Like the Uyghurs, Tibetans locked up in re-education camps (I)
by Adrian Zenz

In Tibet, pastoralists and “surplus” farmers are trained and indoctrinated in facilities similar to Xinjiang internment camps. Chinese authorities use the fight against poverty as mechanism of social control to fight "separatism" and stifle the Buddhist religion. Tibetan workers have also been "transferred" to other provinces.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – More than half a million Tibetan farmers and pastoralists have been placed in military training facilities to be turned into wage workers controlled by the authorities. This model replicates the one used in Xinjiang internment camps where more than a million Uyghur Muslims are imprisoned and indoctrinated.

A study by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute shows that the Chinese regime runs 380 "concentration camps" in the Xinjiang autonomous region. According to the Chinese Communist Party, Tibetans are a "lazy people" who need to be reprogrammed. To this end, Chinese leaders want to reduce the "negative influence" of the Buddhist religion.

What follows is the first of three parts of an analysis by Adrian Zenz, researcher at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Courtesy of the Jamestown Foundation.


In 2019 and 2020, the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) introduced new policies to promote the systematic, centralized, and large-scale training and transfer of “rural surplus laborers” to other parts of the TAR, as well as to other provinces of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In the first 7 months of 2020, the region had trained over half a million rural surplus laborers through this policy. This scheme encompasses Tibetans of all ages, covers the entire region, and is distinct from the coercive vocational training of secondary students and young adults reported by exile Tibetans (RFA, October 29, 2019).

The labor transfer policy mandates that pastoralists and farmers are to be subjected to centralized “military-style” vocational training, which aims to reform “backward thinking” and includes training in “work discipline,” law, and the Chinese language. Examples from the TAR’s Chamdo region indicate that the militarized training regimen is supervised by People’s Armed Police drill sergeants, and training photos published by state media show Tibetan trainees dressed in military fatigues.

Poverty alleviation reports bluntly say that the state must “stop raising up lazy people.” Documents state that the “strict military-style management” of the vocational training process “strengthens [the Tibetans’] weak work discipline” and reforms their “backward thinking.” Tibetans are to be transformed from “[being] unwilling to move” to becoming willing to participate, a process that requires “diluting the negative influence of religion.” This is aided by a worrisome new scheme that “encourages” Tibetans to hand over their land and herds to government-run cooperatives, turning them into wage laborers.

An order-oriented, batch-style matching and training mechanism trains laborers based on company needs. Training, matching and delivery of workers to their work destination takes place in a centralized fashion. Recruitments rely, among other things, on village-based work teams, an intrusive social control mechanism pioneered in the TAR by Chen Quanguo, and later used in Xinjiang to identify Uyghurs who should be sent to internment camps (China Brief, September 21, 2017). Key policy documents state that cadres who fail to achieve the mandated quotas are subject to “strict rewards and punishments”. The goal of the scheme is to achieve Xi Jinping’s signature goal of eradicating absolute poverty by increasing rural disposable incomes. This means that Tibetan nomads and farmers must change their livelihoods so that they earn a measurable cash income, and can therefore be declared “poverty-free.”

This draconian scheme shows a disturbing number of close similarities to the system of coercive vocational training and labor transfer established in Xinjiang. The fact that Tibet and Xinjiang share many of the same social control and securitization mechanisms—in each case introduced under administrations directed by Chen Quanguo—renders the adaptation of one region’s scheme to the other particularly straightforward.

Historical Context

As early as 2005, the TAR had a small-scale rural surplus labor training and employment initiative for pastoralists and farmers in Lhasa (Sina, May 13, 2005). The 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010) then specified that this type of training and labor transfer was to be conducted throughout the TAR (PRC Government, February 8, 2006). From 2012, the Chamdo region initiated a “military-style training for surplus labor force transfer for pastoral and agricultural regions” (Tibet’s Chamdo, October 8, 2014). Chamdo’s scheme was formally established in the region’s 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020), with the goal of training 65,000 laborers (including urban unemployed persons) during that time (Chamdo Government, December 29, 2015).

By 2016, Chamdo had established 45 related vocational training bases (TAR Government, November 17, 2016). Starting in 2016, the TAR’s Shannan region likewise implemented vocational training with “semi-military-style management” (Tibet Shannan Net, April 5, 2017). Several different sources indicate that Chamdo’s military-style training management was conducted by People’s Armed Police drill sergeants.

Policies of the 2019-2020 Militarized Vocational Training and Labor Transfer Action Plan

In March 2019, the TAR issued the 2019-2020 Farmer and Pastoralist Training and Labor Transfer Action Plan which mandates the “vigorous promotion of military-style…[vocational] training,” adopting the model pioneered in Chamdo and mandating it throughout the region. The vocational training process must include “work discipline, Chinese language and work ethics,” aiming to “enhance laborers’ sense of discipline to comply with national laws and regulations and work unit rules and regulations.”

Surplus labor training is to follow the “order-oriented” or “need-driven” method, whereby the job is arranged first, and the training is based on the pre-arranged job placement. In 2020, at least 40 percent of job placements were to follow this method, with this share mandated to exceed 60 percent by the year 2024, also below). Companies that employ a minimum number of laborers can obtain financial rewards of up to 500,000 renminbi (,900 U.S. dollars). Local labor brokers receive 300 () or 500 () renminbi per arranged labor transfer, depending whether it is within the TAR or without. Detailed quotas not only mandate how many surplus laborers each county must train, but also how many are to be trained in each vocational specialty (Ngari Government, July 31, 2019).

The similarities to Xinjiang’s coercive training scheme are abundant: both schemes have the same target group (“rural surplus laborers”); a high-powered focus on mobilizing a “reticent” minority group to change their traditional livelihood mode; employ military drill and military-style training management to produce discipline and obedience; emphasize the need to “transform” laborers’ thinking and identity, and to reform their “backwardness;” teach law and Chinese; aim to weaken the perceived negative influence of religion; prescribe detailed quotas; and put great pressure on officials to achieve program goals.

(End part one)