Research by a born-again Christian anthropologist working alone from a cramped desk in this German suburb thrust China and the West into one of their biggest clashes over human rights in decades.
Doggedly hunting down data in obscure corners of the Chinese internet, Adrian Zenz revealed a security buildup in China’s remote Xinjiang region and illuminated the mass detention and policing of Turkic Muslims that followed. His research showed how China spent billions of dollars building internment camps and high-tech surveillance networks in Xinjiang, and recruited police officers to run them.
His most influential work began in February last year, after a Chinese diplomat denied reports about the camps and advised journalists to take Beijing at its word.
Mr. Zenz decided to take up the challenge and prove the diplomat wrong using the Chinese government’s own documents.
“I got really irked by that,” the 44-year-old German scholar said. “I said, ‘OK fine, I’m going to look this up.’ ”
Mr. Zenz uncovered a trail of bidding papers, budget plans and other documents that rights groups, scholars and diplomats say prove the extent of the construction of the camps as part of a Communist Party campaign to forcibly assimilate ethnic Uighurs and other minority groups.
Mr. Zenz’s initial estimate that the camps have held as many as 1 million people has been accepted by the U.S. and some other governments, though rejected by China. He has testified before U.S. Congress and Canadian Parliament.
Chinese diplomats stopped denying the existence of the camps in August, and began defending them as vocational training centers necessary to fight terrorism. It was a rare about-face that experts and activists said Mr. Zenz’s work helped bring about.
“He’s managed to get a tremendous amount of traction,” said James Leibold, an expert on China’s ethnic policies at La Trobe University in Australia who has worked with Mr. Zenz. “The ultimate thing is to see the Chinese government change its approach on this.”
Some other researchers have also uncovered critical aspects of the Chinese campaign and illustrated how unconventional approaches can often be effective, and increasingly necessary, in shedding light on events Chinese authorities prefer to cover up.
Shawn Zhang, a Chinese law student in Vancouver, matched satellite images from Google Earth with details in construction bid documents, providing visual evidence to confirm 66 internment sites.
Gene Bunin, a Russian-American who dropped out of a mathematics Ph.D. program in Switzerland, had studied and lived in Xinjiang. Working with activists in Kazakhstan, he has led an effort to collect testimony from relatives of ethnic Kazakhs and Uighurs who have gone missing in China’s campaign.
Mr. Zenz, though he has a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, is also an outsider. He isn’t a specialist in Xinjiang and only visited once, more than a decade ago. He funds most of his research himself, using income from a side job coding for a German videostreaming startup.
His rigorous trawling through government sources has been indispensable, Mr. Bunin said, “because that’s the kind of evidence that China has the most trouble refuting.”
China has struggled for decades to eradicate a sporadically violent separatist movement among some of Xinjiang’s 12 million Uighurs. After a spate of terrorist attacks five years ago that Beijing attributed to the influence of radical Islam, President Xi Jinping ordered a new crackdown.
The resulting effort combined policing, surveillance and indoctrination. Chinese authorities initially kept the campaign a secret, but in recent months have portrayed the camps as an innovation in counterterrorism, organizing tightly controlled tours of certain facilities for selected diplomats and journalists.
Chinese authorities have never directly addressed the findings by Mr. Zenz and the others. The Xinjiang government and China’s Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to requests for comment on the scholar’s work.
Mr. Zenz, who wrote his dissertation on Tibetan education, said he has an affinity for China’s minority groups because they seem more open spiritually. A lapsed Catholic, he said he embraced Christianity after an encounter with a Korean-American Baptist pastor while on a university year abroad at American University in Washington. His faith pushes him forward, said Mr. Zenz, who wrote a book re-examining biblical end-times with his American father-in-law in 2012.
“I feel very clearly led by God to do this. I can put it that way. I’m not afraid to say that,” says Mr. Zenz. “With Xinjiang, things really changed. It became like a mission, or a ministry.”
Much of his research has been done from a house on the corner of Immanuel Kant and Herman Hesse streets in Korntal, outside Stuttgart. Until recently, he taught research methods at the European School of Culture and Theology.
In 2016, Mr. Zenz found caches of job-recruitment advertisements online that added up to a buildup of police forces in Tibetan areas of China. The discovery caught the attention of Mr. Leibold, who asked if he could find similar data related to Xinjiang.
“He was sending me emails at three in the morning saying, ‘Look at this’ and ‘There’s tons of stuff here,’” Mr. Leibold said.
Working with Mr. Leibold and others, Mr. Zenz began publishing research that unveiled a security buildup in Xinjiang.
After he came across the denial of the camps by the Chinese consul-general in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Mr. Zenz threw himself into researching the facilities. In a report published last May by the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation, he estimated they collectively held anywhere from 100,000 to slightly more than a million people.
The high end of his estimate became widely cited, including by experts on a United Nations panel that criticized the camps in August. It also generated controversy—with some scholars questioning its accuracy—and dismissive statements from China.
To arrive at the estimate, Mr. Zenz extrapolated from a partial tally of detainees attributed in Japanese media reports to a Xinjiang security official. He cross-referenced that with testimony from former detainees and the documents he unearthed indicating the size and number of camps.
“It was like collecting puzzle pieces,” he says.
In March, at a U.N. panel in Geneva, Mr. Zenz provided a higher, upper-range estimate of 1.5 million. He said the number is speculative, based on continued expansion of detention facilities and pervasive accounts from Uighur exiles with relatives in detention.
“The entire middle-age range is being interned and re-educated,” he says. “It’s absolutely massive.”
China’s government is purging websites of the documents Mr. Zenz has relied on, making his work more challenging. And he said he is sometimes overwhelmed by media requests and government invitations.
He also recognizes it is rare for an academic to shape global discourse and feels that burden. “A lot of the work I do is unemotional, working with data,” he said. “But there have been moments that I’ve been moved to tears.”
Kavanaugh and our rotten ruling class... Despite Donald Trump’s populist posturing, there are few people more obsessed with Ivy League credentials. Kavanaugh’s nomination shows how sick the cultures that produce those credentials — and thus our ruling class — can be... According to The New Yorker, Judge confided in an ex-girlfriend, Elizabeth Rasor, about an incident where he and other boys took turns having sex with a drunken woman. (Judge denies this.).. From Georgetown Prep, Kavanaugh went to Yale. There he joined the fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon, or DKE, which was, according to The Yale Daily News, “notorious for disrespecting women.” (Long after Kavanaugh graduated, the fraternity, once headed by George W. Bush, was banned from campus after video emerged of pledges chanting, “No Means Yes! Yes Means Anal!”).. Kavanaugh was also a member of an all-male secret society called Truth and Courage, which had an obscene nickname affirming its dedication to womanizing... It may not be fair to judge Kavanaugh by the company he kept. But it’s telling that these were the crucibles in which he and other members of our ostensible meritocracy forged their identities and connections... “Is it believable that she was alone with a wolfy group of guys who thought it was funny to sexually torment a girl like Debbie? Yeah, definitely. Is it believable that Kavanaugh was one of them? Yes.”
.. There’s no equivalent culture in which girls reap social capital for misbehaving. You rarely see women in politics or law who flaunt college reputations as party girls; the women who make it are expected to show steely self-control. In the rarefied social world that produces so many of our putative leaders, a young man who frequently gets blackout drunk, as Kavanaugh reportedly did, is a fun guy. A young woman who does so is a mess.
.. Kavanaugh went on to become a protégé of appeals court judge Alex Kozinski, for whom he clerked in the early 1990s. Last year, Kozinski resigned after multiple accusations of sexual harassment by former female clerks and junior staffers; two said he showed them porn in his office. The judge’s lewd behavior was, by many accounts, an open secret.
.. “All the clerks and former clerks in Kozinski’s ambit knew and understood that you assumed the risk and accepted the responsibilities of secrecy,”
.. both of whom had a reputation as gatekeepers for students who hoped to land coveted clerkships with Kavanaugh. Sources told The Guardian that Chua instructed female applicants to exude a “model-like” femininity, a claim Chua denies. One prospective clerk said Rubenfeld advised her, “You should know that Judge Kavanaugh hires women with a certain look.”
.. As they realize that, their incandescent fury is remaking our politics. We’ll know things have changed when palling around with sexual abusers carries more stigma than being abused does.
As Donald Trump surrenders America’s global commitments, Xi Jinping is learning to pick up the pieces.
The hero, Leng Feng, played by the action star Wu Jing (who also directed the film), is a veteran of the “wolf warriors,” special forces of the People’s Liberation Army. In retirement, he works as a guard in a fictional African country, on the frontier of China’s ventures abroad. A rebel army, backed by Western mercenaries, attempts to seize power, and the country is engulfed in civil war. Leng shepherds civilians to the gates of the Chinese Embassy, where the Ambassador wades into the battle and declares, “Stand down! We are Chinese! China and Africa are friends.” The rebels hold their fire, and survivors are spirited to safety aboard a Chinese battleship.
.. For decades, Chinese nationalism revolved around victimhood: the bitter legacy of invasion and imperialism, and the memory of a China so weak that, at the end of the nineteenth century, the philosopher Liang Qichao called his country “the sick man of Asia.” “Wolf Warrior II” captures a new, muscular iteration of China’s self-narrative, much as Rambo’s heroics expressed the swagger of the Reagan era.
.. “In the past, all of our movies were about, say, the Opium Wars—how other countries waged war against China,” he said. “But Chinese people have always wanted to see that our country could, one day, have the power to protect its own people and contribute to peace in the world.”
.. For years, China’s leaders predicted that a time would come—perhaps midway through this century—when it could project its own values abroad. In the age of “America First,” that time has come far sooner than expected... Trump often portrays America’s urgent task as one of survival. As he put it during the campaign, “At what point do you say, ‘Hey, we have to take care of ourselves’? So, you know, I know the outer world exists and I’ll be very cognizant of that, but, at the same time, our country is disintegrating.”.. China’s approach is more ambitious. In recent years, it has taken steps to accrue national power on a scale that no country has attempted since the Cold War, by increasing its investments in the types of assets that established American authority in the previous century: foreign aid, overseas security, foreign influence, and the most advanced new technologies, such as artificial intelligence... It has become one of the leading contributors to the U.N.’s budget and to its peacekeeping force, and it has joined talks to address global problems such as terrorism, piracy, and nuclear proliferation... This was an ironic performance—for decades, China has relied on protectionism—but Trump provided an irresistible opening. China is negotiating with at least sixteen countries to form the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a free-trade zone that excludes the United States, which it proposed in 2012 as a response to the T.P.P. If the deal is signed next year, as projected, it will create the world’s largest trade bloc, by population... By setting more of the world’s rules, China hopes to “break the Western moral advantage,” which identifies “good and bad” political systems.. Meng Hongwei, a Chinese vice-minister of public security, became the first Chinese president of Interpol, the international police organization; the move alarmed human-rights groups, because Interpol has been criticized for helping authoritarian governments target and harass dissidents and pro-democracy activists abroad.
.. Moreover, China’s economic path is complicated by heavy debts, bloated state-owned enterprises, rising inequality, and slowing growth. The workers who once powered China’s boom are graying.
.. In 2000, the U.S. accounted for thirty-one per cent of the global economy, and China accounted for four per cent. Today, the U.S.’s share is twenty-four per cent and China’s fifteen per cent.
.. in the past we were used to going to the White House to get our work done,” Shivshankar Menon, India’s former foreign secretary and national-security adviser to the Prime Minister, told me. “Now we go to the corporations, to Congress, to the Pentagon, wherever.”
.. everybody else in the world will look around and say, I want to be friends with both the U.S. and the Chinese—and the Chinese are ready, and I’ll start with them.”
.. He presented China as “a new option for other countries,” calling this alternative to Western democracy the zhongguo fang’an, the “Chinese solution.”
.. The state press ran a profile of Xi that was effusive even by the standards of the form, depicting him as an “unrivalled helmsman,” whose “extensive knowledge of literature and the arts makes him a consummate communicator in the international arena.”
.. Xi has inscribed on his country a rigid vision of modernity. A campaign to clean up “low-end population” has evicted migrant workers from Beijing, and a campaign against dissent has evicted the most outspoken intellectuals from online debate.
.. Foreign universities with programs in China, such as Duke, have been advised that they must elevate a Communist Party secretary to a decision-making role on their local boards of trustees.
.. The Party is encouraging dark imaginings about the outside world: posters warn the public to “protect national secrets” and to watch out for “spies.”
.. Last June, Yao Chen, one of China’s most popular actresses, received a barrage of criticism online after she tried to raise awareness of the global refugee crisis. (She was forced to clarify that she was not calling for China to accept refugees.)
.. In Rao’s view, Trump’s “America First” slogan is an honest declaration, a realist vision stripped of false altruism and piety.
.. “In this world, power speaks,” he said, making a fist, a gesture that Trump adopted in his Inauguration speech and Xi displayed in a photo taken at the start of his new term.
.. “I think Trump is America’s Gorbachev.” In China, Mikhail Gorbachev is known as the leader who led an empire to collapse. “The United States will suffer,” he warned.
.. In 1991, when Bush, Sr., launched the war against Iraq, it got thirty-four countries to join the war effort. This time, if Trump launched a war against anyone, I doubt he would get support from even five countries.
.. For Chinese leaders, Yan said, “Trump is the biggest strategic opportunity.” I asked Yan how long he thought the opportunity would last. “As long as Trump stays in power,” he replied.
.. When Trump won, the Party “was in a kind of shock,”
.. “They feared that he was their mortal enemy.” The leadership drafted potential strategies for retaliation, including threatening American companies in China and withholding investment from the districts of influential members of Congress.
.. Before he entered the White House, China started assembling a playbook for dealing with him.
.. “China knows Trump can be unpredictable, so we have weapons to make him predictable, to contain him. He would trade Taiwan for jobs.”
.. there were two competing strategies on China. One, promoted by Stephen Bannon, then the chief strategist, wanted the President to take a hard line, even at the risk of a trade war. Bannon often described China as a “civilizational challenge.” The other view was associated with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, who had received guidance from Henry Kissinger and met repeatedly with the Chinese Ambassador, Cui Tiankai. Kushner argued for a close, collegial bond between Xi and Trump, and he prevailed.
.. While Xi was at the resort, the Chinese government approved three trademark applications from Ivanka’s company, clearing the way for her to sell jewelry, handbags, and spa services in China.
.. During the transition, Kushner dined with Chinese business executives while the Kushner Companies was seeking their investment in a Manhattan property.
.. In May, Kushner’s sister, Nicole Kushner Meyer, was found to have mentioned his White House position while she courted investors during a trip to China.
.. During the Mar-a-Lago meetings, Chinese officials noticed that, on some of China’s most sensitive issues, Trump did not know enough to push back.
.. “Trump is taking what Xi Jinping says at face value—on Tibet, Taiwan, North Korea,”
.. “The Chinese felt like they had Trump’s number,” he said. “Yes, there is this random, unpredictable Ouija-board quality to him that worries them, and they have to brace for some problems, but, fundamentally, what they said was ‘He’s a paper tiger.’ Because he hasn’t delivered on any of his threats. There’s no wall on Mexico. There’s no repeal of health care. He can’t get the Congress to back him up. He’s under investigation.”
.. a Beijing think tank, published an analysis of the Trump Administration, describing it as a den of warring “cliques,” the most influential of which was the “Trump family clan.”
.. The Trump clan appears to “directly influence final decisions” on business and diplomacy in a way that “has rarely been seen in the political history of the United States,” the analyst wrote. He summed it up using an obscure phrase from feudal China: jiatianxia—“to treat the state as your possession.”