In the Camps

In the Camps
China’s High-Tech Penal Colony

How China built a network of surveillance to detain over a million people and produce a system of control previously unknown in human history

A cruel and high-tech form of colonization has been unfolding over the past decade in China’s vast northwestern region of Xinjiang, where as many as a million and a half Uyghurs, Kazakhs and Hui have vanished into high-security camps and associated factories. It is the largest internment of a religious minority since World War II.

Darren Byler, one of the world's leading experts on Uyghur society and Chinese surveillance, draws on a decade of research on the region, examining thousands of government documents and conducting many hours of interviews with both detainees and camp workers. Byler tells the stories of people like U.S. college student Vera, police contractor Baimurat, camp instructor Qelbinur, Kazakh farmer Adilbek, and truck driver Erbakyt, who show how a sophisticated network of facial surveillance, voice recognition, and smartphone tracking technology, built by private corporations, enabled authorities to blacklist Muslims for “pre-crimes” that sometimes consist only of having installed social media apps. Their stories narrate a process of surveillance overwhelming life, and push Byler to examine how technological tools that are being built in locations from Seattle to Beijing are being adapted to create forms of unfreedom for vulnerable people around the world.

Read Nicholas Lemann’s Letter to the Reader

In the Camps
  • ISBN: 9781735913629
  • Price: $15.99
  • E-book ISBN: 9781735913636
  • On Sale: October 12, 2021
  • Pages: 159


“Chilling.... Horrifying.” Spectator

In the Camps is short, highly readable, and will appeal to anyone interested in violence and social justice.” Los Angeles Review of Books

“[An] intimate, sombre and damning account.” Financial Times

“The voices of detainees filter through the pages of Darren Byler’s new book.” The Economist

“Darren Byler has unwound this truly bone-chilling story about the methods the Chinese state is using to construct essentially a city that is a prison.... This is a really important work.” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes

“Deeply argued and deeply human.” China Review International

In the Camps is both a powerful testament on its own to one of the most disturbing developments in contemporary world politics, and a call for the kind of further scholarship that is needed to fulfill the charge this work clearly illuminates.” The China Quarterly

“The best short guide to the Xinjiang dystopia as it currently stands. In the Camps is a highly readable series of personal stories and vignettes from real people that shows how the Chinese state is using technology and its vast powers to pursue a cruel and ruthless policy of social engineering.” Jeremy Goldkorn, SupChina

“In this essential work Byler, an expert on Uyghur culture whose research has been instrumental in exposing the Xinjiang camps, lays out the case with a particular focus on the use of technology—facial and voice recognition, smartphones as tracking and surveillance devices—as a tool of control.... Tough, but vital, reading.” Alec Ash, The Wire China

“Enriched by the author’s dogged reporting and deep empathy for the victims, this is an authoritative account of a real-life dystopia.” Publishers Weekly

“A chilling indictment of the direction of global capitalism and its failure to respond to the ethical wasteland promoted by the Chinese state.” Mekong Review

“[Byler] offers more chilling evidence of the ‘smart’ camps in northwestern China, designed to restrict, punish, and ultimately exterminate the Indigenous population.... A book full of harrowing revelations of systematic injustice in China and the disturbing involvement of its foreign enablers.” Kirkus Reviews

“Essential, accessible, erudite, empathetic, and deeply troubling. Told through individual stories of a handful of the hundreds of thousands trapped within China’s ‘extrajudicial mass internment program,’ In the Camps is required reading for anyone who wants to better understand the plight of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in China today, and more generally for those concerned about the proliferation and deployment of new hi-tech methods of state surveillance and control over vulnerable populations.” Himal Southasian

“While structural racism in the context of Chinese settler colonialism in Xinjiang evokes similar racisms in different parts of the world, Byler documents and analyzes how the new, digitized racialization of China’s Muslim minorities—an ‘automated racialization’ in a vast system of internment camps—has taken the meaning of dehumanization to a completely different level. Stark and devastating, and yet filled with empathetic detail for the victims, this book is required reading for anyone interested in racial justice across the world. Byler’s book shows us that this is not just China’s reality, but a global reality where the violence of one colonial regime cannot be disaggregated from global complicity.”
—Shu-mei Shih, president, American Comparative Literature Association, and Edward W. Said Professor of Comparative Literature, UCLA

“While the central contributions of the book are the interviews with Uyghurs impacted by Xinjiang’s security state, Byler carefully underlines the foundational role Silicon Valley companies—particularly Microsoft—played in its construction.”
—Jack Poulson, executive director, Tech Inquiry

In the Camps offers an urgent and deeply humane intervention in a discourse often clouded with nationalism and Sinophobia. While presenting an unflinching picture of the Islamophobic human rights abuses perpetrated against Muslim populations in Xinjiang by the Chinese state, Byler highlights the ways in which these practices draw from familiar settler colonial logics, which work to construct racialized ‘others’ against whom exploitation and harm is made permissible.”
—Meredith Whittaker, Minderoo Research Professor at NYU and Faculty Director of the AI Now Institute

“It's true, no matter how much the Chinese government denies it—in this richly sourced book, Darren Byler describes not only how members of Muslim ethnic groups in China are thrown into re-education camps just for practicing their religion, but also how those outside the camps are deprived of their freedom by a web of electronic and human surveillance. Built around true personal stories, the book is a riveting—and terrifying—account of one of the worst human rights abuses being perpetrated in the world today. —Andrew J. Nathan, Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science, Columbia University

“Byler’s concise book is a vital read because it foregrounds the experiences of people detained in the camps, stories that overlap and cohere into a raw portrait of systematic brutality and dehumanising routines.” —Nick Holdstock, author of China’s Forgotten People: Xinjiang, Terror and the Chinese State

“Is it fair that the pairing of ‘Chinese government’ and ‘surveillance’ has become contemporary shorthand for the atrocity of technologically tainted dehumanizing authoritarianism? Darren Byler’s brave and meticulously researched book, In the Camps, presents such a chilling account, even historically informed, cynical readers will be shocked by the scale, intensity, and soul-crushing brutality of the systems of control that he portrays, in painstaking detail, as normalized in Xinjiang while forgotten about by the rest of the world.” —Evan Selinger, professor of philosophy, Rochester Institute of Technology


Q&A with Darren Byler — Mekong Review

Zero Blind Spots: A Conversation with Darren Byler on Chinese Surveillance Tactics — Los Angeles Review of Books blog

How “Terror Capitalism” Links Uyghur Oppression to the Global Economy — The Nation

Darren Byler on Life in Xinjiang, “China’s High-Tech Penal Colony” — The Diplomat

Primo Levi, Camp Power, and Terror Capitalism: A Conversation with Darren Byler — Made in China Journal

Two new books shed light on the plight of the Uyghurs — The Economist

Darren Byler on Terror Capitalism and Digital Control in Xinjiang — The Wire China

Xinjiang: On technology and crimes against humanity — SupChina

What is happening in Xinjiang as 2021 draws to a close? A Q&A with Darren Byler — SupChina

Inside China’s High-Tech Penal Colony with Darren Byler — Why is This Happening? The Chris Hayes podcast


In conversation with Susan Jakes and Jessica Batke of ChinaFile / watch the video

In conversation with Andrew J. Nathan of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute / watch the video

In conversation with Rayhan Asat of the Atlantic Council / watch the video

In conversation with Nury Turkel and Elise Anderson of the Uyghur Human Rights Project / watch the video

Authors Joanna Chiu and Darren Byler discuss their new books with Jeremy Brown at SFU School for International Studies / watch the video

About the author

Darren Byler
© Darren Byler

Darren Byler is Assistant Professor of International Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the author of the forthcoming book Terror Capitalism: Uyghur Dispossession and Masculinity in a Chinese City. He writes a regular column for SupChina and his work has appeared in The GuardianForeign PolicyNoema MagazineProspect MagazineGuernicaChinaFile, as well as many academic journals. He received his PhD in anthropology at the University of Washington.  @dtbyler