A 45-year-old seamstress is arbitrarily taken away by police for detention at a “transformation through education” session held at an old munitions factory guesthouse, where she is pressured to renounce her religious beliefs. Nine days later, her husband is informed that she has died in custody and see signs of abuse on her body, but is pressured by local officials to permit rapid cremation.
For those following the current campaign of detentions, indoctrination, and torture in Xinjiang, such a scenario may sound familiar. But this incident did not occur in Xinjiang in 2019, and the victim was not Uighur—this happened in Hebei province in 2010 to Yuan Pingjun, a Han Chinese and an adherent of the Falun Gong spiritual practice (Human Rights in China, September 2011). However, there is a link to current events in Xinjiang: Hebei’s deputy party secretary at the time was a rising star in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) named Chen Quanguo (陈全国), now party secretary in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
Much analysis to date has noted Chen’s previous experience in Tibet, and the similarities between securitization policies implemented there and those expanding under his tenure in Xinjiang (China Brief, September 21 2017; International Campaign for Tibet, December 10 2018). Less serious attention has been given to the Xinjiang campaign’s commonalities with the party’s long-standing struggle to eliminate Falun Gong—another massive CCP effort at “transformation” targeting millions of spiritual believers. But as is outlined below, Chen’s own career path is not an isolated example: rather, it would appear that the CCP’s nearly 20-year experience implementing the anti-Falun Gong campaign has shaped policies and tactics in Xinjiang, a dynamic that yields insights into how events may unfold in that region and beyond.
“Transformation Through Education” in the Repression of Falun Gong