their homes and provide them with information about their lives and political views, going back as far as seven generations, while hosts are also subjected to political indoctrination.
The Pair Up and Become Family program is one of several repressive policies targeting Uyghurs in the region, which have also seen the creation of a vast network of camps, where authorities have held up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.
Reports suggest that Uyghurs who protest hosting “relatives” as part of the program, or refuse to take part in study sessions or other activities with the officials in their homes, are subject to additional restrictions or could face detention in the camp system.
But in contrast to the control “relatives” wield in these relationships, in part due to the significant amount of personal information they hold on their hosts, Uyghur families often know little at all about the cadres who stay with them aside from their names, two sources recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
One source, a village secretary for China’s ruling Communist Party in the XUAR’s Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture, said that he never once asked where his Han “relative” works in the more than two years he has been visiting his home.
“They don’t tell us who they work for … [only that] they’re from the prefectural level [government],” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
“We could ask, but they wouldn’t tell us,” he added.
Meanwhile, the secretary said, “relatives” routinely keep tabs on information related to the registration of household family members, the number of residents, how any businesses they own are operating, people who have visited the home, and whether the people who live there actively pray.
He also said that “relatives” often show up to stay unannounced, sometimes arriving at 10:00 p.m. or later.
“They want to gather information without any warning,” he said.
‘Only they can talk to us’
RFA also spoke with Zumuret Dawut, a Uyghur mother of three who in April last year was detained for months in an internment camp, where she was forced to recite Chinese propaganda, beaten for providing food to an ailing fellow prisoner, and injected with unknown drugs, according to an account she related in September during an event on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
While Dawut was released after her Pakistani husband advocated on her behalf, she was first forced to renounce her faith and promise not to speak about what happened to her there, and later subjected to official monitoring at her home and forced to eat pork, against the dietary restrictions of Islam.
Speaking to RFA recently, she explained that members of local neighborhood committees in the XUAR explicitly instruct Uyghurs not to ask for personal information from their Han “relatives.”
“If we were really ‘relatives’ … we should also know what our ‘relatives’ do, but they tell us not to ask who they are or what they do for a living,” she said.
“Only they can talk to us, and only they can teach us things. They ask us about all manners of business. But we’re not allowed to ask a single thing of our relatives, even ‘where do you work?’”
According to Dawut, new ‘relatives’ will arrive for a house visit and “tell us their name, but they don’t say anything else.”
But once there, the visitors will ask what family members have been doing recently, what food they cook, and even about their sleeping habits.
“They know that they’re oppressing the Uyghurs, and because they know, they’re worried and scared, so they don’t tell their Uyghur ‘relatives’ where they live or what they do—nothing about themselves,” she said.
In addition to volunteering personal information about themselves, Uyghur hosts are expected to cook Chinese-style food for their ‘relatives,’ ensure that they have clean linen waiting for them, and even purchase basins for washing ones feet that have the names of the officials who stay printed on them.
‘Pair Up’ campaign
According to New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), in December 2017, authorities greatly expanded the October 2016 Pair Up and Become Family drive—which saw more than 100,000 officials visit mostly Uyghur homes in southern XUAR every two months—to mobilize more than a million cadres to spend a week living in homes, primarily in rural areas.
The “home stay” program was extended in early 2018 and cadres now spend at least five days every two months in the families’ homes, HRW said, adding that “there is no evidence to suggest that families can refuse such visits.”
Activities that take place during visits are documented in reports with accompanying photos—many of which can be found on the social media accounts of participating agencies—and show scenes of “relatives” involved in intimate aspects of domestic life, such as making beds and sleeping together, sharing meals, and feeding and tutoring children. There is no indication the families have consented to posting these images online.
HRW has called the home stays an example of “deeply invasive forced assimilation practices” and said they “not only violate basic rights, but are also likely to foster and deepen resentment in the region.”
Dolkun Isa, the president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress exile group, has said the “Pair Up and Become Family” campaign represents the “total annihilation of the safety, security and well-being of family members,” and that the program has “turned Uyghurs’ homes into prisons from which there is no escape.”
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Elise Anderson. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.