Xinjiang workers enjoy full freedom and benefits working in Guangdong, academics find through 9-month-long field study
Greener Pastures
Published: Mar 23, 2021 09:33 PM
Nilufer Gheyret (fourth from left) talks with ethnic minority workers from Xinjiang during her research in Guangdong factories. Photo: Courtesy of Nilufer Gheyret

Nilufer Gheyret (fourth from left) talks with ethnic minority workers from Xinjiang during her research in Guangdong factories. Photo: Courtesy of Nilufer Gheyret

A research report compiled through an in-depth investigation on ethnic minority workers from Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region working in Guangdong Province was released by the Jinan University on Tuesday, which experts pointed out is the best representation to quash the "forced labor" allegations spread by the infamous anti-China pseudo-scholar Adrian Zenz.

Zenz alleged, in his latest report titled "Coercive Labor and Forced Displacement in Xinjiang's Cross-Regional Labor Transfer Program," that "labor transfers of ethnic minorities" in Xinjiang to other regions and provinces are to "forcibly uproot them, assimilate them and reduce their population density."

Zenz also claimed in his report that a working report released by the China Institute of Wealth and Economics of Nankai University (CIWE) in Tianjin in December 2019 "gives strong and authoritative evidence for large-scale, coercive stated-driven recruitments into labor transfers, and for the securitized nature of such transfers to other provinces."

On Monday, the CIWE released a solemn statement, denouncing Zenz, who, under the banner of so-called "academic research," reversed black and white and made a deliberate misinterpretation of the context of CIWE's research achievements. Zenz's so-called "conclusions" are full of mistakes and far from the truth.

The latest research report, "'Forced Labor' or 'Pursuit of Better Life' - Conditions of Xinjiang Workers Working in Other Regions" released by the Institute for Communication and Borderland Governance of Jinan University, fully exposed Zenz's fabrications. Nilufer Gheyret, a research fellow of the Institute for Communication and Borderland Governance of Jinan University and co-author of the approximately 18,000-word report, told the Global Times that in order to communicate with the interviewees comprehensively and obtain clearer and more detailed materials, the entirety of the interviews was conducted in their quotidian language.

Chen Ning, a research fellow of the same institute and co-author of the report, noted that the anti-China foreign forces' so-called "caring for Xinjiang's human rights" rhetoric is incredibly hypocritical. In the eyes of those Western "chess players," the ordinary citizens in Xinjiang are only pawns. "The chess players only want to win. Which chess player really cares about the pawns?"

Are Xinjiang workers in other Chinese cities

Are Xinjiang workers in other Chinese cities "forced to work" or are they pursuing a better life? Check out this report on Xinjiang ethnic minority workers' situation. The answer is obvious: Infographic: Wu Tiantong/GT

Comprehensive investigation

At the end of 2019, the Xinjiang regional government announced that trainees who used to be influenced by extremism have all graduated from the vocational education and training centers. Then the anti-China forces in the West who had been slandering the vocational training and education centers as "concentration camps" tried increasingly hard to find new anti-China "explosive points," and "forced labor" became one of them. 

In 2020, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) released a so-called research paper titled "Uyghurs for sale 'Re-education', forced labour and surveillance beyond Xinjiang," in which it claimed that "some factories across China are using forced Uyghur labor under a state-sponsored labor transfer scheme" and "in factories far away from home, they typically live in segregated dormitories, undergo organized Mandarin and ideological training outside working hours, are subject to constant surveillance, and are forbidden from participating in religious observances."

"I was shocked when I read this 'report' last April," Nilufer Gheyret told the Global Times.

She said that the ASPI report was so dubious. "It's full of secondary information which has no guarantee of authenticity, and the final allegations are ridiculous. Therefore, at that time, we decided to conduct a field research. With help from a professor of the Institute for Communication and Borderland Governance of Jinan University, we completed the survey and drafted the report," she said. 

Different from the so-called "research reports" that anti-China forces, including Zenz, fabricated without any field investigations, the Global Times learned that to pen this report, researchers conducted field studies in five companies (including two mentioned in Zenz's report) and they used research methods including focus group interviews, in-depth interviews, and participatory observations. A total of 70 ethnic minority migrant workers from Xinjiang, including the Uygur, Kazak, Kirgiz, and Tajik were interviewed.

When Zenz learned that the Jinan University would release this report, he said on his Twitter account on Sunday that "Beijing's latest propaganda strategy on Xinjiang will consist of a multi-site fieldwork study conducted by Uyghur researchers on transferred Uyghur laborers in Guangdong. Designed to refute my findings, the new study will find only 'bright smiles' and 'no forced labor.'"

In response to Zenz's accusations, Nilufer Gheyret told the Global Times that "I don't know whether Zenz is afraid of being found out [about his lies], so he self-vaccinated to preempt his embarrassment? Our report is an objective presentation of the research facts. In contrast, I have never seen any first-hand information and on-site interviews in Zenz's so-called 'report.' If he still considers himself a 'scholar,' he should uphold the basic requirements of academic rationale and treat our research results in a correct way."

The Global Times learned that it took about nine months for Nilufer Gheyret and Chen to finish the report. All the materials used in the report are obtained through first-hand investigation. In the first part of the report, it mentioned that the research mainly aims to answer questions including "Why ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang chose to work in other regions?" "How are these workers' living and working conditions?" "What significance does working outside the region have to these workers?" "And what are their plans for the future?"

An employee works at an air spinning workshop in Xinjiang on January 1, 2021. Photo: cnsphoto

An employee works at an air spinning workshop in Xinjiang on January 1, 2021. Photo: cnsphoto

Workers' voice

Their research found that all the ethnic minority workers from Xinjiang working in the five companies being surveyed chose to work in Guangdong Province out of personal reasons. Among all those interviewed, 15 percent of them choosing to work outside Xinjiang were due to natural and social environment attractions, 36 percent were attracted by the high-incomes, 24 percent were introduced to their current jobs by family members or friends, 13 percent were attracted by educational resources, 8 percent wanted to gain language and vocational skills and 5 percent expected to broaden their horizons through taking available opportunities.

"According to the push and pull theory in demography, the reasons for migration and immigration are because people can improve their living conditions through migration. As a result, the factors that improve the living conditions in the inflow areas become the pulling force, while the unfavorable social and economic conditions in the outflow areas become the pushing force. These two forces act on the population migration together," read the report.

The more favorable social and economic conditions in some regions outside of Xinjiang became the pulling forces for these workers while the comparatively lower income and harsh natural environment became the pushing force.

"Guangdong is so clean that I have never stepped on a dirt road here. It is warm and wet all year round. I don't even need to rub oil on my face," said an interviewee hailing from Xinjiang's Hotan.

For these workers from Xinjiang, high incomes are the most important reason for their migration. The report surveyed 474 ethnic minority workers from Xinjiang in the five companies. These workers earned 49,500 to 71,500 yuan annually. In comparison, in 2019, the per capita disposable income of residents in Xinjiang was 23,103 yuan. 

According to the survey, nearly two-thirds of the workers that came to the factories are family members or friends. Most workers' normal working hours are eight and some technical jobs have even shorter working hours. All the five companies being surveyed provide free accommodation for the workers with air conditioning and automatic washing machines. For couples, companies provide free rooms for them with no charge or 100 yuan a month. Some workers chose to rent homes near the factories, which cost about 300 to 400 yuan a month. 

Considering the long commute, the five enterprises surveyed offer these ethnic minority workers a 30-day holiday every year to visit their families in Xinjiang and cover their travel costs. Four enterprises reimburse the sleeper train tickets and one enterprise reimburses air tickets.

The report concluded that there is no such thing as "re-education," "forced labor" or "surveillance" in any part of the process.

The in-depth investigations also found that it is their own voluntary choice of employment, and their labor rights have been fully guaranteed. These ethnic minority workers totally enjoy religious freedom, the right to use their native spoken and written language, and free choice of housing. Additionally, in order to take care of their diets and respect their religious beliefs, the companies have chefs from their ethnic groups and provide halal food options.

Uygur women learn embroidery at a workshop in Shule county, Xinjiang. Photo: IC

Uygur women learn embroidery at a workshop in Shule county, Xinjiang. Photo: IC

Hypocrisy of Western 'human rights'

"When a young Uygur man from Aketao talked with us, his eyes were gleaming. When he was herding sheep in the mountains back in his hometown, it was his greatest happiness to find shelter from the wind and sleep against a stone," Nilufer Gheyret said. 

She told the Global Times that during the investigation, she cried almost every night when she came back to her residence, not only because she was happy for the workers, but also because she herself came from Xinjiang, so she could understand the feelings of the workers.

"When I first left Xinjiang to study elsewhere and came into contact with the advanced teaching environments and teaching methods, I felt so illuminated," she said.

In comparison, many of her relatives and friends have never even been outside the village. "My relatives' seven children in Shufu county, Kashi, started farming after graduation from junior high school, and each of them only had three mu of land. There was no way to get rid of poverty by farming alone, and the remaining young laborers were easily led down evil paths," she said. 

Statistics from the report showed that employment outside Xinjiang brought tangible benefits for the ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang, including increasing family income, broadened horizons, improving language ability and vocational skills, better educational resources for their children, and improved family and social status of women.

The survey found that 46 percent of those workers want to stay in their respective companies to increase their income; 31 percent of them plan to use their savings to start a business in their hometown, while 23 percent plan to move to Guangdong Province permanently.

But for those anti-China forces that enjoy spreading fallacies about Xinjiang, they do not care about such life-changing stories. In a recent report by Zenz, he smeared the labor transfer in Xinjiang with his corny and false accusations. "

Asked what she thought of Zenz's "research findings," Nilufer Gheyret said, "Voluntary, free movement is everyone's right. Should the Uygurs live in Xinjiang for generations and not be allowed to go anywhere else? In winter, many ethnic minorities from Xinjiang go to Hainan [in South China] to spend the winter. According to Zenz's theory, does this mean that they are 'assimilated' by Han people?"

"Throw out the so-called 'reports' that are then hyped by the media to influence public opinion. This is a common method used by Western media outlets to smear others." Chen Ning told the Global Times.

She noted that arrogance and double standards do exist in Western ideology. Limited by this ideological framework, coupled with the fact that ordinary people don't know much about Xinjiang, they often pretend not to hear the facts.

"For example, media outlets like the BBC are doing so. The BBC is now compromising its century-old reputation. As for these so-called 'scholars' and the media claiming that they are 'concerned with human rights in Xinjiang,' whenever I hear this argument, a sentiment pops out in my heart: In the eyes of these Western 'chess players,' people in Xinjiang are only pawns. Chess players only love to win. Which chess player really loves pawns?"