This timeline gives an overview of major events since the turn of the century, that preceded the establishment of “re-education camps” in Xinjiang. Human rights watchdogs have categorized these camps as mass prisons and internment camps.

  • Two months after the September 11th attacks on the United States, the PRC Government releases a document titled “Terrorist Activities Perpetrated by ‘Eastern Turkistan’ Organizations and their ties with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.”

  • The US and UN recognize East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as a “terrorist organization,” subjecting it to international sanctions.

  • Beijing hosts the 2008 Summer Olympics. 1,300 Uyghurs are arrested for “state security crimes,” including charges of terrorism, substantially more than in previous years.

  • The Ürümqi Riots which first started off as protests, escalate into riots that kill over 197 and injure over 1721 according to official government figures. More than 1,000 people are arrested, mosques are temporarily closed with internet and telephone communications severely restricted.

  • In the year after the Ürümqi riots, XUAR officials report that “40,000 high-definition surveillance cameras with riot-proof protective shells had been installed throughout the region.”

  • New government policy mandates all SIM card buyers to provide proof of identity and to register the card using their own name

  • A series of stabbing attacks in the city of Lukqun kill 35. Chinese and international sources hold different perspectives on the attacks, as Chinese sources state the attacks were connected with other radical organizations, while international sources state that the attacks are due to unrest due to systematic injustice in China.

  • The first alleged Uyghur-led act of political violence is reported outside of the XUAR, as three Uyghurs drive a truck into a crowd in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, killing five and injuring 42. Authorities blame the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) for the attack.

  • Xi Jinping announces a new “strategic plan” or zhanlue bushu (战略部署) for Xinjiang. An ensuing Politburo meeting interprets this message as “a major altering of the region’s strategy.”

  • In February the fanghuiju (访惠聚) campaign is announced. The initial plan involves rotating 200,000 mid-level party cadres into rural villages over the following three years.

  • A major knife attack takes place inside the mainway railway station of Kunming in Yunnan Province, killing 31 and injuring over 140 more.

  • A bombing and knife attack in the Xinjiang capital of Ürümqi on 30 April 2014 leaves three people dead and 79 others injured. Another attack occurs on 22 May 2014, where colliding SUVs with explosives crash into each other, killing 43 and wounding more than 90. Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang promise to initiate a “strike-first” strategy against the perpetrators.

  • The campaign of re-education begins when the Xinjiang regional government demands that Uyghur migrants in Ürümqi return to their hometowns to obtain a new ID card. The introduction of the People’s Convenience Card or bianminka (便民卡) from mid-2014 effectively restricts the mobility of most rural-born Uyghur migrants, who are not eligible for the card.

  • New government policy mandates even tighter measures on telecommunications and electronic devices, where all vendors of mobile phones, computers and related electronic products must implement a real-name registration system for sales information. The same regulations also apply for second-hand products.

  • XUAR authorities begin outlawing Islamic veils in all public spaces in the capital of Ürümqi. Officials justify this decision as part of an effort to defeat ‘Islamic extremism.’

  • World Bank approves funding for the Xinjiang Technical and Vocational Education and Training Project. The project name is similar to the one used by the Chinese government for detention centres.

  • The Chinese government begins collecting biometric data such as DNA, voice recordings, and facial scans from the entire population of Xinjiang to track daily activities on WeChat through messages, calls, photos, and videos.

  • Alongside periodic shutdowns of social media platforms, the Chinese government increases the frequency of smartphone checks and other devices for content related to extremism.

  • Chen Quanguo becomes Communist Party Secretary of XUAR. Chen previously made a name for himself known for his ethnic policy innovation and strict control over law and order in the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

  • The Chinese government begins advertising over 30,000 policing positions in Xinjiang in an effort to increase surveillance capabilities in the region. A majority of the new hires are associated with convenience police stations or bianmin jing wu zhan (便民警务站).

  • Five civilians are killed in a knife attack by three Uyghur perpetrators.

  • Chen Quanguo tells a rally of 10,000 security personnel in Ürümqi to, load one’s gun and unsheathe one’s sword.”

  • XUAR Department of Justice issues a directive ordering the establishment of transformation centres throughout southern Xinjiang.

  • Following the discontinuation of the bianminka in May 2016, Xinjiang authorities under Chen Quanguo introduce even more invasive security measures by ordering the construction of over 7,500 convenience police stations. Authorities state that the “zero-distance proximity” of stations ensure 24-hour surveillance and swift responses in the event of emergencies.

  • Hu Lianhe, China’s leading counter-terror expert, confirms the existence of the internment program at the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.


Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian “The World Bank Was Warned About Funding Repression in Xinjiang,” Foreign Policy, 27 August 2019.

Darren Byler and Timothy Grose, “China’s Surveillance Laboratory,” Dissent Magazine, 31 October 2018.

China puts Urumqi under ‘full surveillance,” The Guardian, 25 January 2011.

China separatists blamed for Kunming knife rampage,” BBC, 2 March 2014.

China to force buyers of computers and phones in Xinjiang to register names,” The Guardian, 30 January 2015.

Deadly China blast at Xinjiang railway station,” BBC, 30 April 2014.

Andrew Jacobs, “In China’s Far West, a City Struggles to Move On,” The New York Times, 23 May 2014.

Mercy A. Kuo, “Uyghur Biodata Collection in China,” The Diplomat, 28 December 2017.

James Leibold, “The Spectre of Insecurity: The CCP’s Mass Internment Strategy in Xinjiang,” China Leadership Monitor, 1 March 2019.

Liam Powers, “Xinjiang: Reassessing the Recent Violence,” The Diplomat, 4 August 2013.

Megha Rajagopalan “China security chief blames Uighur Islamists for Tiananmen attack,” Reuters,  31 October 2013.

Police Increase Checks of Uyghur Smartphone Users in Xinjiang,” Radio Free Asia, 8 January 2016.

Sean R. Roberts, “The biopolitics of China’s “war on terror” and the exclusion of the Uyghurs,” Critical Asian Studies 50, no. 2 (2018): 232–258.

Xinjiang Cell Phone Users Forced to Register With Real Names,” Radio Free Asia, 30 April 2013.

Adrian Zenz and James Leibold, “Xinjiang’s Rapidly Evolving Security State,” China Brief 17, no. 4 (2017).