We are pleased to announce our publication of a simplified Chinese edition of In the Camps: China’s High-Tech Penal Colony by Darren Byler (Columbia Global Reports, 2021).1 We recommended this book for translation because it provides the best introduction we know of to the realities of everyday life for Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang since 2009, based on extensive interviews and first-hand observation by a trusted Marxist anthropologist.2

The entire book is now available for free on our website in illustrated HTMLPDF and EPUB versions, including two new prefaces: one by the translation team, and one by the author. The original English version of the author’s new preface is also posted below. Feel free to repost or print for personal use or non-profit distribution, just make sure to indicate that it came from our website.

The team of translators worked on this project for about a year in communication with the author and publisher. Their identities must remain anonymous to protect them from recrimination on this highly sensitive topic. We would just like to highlight that they, like ourselves, have not received any payment for their work, devoting their time out of a sense of moral urgency and political obligation to do whatever they could—under conditions where no possibilities for substantial direct action have yet appeared on the horizon. 

Anther Chinese translation of the book was published in May of this year by Taiwan-based SpringHill Publishing 春山出版有限公司 under the title 新疆再教育營:中國的高科技流放地, which can be purchased here. That edition used traditional Chinese characters and Taiwanese phrasing, whereas our version employs simplified characters and language oriented toward readers from mainland China.

Finally, we would also like to announce the new “Languages” section of our website: an archive to translations of our work from English into Chinese and other languages. We have compiled this from emails the translators have sent to us or posted on social media, but we keep running across other translations we have missed, so please email us at chuangcn@riseup.net if you notice anything missing or would like to add something new. (We are always looking for comrades to help with translation, writing, design, etc., so also contact us if you want to contribute in other ways.)

For more on Xinjiang, see Byler’s contribution (under the pen name Adam Hunerven3) to our second journal issue, “Spirit Breaking: Capitalism and Terror in Northwest China,” his other book Terror Capitalism: Uyghur Dispossession and Masculinity in a Chinese City (Duke University Press, 2022—also available in Chinese as 黑甲山的微光), and his column on The China Project, in addition to James Millward’s book Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang (Columbia University Press, updated edition 2021), and the edited collection Xinjiang Year Zero (ANU Press, 2022).

Author’s Preface to Simplified Chinese Edition of In the Camps

In his 2002 dissertation, Dr. Pan Yue, the current commissioner of China’s Ethnic Affairs Commission, proposed that a mass migration of 50 million Han people to Tibet and Xinjiang would simultaneously address three major problems confronting China: overpopulation, demand for resources, and the problem of ethnic and religious difference.4 Pan, who became the first non-ethnic minority commissioner of ethnic policy in the history of the People’s Republic of China in 2022, suggested that Han migrants should be considered “reclaimers.” The “backwardness” of the frontier he suggested had become a danger to national security, fostering terrorist and extremist activities. He called on China to learn from a trifecta of contemporary colonizers: the United States, Israel and Russia. Taking elements of each as a model of how contemporary China should further colonize Tibetan and Uyghur lands, he suggests that the Western expansion of settler colonialism in the United States and Russia’s imperial settlement of Siberia, should be combined with the more contemporary example of Israel’s controlled deployment of West Bank settlers and infrastructure in Palestinian lands. 

Finally, drawing from a model that draws on China’s post-Maoist legacy of state-managed economy and export-oriented development, and I argue, coincidentally mirroring aspects of the economy that provided a paradigmatic example of racial capitalism, Apartheid South Africa, Pan proposed that minorities should be proletarianized through assigned industrial labor. In his study, it was clear that Pan wanted to combine a land grab with the dissolution of the Maoist system of ethnic minority autonomy within a socialist political and economic system. He was thinking comparatively about the world system of global capitalism not as an object of critique, but as a way of understanding mimetically what China’s place should be with in it. 

Part of what this implies, I argue in this book, is that Pan’s “post-ethnic” framework called for the abolition of the limited protections of difference that the Mao era had fostered, and—as to some extent in the U.S., Russia, and Israel—the replacement of civil liberties and autonomous claims for Muslim and Indigenous citizens, with markers of an imagined evil, the figures of the terrorist and the proto-terrorist, the non-secular “backward” other. Recalling Apartheid South Africa’s “color bar,” Xinjiang’s Muslim reeducation and assigned labor system should be thought of as a kind of “Muslim bar,” a legalized racialization of ethno-religious difference that holds in reserve the majority of positions of managerial and ownership power for Han settlers. 

Pan was explicitly looking to the capitalist-colonial past and present, because taking this comparative move seriously is also to take seriously China’s position within the global world system. In what follows I will think comparatively with Apartheid South Africa, and the Marxian world systems theory elaborated by Cedric Robinson (1983) and others that emerged from analysis of it, to show that racialization is an essential part of the global process of on-going original or primitive accumulation.5 This suggests that racialization—as an institutionalized process supported by the police, the law, the school system, and so on—is not simply an organic outcome of transhistorical process or an effect of particular political formations.6 On the contrary, it is a historical feature of global capitalism and the imperial economic expropriation—or legalized theft—on which it depends. 

Produced as a Terrorist

The account of one of my Uyghur interlocutors, someone I’ll call Abdulla,7 and the way his life path was redirected and shaped by the structural factors I describe above demonstrates what all of this means in everyday life. Abdulla was just one of the dozens of Uyghurs and Kazakhs whose stories shape the narrative of this book. Though many of the other Muslims I interviewed and observed came from lower class positions and had less formal education than Abdulla, many of the things I observed in Abdulla’s story happened to them too. His fast transfer from the camp and unfree labor system to neighborhood arrest and a return to medical school, are the primary differences between him and others. And these differences, which can be directly correlated to his near perfect Mandarin elocution and his practice as a physician’s assistant who was just two semesters away from receiving his degree as a medical doctor, demonstrate how finely graded the system of Muslim racialization and how it is reproduced.

Abdulla, like nearly all Uyghurs I met in the city, came from a rural village in Southern Xinjiang where Uyghurs formed a supermajority of over 90 percent of the population. For his first 18 years, all of his life happened in Uyghur. Then he arrived in the city as a college student and was confronted with world of Chinese. The first born of a village teacher, he knew from a young age that he wanted a life that was different from the farmers he was surrounded by. This is why he poured himself into learning Chinese and English, watching the entire Friends TV show on repeat. He wanted a Uyghur version of that fictitious life. To do this he understood that he had to present as urban and secular, he had to shave his moustache, wear clothes from the Chinese shopping mall, and speak in jocular Chinese with Han colleagues. At the university he studied biology and science in Chinese, preparing for a career in in the Chinese medical system. But at night, he and two other friends from villages near his hometown, studied English. In the space of several years, they became so fluent in American pop culture that they started their own English school training hundreds of other Uyghur villagers to speak the language of American TV and imagine a world outside of both the Uyghur and Chinese one they grew up in.  

His students and friends gave Abdulla the nickname “suyok,” meaning he moved like water, flowing effortlessly from one social scene to another, codeswitching, mastering the multiple consciousnesses that are necessary for a minoritized person to succeed in a racialized world. He was a smooth operator. But he was also influential among Uyghur young people, and over time the police began to take notice of him. They sent informants to the night school where he taught to report on things students said and how the Abdulla responded to them. But Abdulla anticipated this, so when he discussed the biography of Nelson Mandela he was careful not to make direct comparisons to the Apartheid conditions that Uyghurs experienced in the city.8 In the private-public space of the classroom they did not discuss the way only around 15 percent of Uyghur college graduates were able to find jobs regardless of how well they spoke Chinese and English.9 Nor did they discuss the stories his students told him privately of the way they had witnessed police brutality and how the same police protected the non-Muslim settlers that had inundated their villages as part of the large-scale migration Pan Yue had called for. 

But then in late 2014 three of his students disappeared from their dorm room, leaving behind their belongings. They didn’t tell their families where they were going until several weeks later when they re-emerged in Malaysia at the other end of the underground trafficking route that took them across the hills of Myanmar where they joined North Koreans and Rohingya fleeing state violence. The police questioned Abdulla for days. Abdulla vowed that he had no knowledge of their plan.

That incident, and the arrest of the parents of his students, the way the police began to search Muslim homes on a regular basis, and the new prohibitions on any form of religious speech, made him quite concerned. He started plotting his own escape. Utilizing all of his connections, in 2016 he managed to obtain a passport and visit Europe and me and other friends in the United States, thinking through the logistics of an international move and what it would take to get his medical training recognized abroad. It would be hard he realized, but it seemed like the only path forward. All he had to do was find a way to get passports for his wife and children and sell his apartment in the city. But he never did. 

In 2017 he was detained along with hundreds of thousands of other young Uyghurs and sent to a closed concentrated education and training center. His travel history, his association with students who the state now regarded as international terrorists, was more than enough for him to be regarded as untrustworthy. Yet unlike most other detainees, all of whom had similar digital dossiers of thought crimes and “abnormal” behaviors, Abdulla had an advanced degree in medical science, he spoke perfect Chinese and could recite all the laws and regulations related to ethnic policies. If the political and economic goals of the camp system were to train Uyghur villagers to speak Chinese and work in factories, why detain and train someone already working in a Chinese institution? 

Fundamentally, Abdulla and the hundreds of thousands of other migrants and farmers had been detained for particular political and economic reasons that had less to do with their past individual actions, though the digital footprint of these actions were collected and assessed, and more to do with their ethno-religious and generational status as young, rural-background Uyghurs. But simultaneously, the cost of producing them as workers was also being externalized to the village communities that had trained them, the families that had sacrificed their livelihoods to send them to school. Even workhouses need doctors. It appears that Abdulla was destined to become a rare Muslim doctor tasked with maintaining and reproducing the system of racialized carceral care. His devalued assigned labor was not in the factory, but for the factory workers and their child. He could never leave the city, instead his future was a permanent state of probation. He could always be sent back to the camp or demoted to the factory or worse. 

2017 Xinjiang :: 1972 South Africa? 

In many ways, discussion of what has happened in Xinjiang resembles discussions of Apartheid South Africa in the 1970s. Among conservative and liberal proponents of the capitalist world order, both cases are often seen as exceptions rather than limit cases of capitalist logics. 

 However as radical historians such as Martin Legassick (1984), Walter Rodney (1972), and sociologist Michael Buroway (1974) have demonstrated, South Africa was in fact a capitalist state whose economy centered on the production and reproduction of difference.10 South Africa was a paradigmatic example of a state-managed capitalist order that codified a so-called “color bar” (Buroway 1974, 1054) that excluded black and brown people from certain forms of employment reserved for whites. This exclusion along with processes of removing native peoples from their lands and forcing them into external resource dependent, impoverished reserves resulted in two new modes of production. Subsistence living on reserves and a supply of surplus miners from those reserves. The color bar “fixed” in place the contradiction between capitalism and democratic politics, preventing black South Africans from preserving their own wealth, denying them social mobility in the workforce, and strangling systems of mutual aid.

It was from this example, among others, that scholars such as Cedric Robinson (1983 [1999]) and Mahmood Mamdani (1996 [2018]) began to build a general theory of the way capitalist-colonial development works through the production of difference—rather than homogenizing effect of “all boats rising” as national economies grow as a whole.11 By devaluing the labour and possessions of citizens and non-citizens deemed and legally categorized as different, state-subsidized and supported business interests and settler overseers are empowered to accumulate wealth in a fixed, ongoing manner. 

Fast forward five decades and the outlines of a similar “color bar” fix can be seen in motion operating through an anti-Muslim racial regime. As in South Africa, Xinjiang multinational and domestic corporations are deeply invested in maintaining continual growth. The system in Xinjiang relies on a dual mode of racialized capital accumulation in the form of labor and data. In a general sense, the labour theft element of the system relies not only on the theft of the individual worker’s life, but also a theft from the family and community that raised and cared for that worker. By stealing a daughter or son from an Uyghur family and community, the reeducation campaign externalizes the cost of producing an unfree worker. As the state hired 90,000 new non-Muslim teachers with high-school degrees from villages across China, the reproduction of this labor-force was further ensured by a residential school system that would produce the next generation of Uyghur factory workers.  

As with Apartheid South Africa, the world is the market for much of the prediction products and consumer goods produced by the unfree workers in Xinjiang. It also participates in the global discourse of anti-Muslim racism. These areas of convergence with the imperial North—through both memetic political relations and a shared global economy—point to the ultimate lesson of Xinjiang. In a world where the power of Chinese corporations and autocrats is unchecked they operate in much the same way as other colonial powers. 

Darren Byler, June 2023


我们很高兴地宣布,我们将发表达伦·拜勒所著、Columbia Global Reports于2021年出版的《营中纪事:中国的高科技流放地》的简体中文版。我们推荐翻译该书,是因为它出自有信誉的马克思主义人类学家12之手,以大量访谈和一手观察为基础,为2009年以来新疆的突厥穆斯林日常生活现实提供了我们所知的最好的介绍。





更多新疆的内容可见拜勒在我们第二期的作品(笔名是Adam Hunerven13)《精神摧毁:中国西北的资本主义与恐怖》、他的另一本书Terror Capitalism: Uyghur Dispossession and Masculinity in a Chinese City (Duke University Press, 2022,中文译本《黑甲山的微光》),以及在The China Project的专栏。另见James Millward的书Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang (Columbia University Press, updated edition 2021)和编辑后的合集 Xinjiang Year Zero (ANU Press, 2022).


  1. The image chosen for the book cover (above) is based on the painting “Second Nature” by contemporary Uyghur artist Nijat Hushur.
  2. Editors’ note: In 2019, the Chinese Public Security Ministry accused Byler of working for the US Intelligence Agency, but they provided no evidence, and Byler refuted these claims on National Public Radio. Other parties have made similar accusations, citing a fellowship program at the Wilson Center for International Scholarship that supported Byler’s postdoctoral position at the University of Colorado, but no evidence has been offered for these claims either, while the postdoctoral research itself was in fact mobilized by Byler and others to criticize US state surveillance and American corporations such as Oracle. Meanwhile, Byler’s major claims, based on first-hand interviews and observation, have now been backed up by many other researchers in both the Anglophone and Sinophone literature.
  3. Editors’ note: Byler used that pen name at our request in order to protect the identities of Chuang members residing in China at the time. Contrary to claims that Byler was performing “yellow face,” we deliberately chose a European-sounding name. Despite indicating that the article was an “intake” by someone from outside the collective, its publication has also led to the claim that Byler was a member of Chuang, but this has never been the case. To clarify, in both our journal and on our blog, “intakes” are articles submitted to us by readers, or requested by us to individuals more knowledgeable a certain topic—often in fields that require familiarity with a language other than English or Mandarin. For example, issue 2 of our journal also included an intake by J Frank Parnell, who specializes in Vietnamese history and politics, and we have published similar intakes on our blog by Soe Lin Aung, who specializes in Burmese politics. Similarly, we post and repost many articles by Chinese authors who are not members of the collective, such as a recent article about labor activism by Wen. As we clearly state in the prefaces to many of these pieces, the viewpoints of these authors are their own and we often disagree on details of their analysis.
  4. Pan Yue. 2002. “A Study of the History and Reality of Immigration and Reclamation in Western China” (中国西部移民屯垦的历史与现实研究). Dissertation, Huazhong Normal University, http://read.nlc.cn/allSearch/searchDetail?searchType=&showType=1&indexName=data_408&fid=002179012; For further discussion of him and his role see Glasserman, Aaron. 2023. “Touting ‘Ethnic Fusion,’ China’s New Top Official for Minority Affairs Envisions a Country Free of Cultural Difference,” China File, February 24, https://www.chinafile.com/reporting-opinion/viewpoint/touting-ethnic-fusion-chinas-new-top-official-minority-affairs-envisions.
  5. Robinson, C., 1983 [2000]. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill; Al-Bulushi, Yousuf. “Thinking racial capitalism and black radicalism from Africa: An intellectual geography of Cedric Robinson’s world-system.” Geoforum 132 (2022): 252-262.
  6. Sheridan, Derek. “The semiotics of Heiren (黑人): race, everyday language, and discursive complicities in a Chinese migrant community.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (2022): 1-19.
  7. I have changed Abdulla’s name and disguised aspects of his professional training in order to protect his identity. I interviewed Abdulla many times in 2014 and 2015; and again, during his visit to the United States in 2016. After his detention I received information about his situation from his brother in Europe who remains in contact with Abdulla’s parents and who on several occasions was able to record video conversations he had with Abdulla that he subsequently shared with me.
  8. M.A. and Darren Byler. “Alienation and Educational” Third Space”: English Learning and Uyghur Subject Formation in Xinjiang, China.” Anthropology & Education Quarterly 53, no. 4 (2022): 396-415.
  9. Tohti, Ilham. We Uyghurs Have No Say: An Imprisoned Writer Speaks. Verso Books, 2022.
  10. Legassick, Martin. “Capitalist Roots of Apartheid-Working for Boroko. The Origins of a Coercive Labour System in South Africa. ” The Journal of African History 25, no. 3 (1984): 356-359;  Wolpe, Harold. “Capitalism and cheap labour-power in South Africa: from segregation to apartheid.” Economy and society 1, no. 4 (1972): 425-456; Burawoy, Michael. “The functions and reproduction of migrant labor: Comparative material from Southern Africa and the United States.” American journal of Sociology 81, no. 5 (1976): 1050-1087; Rodney, Walter. How europe underdeveloped africa. Verso Books, 1972 (2018).
  11. Robinson, C., 1983 [2000]. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill; Mamdani, Mahmood. Citizen and subject: Contemporary Africa and the legacy of late colonialism. Princeton University Press, 1996 [2018].
  12. 2019年,中国公安部指责拜勒为美国情报机构工作,但他们没有给出证据,此后拜勒在美国全国公共广播电台(National Public Radio)否认这些说法。拜勒在科罗拉多大学的博士后职位获威尔逊国际学者中心的奖学金计划支持,其他人就借此作出类似的指责,但这些指责也没有证据,并且这个博士后研究本身就由拜勒和其他人发起,意在批判美国的国家监控和甲骨文这种美国企业。同时,拜勒以一手访谈和观察为基础的主要论点已经得到英语圈与中文文献许多研究者的佐证。
  13. 拜勒应我们的要求使用该笔名,是为了保护《闯》当时居住在中国的成员身份。拜勒绝不是所谓的“涂黄脸”,而是我们故意选了听着欧洲味儿的名字。尽管我们明示了文章是集体以外某人的“文摘”,但是文章发表后出现了说法,称拜勒是《闯》的一员。从来不是这样。在此澄清,在我们的杂志和博客里,“文摘”的文章是读者给我们上传的,或是我们请求在某些领域比我们更专长的个人所写的,这些领域往往需要熟悉英语或中文之外的语言。比如第二期里还录入了J Frank Parnell的文摘,他的专长是越南史和越南政治。同样,我们发布和转发了许多不是我们集体一员的中国作者的文章,比如Wen近期关于劳工运动的文章。正如我们在许多这些文章里的前言明示的那样,这些作者的观点属于他们本人,我们往往不同意他们分析中的细节。