In a large room stands a woman in an ironed yellow shirt and black skirt, with a pink bandage on her arm. She looks condescendingly at the seven men and women she has ordered to line up in front of her. “Sing after me!” she snaps and intones in the gesture of a prison guard who sees naughty children in her inmates, precisely articulating: “We are proud and strong, we pledge to be faithful! / Unity – we are all one!”

A few yards away a man is being reprimanded. “Participant, complete the task!” barks a man in uniform. It consists of saying the words on the index cards that the officer holds in front of the visitor’s face: “modern”, “progress”, “motherland”. Then again. And again. More quickly. Once again. When the man takes too long to come up with a term, the official cuts him off. “Competitor, this is not a difficult task!”

Brainwashing works through infantility, through mindless repetition and the absence of any complexity in word and movement. That’s easy to say, but you can only really understand it if you feel it – that’s the basic assumption of the one and a half hour performance “Everybody Is Gone”, which premieres this Wednesday evening in the Alte Münze in Berlin and every evening until August 2nd runs.

The makers describe it as “immersive”: visitors are supposed to take part physically in an event that the team led by the Uyghur dancer and music ethnologist Mukaddas Mijit and the US journalist Jessica Batke describe as a hybrid of theatre, journalism and exhibition.

The title describes the yawning gaps left by the state’s campaign of “re-education” to the Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. The facts and figures of Beijing’s government terror are known from revelations such as the “China Cables” or, most recently, the “Xinjiang Police Files”. One million, for example—that’s how many Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other minorities were locked up in camps, some estimates are even higher. But numbers alone are cool.

“Since 2018 I’ve been thinking about how best to convey what’s happening in China,” says Jessica Batke. “The written word from the reporting always reaches the same people, and only a few are really interested in this topic.” The team have therefore chosen a dedicated physical format that should “instinctively” make tangible how the surveillance state works.

Anyone who enters the performance room will find themselves suddenly in a security check. Video cameras are aimed at you from all sides, and their images appear on monitors. There is no explanation, but a questioning by the uniformed actors that is as taciturn as it is unfriendly. Surname? Do you have management experience? Ever received voice training? It’s a bit like an airport. A little but also from JVA. You always feel suspect, even if you are never explicitly accused.

However, the words “China” or “Uyghurs” are not used throughout the (English-language) performance. “Nobody should play Uyghurs here or have the feeling that this is agitprop,” explains Batke. It’s about the methods of coercion and brainwashing that are common in dictatorships.

Nevertheless, the diction and type of indoctrination clearly point to the People’s Republic. Participants are forced to record videos saying a text: “Our nation and village are gaining prosperity every day.” The video, recorded with a forced smile, is a common tool of the CCP in Xinjiang, to the point of denouncing relatives. The song mentioned at the beginning has the melody of the propaganda song “Without the Communist Party, there would be no New China”.

Everything about it is silly, nothing about it is funny. Anyone who thinks this is too flatly staged to be credible will be disabused by the impressive database of state sources, propaganda texts and articles from independent media, which can be viewed afterwards using a QR code.

When a visitor during a “village meeting”, led by the party, presented a pre-formulated self-criticism, she received a pack of disinfectant wipes from the officials as a reward – or humiliation. The database contains, as a kind of footnote, pictures of Uyghur women who are given mop and bucket for their exemplary behavior. Also, the chilling phrase about trying to teach the villagers “that happiness comes only through hardship” is quoted verbatim from a government source.

“The form we chose is somewhat reminiscent of the Uyghur tradition of meshrep, an informal gathering where everyone present is performer and audience at the same time,” says Mukaddas Mijit, the artistic director. Born in Urumqi, the Uyghur moved to France in 2003 at the age of 21. In exile she devotes herself to the culture of her homeland. “I’m constantly afraid that something might happen to my relatives who are still there,” she says. Despite this, she is one of the lucky members of the Uyghur community because at least her parents are no longer in Xinjiang and she can speak out herself.

Does she have hope? “Someone once said: I removed the word hope from my vocabulary and replaced it with fight,” says Mijit.

It is important to her that one does not leave the performance with the feeling that this is a specific Uyghur experience that ends on a foreign continent with strange people. Only at the end of the event are specially recorded video interviews with Uyghurs who were able to leave China shown.

In mid-July, head of state and party leader Xi Jinping visited the Xinjiang region for the first time since the crackdown against the Uyghurs began. According to the state organ “China Daily”, he emphasized the importance of “ethnic unity”. The power of “Everybody Is Gone” lies not only in the fact that the visitor knows afterwards that unity in Xinjiang always means unity. But you wake up the next morning with a nagging catchy tune. “We are proud and strong, pledge to be faithful…”