Practicing Islam in Today’s China: differing realities for the Uighurs and the Hui- Hearing before US Congress (17/05/2004)
[House Hearing, 108 Congress]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office]
PRACTICING ISLAM IN TODAY’S CHINA: DIFFERING REALITIES FOR THE UIGHURS AND THE HUI
BEFORE THE CONGRESSIONAL-EXECUTIVE COMMISSION ON CHINA
ONE HUNDRED EIGHTH CONGRESS
MAY 17, 2004
CONGRESSIONAL-EXECUTIVE COMMISSION ON CHINA
LEGISLATIVE BRANCH COMMISSIONERS
House : Senate
JIM LEACH, Iowa, Chairman
DOUG BEREUTER, Nebraska
DAVID DREIER, California
FRANK WOLF, Virginia
JOE PITTS, Pennsylvania
SANDER LEVIN, Michigan
MARCY KAPTUR, Ohio
SHERROD BROWN, Ohio
DAVID WU, Oregon
CHUCK HAGEL, Nebraska, Co-Chairman
CRAIG THOMAS, Wyoming
SAM BROWNBACK, Kansas
PAT ROBERTS, Kansas
GORDON SMITH, Oregon
MAX BAUCUS, Montana
CARL LEVIN, Michigan
DIANNE FEINSTEIN, California
BYRON DORGAN, North Dakota
EXECUTIVE BRANCH COMMISSIONERS
PAULA DOBRIANSKY, Department of State
GRANT ALDONAS, Department of Commerce
LORNE CRANER, Department of State
JAMES KELLY, Department of State
STEPHEN J. LAW, Department of Labor
John Foarde, Staff Director
David Dorman, Deputy Staff Director
C O N T E N T S
Lipman, Jonathan, professor of history, Mount Holyoke College,
South Hadley, MA……………………………………….. 2
Barat, Kahar, lecturer in Near Eastern Languages and
Civilizations, Yale University, New Haven, CT……………… 5
Bovingdon, Gardner, assistant professor of Central Eurasian
Studies, Indiana University at Bloomington, Bloomington, IN…. 8
Lipman, Jonathan…………………………………………. 28
Batat, Kahar…………………………………………….. 29
PRACTICING ISLAM IN TODAY’S CHINA: DIFFERING REALITIES FOR THE UIGHURS AND THE HUI
MONDAY, MAY 17, 2004
Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Washington, DC.
The roundtable was convened, pursuant to notice, at 2 p.m., in room 2255, Rayburn House Office building, John Foarde (staff director) presiding.
Also present: David Dorman, deputy staff director;
Christian Whiton, Office of Under Secretary of State for Global
Affairs Paula Dobriansky; Susan O’Sullivan and Rana Siu, Office
of Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights,
and Labor Lorne Craner; Susan Roosevelt Weld, general counsel;
Anne Tsai, specialist on ethnic minorities; and Steve Marshall,
Mr. Foarde. Good afternoon to everyone. My name is John Foarde. I am the staff director of the Congressional-Executive
Commission on China. Welcome to this CECC issues roundtable on “Islam in Today’s China.”
On behalf of our 23 Commission members, and particularly
Chairman Jim Leach and Co-chairman Chuck Hagel, welcome to our
three panelists and to all of you who are attending this
According to government statistics, which I think many of us agree are subject to question, China has over 20 million
Muslims, over 40,000 Islamic places of worship, and over 45,000 imams.
Islam is an officially-sanctioned religion. Article 36 of
the Chinese Constitution nominally ensures freedom of religious
belief and “normal religious activity” for Muslims in China.
Reports regularly surface, however, of government-imposed
restrictions on Muslim religious activities. According to these
reports, Chinese officials censor the sermons given by imams,
limit the ability of Muslim communities to build mosques, and
discourage Muslims from wearing religious attire. Chinese
policy also prohibits teaching Islam to those under 18 years of
The Uighurs and the Hui, China’s dominant Muslim groups,
have distinct ethnic, cultural, and historical backgrounds, and
Chinese authorities treat the two groups differently. The
Uighurs, who are of Turkish descent, face harsh religious
restrictions and repression, since Chinese authorities
associate the group with separatism and with terrorism in
western China. The Hui, who are related ethnically to the Han
Chinese majority, enjoy greater freedom to practice Islam than Uighurs Muslims.
This roundtable will examine the current situation of Islam
in China and the realities of Muslim life across the country.
We are privileged to have three extraordinary panelists to
share their expertise with us this afternoon.
I will introduce each of them in more detail before they
speak, but welcome to Jonathan Lipman, Kahar Barat, and Gardner Bovingdon.
Perhaps I will talk just briefly about the ground rules.
Each panelist will have 10 minutes to make an opening
statement, and we will, of course, be delighted to accept a
written statement to put in the record. I will tell you when
you have about two minutes remaining, and that is your signal
to wrap things up. When all three of the panelists have spoken,
we will open the floor to the staff panel here representing our
Commissioners and the CECC staff to ask questions and to hear
the answer, for a total of about five minutes each. We will do
as many rounds as we have time for before 3:30.
So, without further ado, let me introduce Professor
Jonathan Lipman of Mount Holyoke College. Professor Lipman’s
areas of specialty include East Asian history, especially the
modern period, Central Asian and Islamic studies, Asian
relations, and Jewish studies. He is the author of “Familiar
Strangers,” a history of Muslims in northwest China published
by the University of Washington Press in 1998, and co-author of
“Imperial Japan: Extension and War, a Humanities Approach to
Japanese History, Part 3,” published by Social Science
Education Consortium in 1995.
Professor Lipman has also edited two volumes on China and
published dozens of articles, book chapters, and reviews on a
wide range of subjects. He lectures nationally and
internationally and is the winner of numerous grants, including
a major grant for faculty development in East Asian studies at
the “Five Colleges:” Mount Holyoke, Smith, Hampshire, and
Amherst Colleges, and the University of Massachusetts at
Amherst. Professor Lipman is a
dedicated leader in understanding and teaching Asian culture
Professor Jonathan Lipman, thank you very much for being with us. Over to you for 10 minutes.
STATEMENT OF JONATHAN LIPMAN, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, MOUNT HOLYOKE COLLEGE, SOUTH HADLEY, MA
Mr. Lipman. Thank you very much, especially to the
Commission for this opportunity to speak on something I have
studied for a lot of years, and still have so much more to
The presence of considerable numbers of Muslims throughout
the Chinese cultural area has created difficulties of both
perception and policy for every China-based state since the
14th century. Living in every province and almost every county
of the People’s Republic, the people now called Hui have
managed simultaneously to acculturate to local society wherever
they live and to remain effectively different, to widely
varying extents, from their non-Muslim neighbors. Most of them
use local Chinese language exclusively and they have developed
their so-called customs and habits in constant interaction with
local non-Muslims, whom they usually resemble strongly in
material life. Intermarriage has made them physically similar
to their neighbors, with some exceptions in the northwest. But
their Islamic practice and/or collective memory of a separate
tradition and history allow them to maintain distinct
In short, they are both Chinese and Muslim, a problem that
must be solved within many local contexts, for there is no
single isolated territory occupied primarily by Hui which could
serve as a model for Hui all over China. Many of the
characteristics of the Chinese Muslims can only be understood
through the localness of Hui communities, despite their common
Muslim religion and state-defined minzu identity. This is my
main point. Their adaptations include learning local language
and fitting into local economic systems, sometimes, but not
always, in occupations marked as Hui, tanning, jade selling,
and keeping halal restaurants.
Chinese scholars posit two simultaneous interlocking
processes, what we might translate as ethnicization and
localization, as responsible for the formation of the Hui
within the Chinese cultural matrix. But these two processes
have not generated any uniformity amongst these communities.
Even the centrality of the mosque,
obvious in Muslim communities anywhere, has been modified by
acculturative processes in some eastern Chinese cities where,
perhaps, the halal restaurant, or even other community centers,
might take precedence.
Hui intellectuals, when they talk about themselves, emphasize the national quality of “Huiness,” what we might
call its minority nationality core. But many ordinary Hui, when they talk about themselves, stress the local. Religious leaders and pious individuals, of course, place greatest importance on Islamic religion as a unifying valance of identify, but they also recognize its limits.
Despite the claim that “all Muslims under Heaven are one
family,” most Hui clergy and most ordinary Muslims do not
connect themselves easily or comfortably with Turkic-speaking
Muslims in Xinjiang, whether considering their culture or their
imagined sociopolitical ambitions. Only in religion is the
connection made, and even then it can be tenuous. After all,
the vast majority of Hui, even those who have traveled
extensively in the Middle East, are clearly Chinese in their
language, material culture, and textural lives outside the
mosque. However much they might identify with Muslims
elsewhere, even unto donning Arab clothing and headgear for
photo opportunities, Hui are not members of Malay, Turkish,
Persian, or Arab, or any other obviously Muslim culture in
which Islam is a natural component of identity. On the
contrary, they must distinguish themselves constantly from the
overwhelming majority of Chinese speakers who are not Muslims,
while still remaining part of the only culture and polity in
which their identify makes sense, namely China.
Seen in that light, my study of the Hui suggests some
conclusions regarding their place in contemporary China. These
conclusions, of course, are not all directly related to Islam,
but because Islam is the characteristic of Hui people that
distinguishes them most obviously from non-Muslim Chinese, I
believe that all of these conclusions are, to some extent,
germane to the problem of Islam in China.
First, the Hui do not exist as a unified, self-conscious,
organized entity. Some would argue that no ethnic group
conforms to these criteria, but our commonsensical notion of
“the Uighurs,” for example, or of “the Tibetans,” discussed
in endless newspaper articles indicates that many of us believe
that ethnic groups should, or do, look like that. The Hui do not.
The Hui have some national leaders, but they are all
empowered and, thus, to some subjective extent, delegitimized
by their intimate association with the state, for they lead the
“Hui” through the National Islamic Association, the
Nationalities Commission, state-sponsored madrassas, public
universities, and other government-approved organizations. In
contrast, separatist movements in East Turkestan, based in
Germany and the USA, for example; the Independent Republic of
Mongolia, which is a nation state; and the Dalai Lama’s
leadership of a substantial portion of Tibetans from exile all
are headquartered outside of China. These represent models for
ethnic identity which the Hui do not–indeed, cannot–follow.
Second, some Hui communities are more difficult, sensitive,
volatile, and potentially violent than others. This could be
due to historical memory of confrontation, desire for revenge,
too bellicose or inflexible Muslim leadership, to local
geographical or economic conditions which militate against
harmony with non-Muslim neighbors or the state, to insensitive
or downright discriminatory policy or behavior from
functionaries of the state at various levels.
Negotiation between Muslim leaders and state authorities
has succeeded in some cities and prevented the escalation of
conflict in others, allowing some Hui communities to thrive. On
the other hand, in places such as Yuxi and Xiadian in Yunnan,
in some counties of western Shandong, and in southern Ningxia,
Hui communities have exploded in violence against one another
or against the forces of law and order. Similar and
geographically proximate communities in Yunnan, for example,
have had very different histories. How much more disparate must
local Hui histories be in Gansu, Henan, Beijing, or elsewhere?
Third, we cannot ignore the power of PRC [People’s Republic
of China] minzu policy and its underlying vision of “the
minorities,” the xiaoshuminzu, including the Hui, as primitive
peoples who require the leadership of the advanced Han minzu in
order to advance toward the light of modernity. This mixture of
condescension and fear toward non-Chinese people has much power
in Han society. There can be no question that some Hui resent
this attitude and its attendant policies, but others do not, or
at least they mute their enmity with acknowledgement of Hui
achievements and successes in both the past and the present. An
oft-heard contemporary claim states that “We Hui can always
defeat the Han in business; they are afraid of us.” This
echoes an edgy old Han proverb, “Ten Hui, nine thieves.”
Though this persistent ethnocentrism will always produce
small-scale confrontation, even rage and violence, there are no
Hui leaders or organizations calling upon all Hui all over
China to reject the authority of the current system in favor of
Hui hegemony or of emigration. In this, the Hui of China
strongly resemble the Muslims of India, who persist in their
homeland despite constant tension and occasional open ruptures
with the majority society which, to some extent, denies the
validity of their sense of belonging and brands them as
dangerous and foreign. But unlike the Indian Muslims, the Hui
have no Pakistan, no Bangladesh to which they can turn as a
“more authentic” homeland, and they constitute an
incomparably smaller percentage of the general population. That
is, the Hui can only be Hui in China.
Finally, as far as most Hui are concerned, neither
separatist movements nor Islamic fundamentalism should
undermine the unity of China as a nation state. The Hui can
only be Hui in China, however orthodox or othropractic they may
be in their Islamic lives. Even if increasing international
communication raises the consciousness of Middle Eastern issues
and Islamic identity among the Hui, this will result in calls
for “authentic” religion rather than separatism.
The small communities of Hui living outside of China–in
Turkey, for example, or in Los Angeles–have not attempted to
set up governments in exile, but rather halal Chinese
restaurants, confirming to the pattern of other Chinese
emigrants in those part of the world. Thus, despite the Hui
being defined as a “minority
nationality,” we must nonetheless regard them as unequivocally
Chinese, though sometimes marginal or even despised Chinese.
Some among them, especially young and militant imams, might
claim that the unity of the Islamic ummah overrides national
Chinese identity, but this contention cannot be shared by most
Hui. Like African Americans or French Jews, the majority of Hui
participate as patriotic citizens in the political and cultural
life of their homeland, even when antagonistic elements in the
society or State challenge their authenticity or loyalty.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Lipman appears in the
Mr. Foarde. Thank you, Professor. Very interesting food for
thought, and for our subsequent question and answer session.
I would now like to recognize Kahar Barat, who comes to us
from Yale University, where he is a lecturer in Near Eastern
Languages and Civilizations. He is a specialist in inter-Asian
and Altaic studies. His major research interest involves the
publication of early 10th century Uighur-Turkic translation of
the biography of Xuanzang, who traveled to 132 inner-Asian and
Indian states during the late 7th century, A.D. The first
volume of a projected three-volume work appeared in 2000,
published by Indiana University Press, and Kahar has also
published nearly 40 articles on a wide variety of topics. He
has been a research affiliate at the Harvard Yenching Institute
and the Center for Studies of World Religions, as well as the
East-West Center in Hawaii. He has won numerous grants and
awards and has taught at Harvard, and in China and Taiwan.
Welcome. Thank you for coming this afternoon. Please.
STATEMENT OF KAHAR BARAT, LECTURER IN NEAR EASTERN LANGUAGES AND CIVILIZATIONS, YALE UNIVERSITY, NEW HAVEN, CT
Mr. Barat. Thanks to the Congressional-Executive Commission
on China for inviting me to present testimony about the
religious situation in East Turkestan. Also, thanks to the
Uighur friends who shared ideas with me on this special issue.
The Uighurs’ territory was the easternmost edge of the
medieval Islamic Empire where religion was loosely organized,
isolated, and backward. Missionaries brought Islam to Kashgar
in the 10th century. But the Islamization of the whole of East
Turkestan took more than 500 years, as the widely displaced
oasis population was converted one by one from Buddhism and
Preserving pre-Islamic and indigenous religious beliefs,
the Uighur people created a moderate and liberal form of Sunni
Islam. Under the patronage of Chagatai rulers, Islam gained a
strong theocratic power. Central Asian Naqshbandiyya Sufism
held sway for centuries, especially in the Tarim basin.
But then came the Manchurian invasion from 1759. The
Manchus blanketed the area with colonial non-Muslim
administration and limited the Islamic authority to a secondary
position. During the early modern period, some progressive
merchants such as Musabay and Muhiti brought Jadidist teachers
from universities in Kazan, Istanbul, and Moscow to open
western-style schools. Sixteen new schools opened in East
Turkestan from 1885 to 1916. A textbook publisher opened up
shop in Kashgar in 1910.
Mao Zedong’s religious policy was of a typical Soviet type,
trying to eliminate religion from society. The Communists
trumpeted communism and atheism as progressive and Islam as
feudal, backward, and superstitious. During that time each town
was reduced to have one mosque, and big cities to have two to
three mosques, open mainly for funeral ceremonies. A more
devastating attack on religion came between 1967 and 1969
during the Cultural Revolution, when almost all mosques were
destroyed, imams were persecuted, and millions of books were
As a result of 30 years of enforced atheism, the majority
of Uighur people became separated from Islam. Younger
generations grew up knowing nothing about the religion, and the
Koran was not available. Despite all this, there had always
been a small group of old people who kept praying secretly and
Uighur people in general maintained their faith at a minimum
level. No boy remained without circumcision, no one was buried
without prayer, and almost no Uighur ate pork, even though some
Uighur cadres raised pigs.
After the introduction of the open door policy in China in
the late 1970s, there was a short period of time in which
Uighur Muslims could restore the mosques, some attended
organized Hajj pilgrimages, and students went to al-Azhar and
Islamabad universities to study Islam. For an unprepared Uighur
nation, the return to Islam caused great excitement. Young and
old Uighurs desperately searched for a way to learn how to
pray. Mosques were soon full again. Privately funded mosques
were built everywhere. The Uighurs who had studied abroad or
returned from the Hajj brought a new understanding about Islam
contrary to communistic distortions, that was more open,
intelligent, and cosmopolitan. The Koran was translated into
Uighur in 1985, as was Bukhari and other Arabic classics. Some
young imams played an active role fighting against social
problems and crimes such as alcoholism, drugs, and
prostitution, which is still a disaster in China. But the
government viewed the new positive trend as a threat, and
responded with a hard-line repressive policy. Such new
religious freedom lasted only 10 years, from 1978 to 1988.
The nationalistic revolutions of Sun Yat-sen and Mao wiped
out the imperial line and religion from China. What that might
bring to this strong nation is a historical myth. Does Chinese
society need religion? Why did Falun Gong develop? Ever since,
Han chauvinism became the leading ideology in all
administration. The economic growth and social changes in China
simultaneously brought a drastic assimilation of all minority
cultures and even Chinese local cultures. If the situation
continues as it is, within a century we may see only 6
nationalities left, instead of the 56, and that will not bring
anything positive to this society. Now the ethnic assimilation
is attacking the minorities in both quiet and violent ways. The
attack comes from two directions: “Either you give up your
identity to become Chinese, or I will kill your language,
religion, and culture to make you a Chinese.” If ten
generations will suffer from the reckless growth of population
in China, a hundred generations will suffer from the trend
toward a depressingly homogenous society.
What we have been seeing lately is the last scene of
communism, with the anti-Islamic ethnic killings happening in
Bosnia and Chechnya. China operated a similar war in its
backyard, by supplementing the military presence in the Uighur
area. Under the guise of going after “religious extremists,”
and “Islamic fundamentalists” associated with
“separatists,” they killed and arrested thousands of
religious teachers and students. The 1995 Khotan incident was
triggered by the arrest of Imam Abduqeyim Abdumijit. The 1997
Ili incident began with the police arrest of some Uighur boys
and girls while they were praying at the Night of Power
“Lailat ul-Qadr” during the holy month of Ramadan. Who is
using the religion for what purpose?
Now all the state employees and students are strictly
forbidden to practice Islam. China’s propaganda machine has
been using their traditional methods, fomenting ethnic hatred,
demonizing the Uighur image, depicting Uighur resistance as
international terrorism, and convincing the international
community in many ways. Many Uighur people feel betrayed by the
world when they see a single digit persecution in Tibet greeted
by six digit condemnation while six digit Uighur persecutions
receive not a single digit of sympathy. Neighboring weak
countries deport Uighur refugees back to China, sacrificing the
lamb to the beast. Life has become so confusing for Uighurs,
that many have stopped going to mosque again.
In the meanwhile, while Hui Muslims calmly watched the
persecution of Uighur Muslims, then they started looking for a
way to negotiate with the government. After three major
experiments with Islam, going from one extreme to another,
Chinese leaders seem to have come down to their last bargain:
the religion must be subjected to socialistic guidelines.
Islamic practice is allowed only through officially trained
imams armed with new interpretations. Recently, the Islamic
associations have started to compile “new interpretations” of
the Koran and standard Islamic textbooks. All 470 local Islamic
associations are busy training young imams. A conference on new
“interpretations” of the Koran was held in Urumqi on
September 9, 2003, foreshadowing the introduction of this new
policy into the Uighur region.
We hope the U.S. Government will take appropriate action to
stop religious persecution in China, and to improve the ability
of the Uighur people to practice true religion.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Barat appears in the
Mr. Foarde. Thank you very much for those thoughtful
I would like to now go on and recognize Gardner Bovingdon,
assistant professor of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana
University at Bloomington. Gardner received his BA from
Princeton and his MBA and Ph.D. from Cornell. He conducted two
months of field work in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region
in China for his dissertation, “Strangers in Their Own Land:
The Politics of Identity in Chinese Central Asia,” which came
out in 2002.
Before his appointment at Indiana University, Gardner
taught at Cornell, Yale, and Washington University in St.
Louis. He has published numerous journal articles and book
chapters on the politics and historiography of Xinjiang. He is
currently working on a book about development of the Uighur
separatist movement in Xinjiang.
Welcome, Gardner Bovingdon. Thank you for being here this
STATEMENT OF GARDNER BOVINGDON, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF CENTRAL
EURASIAN STUDIES, INDIANA UNIVERSITY AT BLOOMINGTON,
Mr. Bovingdon. Thank you very much. Thank you to the
Commission for organizing this roundtable on an extremely
important and timely topic.
I want to preface my remarks on religious practice in
Xinjiang by speaking about current news in the United States. I
woke up this morning to Nina Totenberg talking about Brown vs.
Board of Education, and I think it is very important, in this
50th anniversary year, to reflect on the implications of that
landmark decision. I think we can be proud of the recognition
that the formula “separate but equal” is unworkable. We can
be glad, also, of the existence of an independent judiciary,
charged with interpreting the law and capable of making
judgments at odds with the stance of the Executive Branch, and
possibly in advance of shifts in popular attitudes.
But another reason for thinking about Brown right now is
that schools in many regions in the United States have become
segregated again. Other news that concerns me includes recent
discussion of the treatment of Iraqi prisoners, and late-
breaking information about possibly frivolous prosecution of
the army’s Muslim chaplain, Captain James Yee. My point here is
that this is no time for us to be smug or superior, but instead
to reflect on our own problems as we think about problems
Nevertheless, I hope and believe that we can agree on
certain bedrock principles, such as that persecution of peoples
on the basis of religion or national identity is unacceptable,
and that separate treatment almost always leads to unequal
treatment. Yet discrimination and persecution of minorities are
facts of our world. An independent judiciary is crucial to the
protection of rights, and particularly to the rights of
minorities. But a judiciary depends on an edifice of
thoughtfully constructed and efficacious laws.
I am going to build on the excellent presentations that
preceded mine by speaking generally about the system of
autonomy in Xinjiang, and then turn more particularly to recent
As many people know, Xinjiang is one of five autonomous
regions in the PRC. The rubric of autonomy commits China’s
Government to a special relationship with, and administration
of, that region. However, as I am going to detail in a moment,
it commits the Chinese Communist Party, the political
organization still in charge of China, to almost no special
procedural protections. The question then becomes, “How much
autonomy is there in Xinjiang? ”
Now, to theory about autonomy. We live in a world of
sovereign territorial states. The principle of sovereignty
codified in international law, the bedrock of the U.N. Charter,
stipulates domestically that each state be acknowledged to have
full and unchallenged control over the territory it claims. The
provision of regional autonomy found in various states is an
intermediate fix to the problem of large, compact,
unassimilated minority groups. It is intermediate in the sense
that it lies between the idealized state sovereignty
described above, and full self-determination for the groups in
question. That is to say, there is no independent yardstick for
Those interested in evaluating autonomy of a particular
case frequently begin by comparing a given state’s paper commitments
with the system as it actually functions. This makes sense in a
legally minded constitutional democracy. In single-party states
such as China, there is no necessary relation between laws as
codified and actual administrative practice. This is so, in
part, because existing statutes are intentionally vaguely
written, and in part because there is no independent judiciary
capable of reviewing the laws and promulgating authoritative
interpretations of them.
The Chinese legal scholar, Yu Xingzhong, writing on
problems with the system of regional autonomy in the PRC,
points to the crux of the matter as he says, “China is still
relying on policy, rather than law, to regulate its affairs.”
Our symposium, I think, demonstrates the perceptiveness of this
remark. A single regional autonomy law hypothetically governs
all the autonomous regions in question, and peoples, I should
say. Yet religious practices permissible among the Hui are
forbidden to the Uighurs. That is to say, Muslims in China
confront separate and unequal treatment based on region and
identity. It remains to ask why this is, and to ask, further,
what is the nature of the unequal treatment?
Turning, first, to the whys. Asked about the principal
political issues facing them today, ordinary Uighurs frequently
express desires quite at odds with those positions taken by the
government in Beijing on matters such as emigration, family
planning, oil exploitation, language and cultural policy, and
religion, the subject of interest today. It appears to many
people that ordinary Uighurs have very little influence over
politics in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. I will cite
Chinese legal scholar Yu Xingzhong once again. As he says, the
system reflected in the regional autonomy law “certainly does
not correspond with what is usually understood by the term
When we think about religious freedom, if we are raised in
a liberal political order, we think, of course, of Lockean
liberalism and political toleration. In the United States, of
course, the U.S. Constitution is understood in the
establishment clause to provide wide freedoms for religious
practice. But there are limits, of course. Where religious
groups advocate violence, they face surveillance, and possibly
intervention. I think here of the Branch Davidians, and also of
some Muslim clerics in the United States.
Chinese Communist Party officials can argue–and indeed
they do argue–that the PRC Government follows similar
guidelines. The Constitution protects certain freedoms which
have been mentioned. I want to come back to the nature of those
freedoms in a moment. And it merely cracks down on behaviors
which endanger others or threaten state security.
The problem, as I see it, is that there is no independent
judiciary to interpret what constitutes endangerment, what
constitutes a threat to state security. We might remember that
the very phrase “the threat to state security” was developed
as a catch-all phrase to replace, in 1997 or thereabouts, the
old term “counter-revolutionary activities.”
If we look more closely, we observe a crucial difference in
the understanding of religious freedom between the two cases
under consideration. As has been mentioned already, and I want
to repeat this, the Communist Party and the Constitution have
never advocated religious freedom. Instead, the several Chinese
Constitutions have consistently supported only a freedom of
religious belief. This is spelled out as the freedom to believe
or not to believe, without interference with others.
Despite the unambiguous wording of the Constitution,
neither believers, nor beliefs, have ever enjoyed absolute
protection. I need only mention the case of Falun Gong to make
clear that there are limits. There, the Chinese Government has
made a clever move by declaring that Falun Gong is not a
religion, but a cult, and therefore does not enjoy the usual
I want to suggest that the failure to codify protections of
religious freedoms or religious practice was not an oversight.
The Party-state was, from 1949, concerned about the legacy of
colonialism and missionary activities in China. It is
understandable that they made this move. It was also, of
course, concerned with the political uses of religion. It seems
quite clear that it was the organization and concerted action
of members of Falun Gong, rather than their beliefs, that
officials found so troubling. Similarly, the Party is concerned
about Uighur Islamic beliefs and practices because it is
concerned about Uighur political aspirations.
Dr. Barat has already discussed at some length policies
during the Maoist and early reform periods. Let me turn to the
late reform period and take a slightly different tack. From
1978 on–that is to say, from the beginning of the reform
period–the Party allowed some mosques to be reopened and did
not prevent some new construction of mosques. It allowed some
clerics to return to religious services and permitted the
restoration of mosque attendance and religious holidays. But
accompanying the modest loosening of some regulations has been
tightening of others. For instance, the government stops the
construction of mosques where officials judge the number
“adequate to people’s needs.” It has dismissed a large number
of clerics, subjected remaining clerics to patriotic education
and loyalty tests, and stipulated that all newly trained imams
be trained and vetted in Urumqi. It has promulgated a doctrine
forbidding illegal religious activity without codifying in law
what constitutes legal activity.
And given my time constraints, I will not go into detail
about this. We can come back to this in the question period.
What I want to say, in general, is that the distinction
between legal and illegal activity is created and revealed by
government action rather than being closely defined in law that
authorizes government behavior. There has been a more radical
set of policies seeking to eliminate religion at the root.
Thus, students face compulsory classes in atheism from
elementary school on, and the government has stated explicitly
that, while citizens in the abstract enjoy full freedom of
religious belief, Party members and students do not. As one
policy text puts it, these people have only the single freedom
not to believe, an expression I find rather amazing.
To sum up, how ought we to understand religious belief and
practice in Xinjiang? I want to suggest that we cannot
understand Islamic piety or practice in separation and
isolation from politics. But at the same time, we should not
simply reduce it to politics. I think, unfortunately, many
officials and many external observers have done precisely that.
Of course, Uighur religiosity has political content, and
state interventions have, indeed, politicized it further. But
we should understand it first as an expression of individual
and collective choice, a manifestation of long and deeply held
values. We should hope to see, I say, a clear and consistent
body of law protecting religious belief and practice applied
equally across regions and peoples and interpreted by an
I welcome questions.
Mr. Foarde. Thank you very much, Gardner Bovingdon.
We will go to our question and answer period in just a
moment, but I wanted to give our panelists a chance to catch
their breath and say that the statements from today’s
roundtable will be available on the Commission’s website,
http://www.cecc.gov, and in a few weeks the formal transcript will be
available after our panelists have had a chance to correct
minor errors of grammar, and what have you.
Let us go on to the question and answer session. Again,
each of us will ask a question and hear the answer for about
five minutes, and we will keep going around.
I would like to kick off things by asking Dr. Barat, are
there other traditions of Islam that are practiced widely in
Xinjiang, for example, Sufism or Ismailism, any of the other
ones? In fact, any of you can step up to that, if you would
Mr. Barat. I do not know that much. But generally, the
whole region is Sufism and other sorts of things.
Naqshabandiyya was traditionally introduced. The other parts,
we recently heard some Wahabi or even Mujahid. Those words do
not exist in the standard Uighur dictionary, but we heard that
from people there. Uighur is part of the Sufi area.
Mr. Foarde. So it is mostly Sufi. And there is no Shi’ia or
no difference between Sunni and Shi’ia in Uighur Islam?
Mr. Barat. China sent two students to Iran where they
learned Shi’ia. That scared the Uighurs because we do not know
Shi’ia. Now, who is introducing Shi’ia?
Mr. Foarde. I will go on and recognize my friend and
colleague, Dave Dorman, who represents Senator Chuck Hagel, and
is the Deputy Staff Director of the Commission.
Mr. Dorman. Good. Well, first of all, thank you to each of
you for coming today and helping us understand what is clearly
a complex issue that we tend to look at too simply. So, again,
thank you for that.
I would like to just ask each of you a quick question based
on your testimony. I will start with Dr. Bovingdon.
I wonder if you could comment briefly on the extent to
which Uighurs participate in either local or regional
government, and if that occurs, how would you judge the
efficacy of these individuals in either affecting the system or
affecting policy in a way that would benefit Uighurs in that
area, either in terms of religious practice or local political
Mr. Bovingdon. These are good and important questions, and
you will forgive me for saying they are too complicated to
Mr. Dorman. I understand.
Mr. Bovingdon. In answer to the first part, Uighurs do
participate in government in substantial numbers, particularly
at the lower levels. They are not, I would say, represented
according to their proportion in the population at the higher
levels of governance. What is more, it is popularly believed
that Uighurs are selected for government service on the basis
of their pliability. That is to say, people who are more likely
to press for policy concerns inimical to the aims of the Urumqi
and Beijing Governments are less likely to serve in the first
place, and much less likely to be promoted.
Second of all, while the law on regional autonomy
stipulates that members of the group exercising autonomy in a
region should be represented “in a certain proportion,” as
the language goes, in the government structure, it makes no
similar stipulations about Party membership.
Indeed, when you turn to Party membership you find that
Uighurs are drastically under-represented. As we know, to the
present day, the Party at any level outranks the government at
the same level. Therefore, in what is still an overwhelmingly
Han organization, you find most of the power.
Mr. Dorman. Dr. Barat, would you like to comment on that? I
have an additional question I can hold for the next round, but
if you would like to comment on that question, that would be
Mr. Barat. Those puppet Uighur leaders are under tight
political restriction. In the last few years, the Hui secretary
of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region has a high chance of
being expelled, and another very high position which is
political, the committee’s Hui chairman, is also being
expelled, having done very little wrong, basically because they
did not listen to what the Chinese said.
Mr. Dorman. Dr. Barat, I was just going to ask you, based
on your very interesting testimony, for more information on the
“new interpretations” of the Koran and other Islamic texts.
Could you explain to us in more detail exactly what that
means, how often these “interpretations” take place, and is
this a national phenomenon or is this something that only
applies to areas of western China?
Mr. Barat. This is a very new policy–it is not older than
three years. It originated from Beijing and the Chinese Islamic
Association. It has called the “new interpretations.” It has
been approved by Communist leaders as a good idea and important
to keep doing.
It has experimented in the Hui area. From this year on,
this was first planted to the Urumqi Uighur area to do that. It
reinterpreted every Hadith and Koran in a new way. I read some
of the interpretations. They do not create a new
interpretation, but rather they create an interpretation that
has lots of guidelines.
You pick up the interpretations to fit those guidelines,
and if nothing fits to that one–religion can be interpreted in
a million ways, so it is very easy to pick up interpretation
from the Hadith and Koran that only pick up the things that the
guideline says, you are allowed to say this, that, and that.
That is the one. So, it is a kind of new policy, new movement
going on right now. This is China’s new policy.
Second, they are training the imams with the new
interpretations and the new Koranic textbooks, something like
that. I think that is a new policy. It has been introduced in
the Hui area, and now transferred to the Uighur area.
Mr. Dorman. Yes. Please go ahead.
Mr. Lipman. I cannot comment on the content of the new
interpretations, but structurally they are being promulgated
from the center, from Beijing, an institution that is located
in Beijing called The Institute for Islamic Canonical Studies,
or scriptural studies. It has been working for some years,
using people who were both trained in religion and people
trained otherwise in minority studies and in Chinese Islam
relations, history, and so forth to create an interpretative
structure which suits the policies, as Professor Barat said,
the guidelines of the current regime. These are being
promulgated officially by the state.
Mr. Dorman. Please, Dr. Barat, go ahead.
Mr. Barat. People call them “red imams,” and right now
the religious teaching is separated into two schools. It is not
Sunni and Shi’ia, but red and normal. Red imams must openly say
the Party’s policies and propagate the Chinese policy to the
religious community. That is their political duty. They are
trained and licensed. It is their job to do it.
In one way they may prevent some extremist ideas or
fanatical ideas. Maybe that is what is in their minds. But in
reality, the bottom line in society, they are creating a gap in
between the formal official version of Islam and the regular
version of Islam.
Mr. Foarde. Useful. Thank you.
Now I would like to recognize Susan O’Sullivan, who
represents one of our CECC members, Assistant Secretary of
State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Lorne Craner.
Ms. O’Sullivan. Thank you, John. Thanks to the panel for
excellent presentations. Since I work at the State Department,
we have a particular interest in religious education of minors.
It is something we bring up in our human rights dialog. John
Hanford, our Ambassador-at-large for International Religious
Freedom gives a great deal of attention to it when he is
talking to his counterparts in China.
I am wondering if you could give me a little clearer sense
of what you think the situation is for minors in terms of
religious education. I understand there are some local
regulations which govern religious training. There is religious
training going on in the home, and these people are getting
into trouble, just what it is. The Chinese are telling us that,
nationwide, there are no restrictions on religious education,
but we cannot really get a clear picture of what is happening
in Xinjiang. So, anything that any one of you might want to say
about that situation would be useful. Thank you.
Mr. Foarde. Why don’t we let Jonathan start, then we will
go right down the row.
Mr. Lipman. I cannot say much about Xinjiang because my
work has been in what is usually called “the interior.” But
the notion that there is no restriction on religious training
must, of course, be modified by the regulation which has been
promulgated, that it is illegal to teach religion to anybody
under the age of 18. That is kind of a contradiction.
Ms. O’Sullivan. Right. That is a problem.
Mr. Lipman. And it generates some structural difficulties.
In the Hui areas that I have visited, which run from the
northeast all the way around the southwest, young people–
including people under 18–do receive religious instruction,
often openly, in the mosque. This is usually seen as a
supplement to their ordinary public education, rather like
religious school after school would be here in the United
I did meet in the northwest a number of students who were
full-time students in the mosque, but they were older. They had
already completed the public education curriculum and they were
To me, the more important question is, who is training the
people who are teaching? It is fairly clear that the state is
taking a greater and greater role in the training of imams,
though this is much more marked in Xinjiang than it is
elsewhere in China.
The number of Hui imams remains relatively stable. There
has been no marked decrease. Those folks were not primarily
trained by the state. In Xinjiang, however, as my colleagues
will tell you, the situation is radically different.
Mr. Barat. Private teaching was shut down many years ago
and thousands of Talib students arrested, and teachers
arrested. On the contrary, a funny thing happening is that all
local Islamic associations right now, seminar by seminar, in
some little town they gave already finished the fifth grade of
the seminars to train young imams. Here, they are arresting the
local original private schools. All are gone, no more. On the
other hand, the state-funded Islamic associations are training
young imams. I read some articles that two seminars lasted,
like, six months. Some seminars are three months.
I think they are very busy working to supplement each
mosque with their own imam, but the mosque has so many. So in
order for each mosque to have its own red imam, they are very
busy training their own people.
So in the Uighur area, private teaching is finished and all
the Talib students who learned previously are in prison right
now, or at least most of them. But new imams are coming up with
the new interpretations and they are in new posts and on a new
mission, which I explained before.
Mr. Bovingdon. Let me just add to that excellent testimony
that official sources that I have make it clear that while–let
me back up. I said in my opening statement that it is not
always clear what constitutes legal and illegal religious
activity. Official texts that I have make it clear that the
government considers educating children in religion to be
“illegal religious activities.” I have in front of me a
paragraph from a text that I translated that describes illegal
religious activities once again infiltrating schools, mines,
factories, and businesses, and mosques in Ili offering courses
in religious propaganda to students of 5 to 15 years old. So it
makes it quite clear that this is considered illegal religious
behavior. The other thing that I would add is that even though
it has been described as illegal and prosecuted as illegal for
years, such sites continue to emerge, that is to say, to be
exposed, on a regular basis. So, it is still going on.
Mr. Foarde. Useful. Thank you very much.
Christian Whiton represents Under Secretary of State for
Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, one of our Commission members.
Mr. Whiton. Thank you, John.
A question in regard to trends. With the repression of
Muslims in China, is that correlated with a rise in repression
of Christians, and especially with the recent activities
against Falun Gong? In other words, do you view the anti-Muslim
activities by the government as independent, or do you think
they are tied to those other activities–this uptick, if you
can describe it that way, in anti-Muslim sentiment by the
government? Any of you can answer that, but perhaps, Dr.
Lipman, you can start.
Mr. Lipman. It seems to me that the power of the state to
define what religion is lies at the heart of the problem. There
are legal religions in China. The constitution guarantees
religious freedoms and defines “religions” as including, for
example, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and so forth. But any
religious activity deemed a threat in any way by the state can
be defined by that same state as illegal, because it is illegal
religious activity. That is, it can be zongjiao, it can be
religion, or it can be heterodoxy. By maintaining its own
entire power to define what is and is not illegal religious
activity, the Chinese state can be highly selective in how it
deals with religious organizations so that Falun Gong,
perceived as a threat, can simultaneously be persecuted at the
same time that the Buddhist monastery at Shaolin, for example,
is made into a major tourist attraction.
Certain kinds of religious activity in Tibet can be
encouraged, while others are discouraged, simultaneously. I do
not see any direct connection between a crack-down, let us say,
on Falun Gong and particular activities vis-a-vis Islam.
Indeed, within the state’s relationship to Islam, we can
find, as our testimony indicated, simultaneous repression in
one place and liberalization in another, so that there is not a
single trend vis-a-vis religion that I have been able to
Mr. Barat. Religious persecution in the Uighur region, or
East Turkestan, is Uighur ethnic targeting. So, I have not
heard that hundreds of thousands of Talib Uighur Muslim
students are in prison right now. I have not heard of Kazakh,
Hui, Kyrgyz, or other minorities which are also Muslim, that
they have students in prison. No.
Mr. Foarde. You have plenty of time, Christian, if you want
to ask another question.
Mr. Whiton. If I could ask a follow-up to Dave’s question
of Dr. Bovingdon. With the presence of Muslims in Chinese
officialdom, does that extend to the People’s Liberation Army
as well? Do you see Muslims there, and are they allowed to
practice their religion in the army?
Mr. Bovingdon. There are clearly Uighurs, Kazakhs, and
others serving in the army, but not, as far as I know, in large
numbers. I would be extremely surprised to learn that they were
allowed to practice. As I have already said, it is made
explicit that Party members and students are forbidden to
practice. I have never seen explicit reference to soldiers.
But, once again, I would be extremely surprised to learn that
they practiced Islam openly.
Mr. Foarde. Does anybody else have a comment?
All right. Let us go on. I would like to recognize Rana
Siu, who also comes to us from the Office of Assistant
Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Lorne
Rana, welcome. Please go ahead.
Ms. Siu. Thank you. Thank you to the panelists for their
My question is about participation in the Hajj pilgrimage.
What is the PRC Government’s policy on this? Do you have
estimates of Hui and Uighur Hajj participants?
Mr. Lipman. It varies from year to year. There have been
slightly longer term trends that one can recognize. In that
same early, one could say ecstatic, period of reform from 1978
to 1989, fairly large numbers of pilgrims from China did go on
the Hajj, numbering at least in the thousands. The last time I
was at the Islamic Association in Beijing, they talked of
3,000. That was about four years ago. A number of those–though
I could not get exact statistics–were government-supported
pilgrims. That is, the Islamic Association has a fund of money
available to send pilgrims on the Hajj, and it does so. Indeed,
one of the officials responsible for that was widely thought to
have moved from the northwest to Beijing to take the job in
order to make some extra cash from the contributions of those
who wished to take their places in the government Hajj. That
private people can also go on the Hajj is clear in Hui
I cannot say about Xinjiang, about the Uighurs, but I have
met Hui who have been on the Hajj at their own expense. They
usually take a different route than the government-sponsored
pilgrims and they try to do it as inexpensively as they can.
Some regulation comes not only from the Chinese end, but
also from the Saudi end, in which the Saudi Government limits
the size of delegations. The Saudis have made some contribution
every year for some hundreds of pilgrimages to be made by
Chinese Muslims and those contributions have been funneled
through the Islamic Association.
Mr. Barat. For the Uighurs, the Hajj was started, if I am
not mistaken, in 1956 or 1957. Then for 10 years, it stopped
during the Cultural Revolution, until after the “reform and
opening up” policy was announced, and then it opened again.
China is using the Hajj and Islamic school Koran recitation
conferences perfectly to please the Islamic world.
This is one of their propaganda tools, or very nice
diplomatic means to show that China is good to the Islamic
world. So, they are now both making money and sending Hajjis to
the Islamic world for all kinds of purposes.
Mr. Bovingdon. I would simply add to that–I am,
unfortunately, unable to provide numbers–the Chinese
Government was quite generous in the 1980s in providing funds
for many Uighurs, including some officials, to make the Hajj.
So this was, in fact, a high point for freedom to pursue that.
It was also, of course, a period of great economic growth in
Xinjiang, and large numbers of private individuals developed
the wealth sufficient to make that trip. I think that continued
until the early 1990s, and then I think political developments
in the region made the government rethink it, so that the
numbers are drastically reduced these days.
Mr. Foarde. Let me move on and recognize our colleague, Ann
Tsai, who is responsible for organizing today’s roundtable.
Unfortunately, I have to begin on a melancholy note. This is
Ann’s last issues roundtable with us.
After two years, she is going to move on to a new
opportunity beginning next week. We are very sad to lose her,
but we are very happy to have had the benefit of not only her
collegiality and good company over the last two years, but also
her fine work on this roundtable. Your turn for some questions.
Ms. Tsai. Thank you, John. I was not expecting that kind of
attention here. Thank you so much, to all three of the
panelists. Actually, I have a question on a slightly different
route than we have been asking. I have a question about Islamic
law and whether or not that is used at all, or to any extent,
in Muslim communities, and what variation it might be used in
China among the various Muslim communities.
Mr. Bovingdon. I would say that Islamic law, as a law
binding public behavior, and Muslim clerics, as interpreters of
the law, were, if not the first, one of the first things that
the Communist Party did away with when it took control in
Xinjiang. As far as I know, neither of those has changed since.
Mr. Barat. No other power. But three things are always
consistent. One, is circumcision has to be done by an imam. And
when you get married, when you are a Muslim, it has to be read
by an imam. When you die, you must be prayed over by an imam.
Those three remain, as always. No other power. This has become
partly religion and partly tradition.
Mr. Lipman. I think it is important, when we talk about
Islamic law in the context of China, to recognize that there is
a way in which the Chinese state has effectively given itself
the power to regulate sharia, not as an alternative system of
law, but as something that it had not been before, but it has
become, namely minzu fengsu xiguan. That is, “ethnic customs
and habits.” By regulating communities with ethnic customs and
habits, Islamic leaders perform a service to public law and
order, as long as that does not come into conflict with the
interests of the state.
If I might be permitted an anecdote, in Xi’an city, a
committee of local people, led by a courageous imam, began to
agitate some years ago for an end to the serving of alcohol in
restaurants in and around the Muslim quarter. This practice was
offensive to Muslims. But, of course, there were
restauranteurs, some of them Muslims, who were willing to serve
alcohol to guests in order to make some money. And that
committee, the Anti-Alcohol Committee, had a very popular run
in the late 1990s in which they organized, and demonstrations
were held, and sermons were given in mosques, and so forth,
against the consumption of alcohol, which is, of course,
forbidden by Islam.
The state found this congenial for a while, but in the late
1990s the committee was shut down. The scholar who has written
about this subject the most conjectures–although there is no
direct evidence of this–that the anti-alcohol campaign began
to threaten the local authorities’ control of what constitutes
civilized and modern behavior. That is, by maintaining an
alternative view of modernity and of being civilized, namely
that one ought not consume alcohol, the Anti-Alcohol Committee
was usurping the functions of the state, and therefore the
Anti-Alcohol Committee was shut down.
The reason for its being shut down, of course, is that it
was branded an illegal organization, feifa zuzhi. So as soon as
something becomes a threat to the state, for example, the
prohibition of alcohol by Islamic clerics, it can be declared
outside the realm of legality.
So, we have a fascinating problem in which the state can
choose to allow Islamic law to function when it serves state
interests, when it serves law and order, but can choose not to
allow it to function when it constitutes a threat in one of
many different ways.
Mr. Barat. In 1997, 1996, around there, Uighur youth, young
imams, organized a kind of collective gathering, and there they
came up with a similar story to comdemning alcohol as bad,
because at that time–alcohol is a drug that has resulted in
all kinds of bad things. It has become very bad in society. So
the government cannot do anything, does not want to do
anything. Now the religious people came and stood up and then
called upon people to stop doing this because this practice is
wrong, this practice is anti-religion. It worked so well, in
1996 and 1997 in the Ili region, that alcohol consumption was
reduced 60 percent.
Mr. Bovingdon. I would only add, if memory serves, that the
government condemned and cracked down on meshreps in 1995.
Mr. Barat. 1995, 1996.
Mr. Bovingdon. And a particularly interesting episode is
chronicled in the dissertation of one of our colleagues, who
writes that these meshreps organized a soccer league in the
Ghulja area and the soccer tournament that was to take place
was closed down when the government occupied the soccer fields
as a way of making sure it did not happen.
The argument there is very much consistent with what
Professor Lipman said a moment ago, that the government became
concerned when it was clear that there was some social capacity
in these organizations that was not controlled by the state.
Mr. Foarde. Thank you all very much. I would like to
recognize the general counsel of the Commission staff, Susan
Roosevelt Weld, for some questions.
Ms. Weld. In a certain way, this is very similar to the
last question. But we are taught that a pillar of Islam is
charity. Early in Islam they developed trusts to do charitable
things, like run schools, pay for hospitals, feed the hungry,
and so on. I wonder if that pillar of Islam is expressed in
either Muslim society in China–among the Hui or among the
Uighurs. Is this something that would be threatening to the
Chinese state? Or is it something that would be useful to the
Chinese state to help cope with problems like the lack of
Mr. Lipman. Charity continues as one of the basic duties
within any Muslim community. The donations that are given to
the mosque and to other local institutions still constitute an
important part of the social services that are available within
the Hui communities that I have studied. Zakat, the endowed
property, also continues to exist, although I have never seen a
formal endowment document. Such documents have traditionally
existed in Muslim societies.
I have never seen one, but I do know that mosques and
foundations own property, including, for example, real estate,
apartment buildings, and so forth, the proceeds from which can
help to fund local religious institutions, including schools
and relief to the poor. It is still the case that donations of
particular kinds, whether in cash or in kind, are given to the
mosque, particularly around the month of Ramadan, and that
charitable giving constitutes an important part of the
obligation of every Muslim. We have no data of any kind on how
many Muslims continue to fulfill that obligation.
In the Hui communities, I have never seen any evidence of
state antipathy for such donations, as long as the mosque
functions which they support, the religious functions that they
support, continue to remain within the guidelines of state
For example, Sufi tombs in Ningxia and in Linxia in
southern Gansu have continued to be supported at a very high
rate and to have new construction of many kinds. Beautiful new
buildings and so forth have been built in these tomb complexes,
all based on the charitable giving of the local Muslims. Just
to give you an example, one successful operator of a sesame oil
press in a village outside of Ningxia boasted that he had, last
year, given 30,000 yen to the local mosque.
Mr. Foarde. Does anybody else have a comment?
You still have some time, Susan. Ask another question.
Ms. Weld. I wanted to ask all of you, you mentioned
foundations. Are those set up with a document?
Mr. Lipman. I have never seen such a document, no.
Ms. Weld. Are they a legal entity?
Mr. Lipman. As I said, I have never seen a document
establishing such a foundation, but that a mosque owns real
estate, I do have evidence.
Ms. Weld. There are laws now in China providing for both
trusts and foundations. I believe so. I wonder if it is
possible for an entity such as an Islamic group to use those
Mr. Lipman. I have heard of various kinds of Islamic
voluntary associations, though whether any of them hold zakat,
whether they hold property, I could not say. But there are
voluntary associations which can incorporate as legal
organizations under the category of minzhen, people’s
Ms. Weld. Thank you.
Mr. Barat. Most of the charity monies in the Uighur region
go to building private mosques. After the recent earthquakes in
Kashgar in the southern Xinjiang region, I heard reports that
such and such individual donated how much money, something like
that. They, I think, gave it through local Islamic associations
or mosques to send money to the earthquake region.
Mr. Foarde. I would like to hand the microphone over to our
friend and colleague Steve Marshall, who works on several
important matters for us on the Commission staff, including
Tibet and prisoners.
Mr. Marshall. I would like to ask a question about
education, about the family and the child with respect to
Islam. Article 36 of China’s Constitution says that nothing can
interfere with the education of the state.
Parents obviously have a strong interest in their
children’s education, including their religious or spiritual
education. Teachers in schools, ordinary schools, often have an
interest in the spiritual education of children, as well as in
their normal education. Can you say something about the
position of the parent and the position of the schoolteacher
with respect to their right or capacity to have some sort of
influence on children and religion? Anyone?
Mr. Bovingdon. Some of the same documents to which I
referred earlier point out, for instance, cases of teachers who
have refused to stop announcing that they believe in Islam and
attempting to teach Islam, even on pain of being fired, which
is a roundabout way of suggesting that anyone who openly
professes Islam as a teacher and intends to teach it in the
classroom, or is reported to have done so, can be fired.
I think no government in the world can intervene completely
in family dynamics and prevent intra-familial religious
transmission, but I do know that parents are quite afraid, (a)
of running into trouble for teaching their children in the
wrong context; and (b) conversely, of not being able to teach
their children about Islam. This is a widespread concern about
which people speak.
Mr. Barat. State school teachers are absolutely not allowed
to mention Islam any more at present. The Kashgar Pedagogic
Institute professors are being expelled from the school in
their old age because they went to the mosque and they attended
prayers. Working for life as a teacher, and now expelled from
school without their pension, without their retirement, imagine
what is going on.
In 2002, the Hotan region’s Educational Bureau decreed,
when the new school started, every student, third grade and
above, which is 10 years old, must write a 1,000 word political
assurance before starting school. This is psychological
torture. How can a 10-year-old kid can write a 1,000 word
political assurance? I cannot write that much. And one of the
homework assignments is did your parents teach you religion? No
lying. If any parents teach religion, the student must write it
down in their homework. The next day, their parents are in
Mr. Lipman. From both Uighur and Hui areas, there is
considerable evidence that parents do try to give their
children some Islamic education at home. This can range from a
fully orthopractic training in prayer to customs and habits, if
you will, pork avoidance, and so forth.
I have heard stories both in Xinjiang and in other
provinces of China of people being fired from their jobs, of
teachers, especially, being particularly vulnerable to charges
of illegal religious activity because they went to a mosque.
But it can get more extreme than that. I did hear from one
Uighur informant that, in his children’s school, all the male
teachers had to cut their moustaches, because wearing a
moustache was seen as an Islamic expression.
There have been a number of new stories, though I have no
independent verification of them, of young girls in Uighur
schools being criticized, or even sent home, for covering their
heads or wearing skirts that were too long. Now, of course,
comparisons to France are invidious.
Mr. Foarde. But inevitable.
Mr. Lipman. But inevitable. Exactly. The Chinese state has
determined that putting this out as a national policy would be
ineffective, but practicing it locally can be effective in
preventing strong Islamic identity from developing in children.
Most poignantly, I met a young Uighur man in Kashgar who told
me he was extremely worried about his young son, who was three,
because his wife is quite a pious person and had taught the boy
to pray. This young man was extremely concerned about what
would happen when the young boy went to school, where it might
be exposed that he had been taught to pray. It was a matter of
considerable anxiety to him.
Mr. Foarde. Very useful. Let me pick up for a couple of
questions relating to things in your opening statements.
Jonathan Lipman, you talked, I think, in the context of
perhaps some Hui communities in Shandong about internal
violence within Hui groups. Could you expand on that and
enlighten us a little bit on what the dynamics of those are?
Mr. Lipman. Not in Shandong. There was a list. The Shandong
incident to which I referred was three years ago and it
involved violence between Hui and non-Hui.
Mr. Foarde. Oh, I see. I see.
Mr. Lipman. The violence within Muslim communities to which
I refer took place in southern Ningxia, and it involved the
succession to leadership of a local Sufi order. Two different
candidates were available for the leadership to become the Shah
of the order, and violence broke out between these two groups,
some of it quite extensive.
I have heard figures as high as 50 people killed. The army
did go in and the violence was solved by the presence of the
state, which then sent large numbers of so-called nationality
cadres, minzu ganbu, to the area where they basically talked
the problem to death for many months. By the end, when the
problem was openly revealed in the public media, several of the
leaders of one of the two groups were doing several years in
prison each and the problem had been solved.
So, that is the kind of violence that might take place. Dru
Gladney has also told a number of very interesting anecdotes
about conflict between Muslim groups in places like Linxia in
southern Gansu, and also in Yunnan. But I believe that that
kind of conflict has not taken place in the eastern cities. You
do not find it in Beijing or in Zhengzhou, or in the other
large communities of the east coast.
I think it is highly localized and it does tend to involve
either Sufi orders, or in a few cases that I have heard of,
recent converts to a more Saudi-oriented form if Islam, which
is usually, I think, perhaps erroneously called Wahabi.
Mr. Foarde. Very useful. Kahar Barat, you referred twice to
privately funded mosque construction. I am very interested in
that, but mostly interested in knowing where does the money
come from? How does a community of worship raise the money to
build a mosque, and do they run into any difficulties with
local authorities in getting the permits necessary to build?
Mr. Barat. In an official report I read from Garmenside,
they said they illegally built private mosques. That means that
lots of village places had an increase in praying people, and
they needed a praying house, so they donated land, maybe, a
yard, house, small mud-brick houses, and possibly just
privately funded mosques as prayer places. I think by now,
today, they are all gone.
Mr. Foarde. So you would not find any new privately funded
construction going on at this moment in Xinjiang?
Mr. Barat. No. The new, current construction, I told you,
that was just a short, less than 10-year period. That is what
happened. Afterward, now, everything has gone downhill. I do
not think there is any single private mosque being built these
Another anecdote similar to this one. The Talib, which is
the student protest movement, was involved. In early 1997, two
Uighur families were murdered by bad people. At the same time,
in the black market they found a U.S. dollar which was used by
the Talib–Talib means religious student–who was somehow
involved with black market money. Then relating to that dollar,
which has a blood stain on it, the authorities said, “the
Talib killed this family.” The Talib protest movement started
and lasted nearly two years. That spread from Ili to Urumqi and
Kashgar, and Hotan. I called and spoke to the policeman who
defected. He said that 20,000 Talibs were arrested just because
of the one dollar. During this mass arrest movement, they
finally broke the case and the true murderer was a Chinese who
had a name, who had an address, who was in the Xinjiang
Province. They knew where he was. When the Uighur police asked
the Chinese police chief, why do we not go to Xinjiang to
arrest him, the Chinese police said, we do not have money to
Mr. Foarde. Thank you. Let me hand the microphone to Dave
Dorman for more questions.
Mr. Dorman. I have just a quick follow-up question for each
of you on your opening testimony.
Professor Lipman, to follow up part of John’s question, I
think in your opening testimony you referenced instances where
the PRC Government negotiated successfully with local Hui
Mr. Lipman. Yes.
Mr. Dorman. You gave us the example of the Anti-Alcohol
Committee, which I thought was going to be a successful example
and turned out not to be. Could you give us an example? Were
you referring to negotiations that would affect religious
Mr. Lipman. No, though they may involve the location of
religious institutions. The negotiations that I have studied–
and I know there are others, but I have not studied them in
detail–have involved urban renewal projects. That is, Hui
Muslims lived in many quarters that were relatively self-
contained in large eastern cities from Xi’an eastward,
Zhengzhou, Jinan, Beijing, even Shenyang up in the northeast.
In those quarters, as part of the reform movement desire to
renew Chinese cities, to take out the old markets, the old one-
story houses, to build modern apartment buildings with flush
toilets and all the good things of modern life, a number of the
propositions were made that these quarters be razed. The local
Hui, many of whom were quite poor, would probably not have been
able to afford to live in the new housing that was to be built
in replacement of the housing in their old quarter and would,
therefore, have to scatter to the suburbs.
In some places, this did happen–Beijing is a good
example–in which the rather compact Muslim quarter of Niujie,
of Oxen Street, has been largely, but not entirely, scattered
out into the suburbs.
In some communities, the local folks banded together, as
legally as they could, to negotiate with the government,
sometimes through the Minorities Commission, sometimes through
the Religious Affairs Commission, to hang on to their quarter.
The success story that I know best is Zhengzhou in northern
Henan. There, the local Muslims negotiated successfully with
the government to build public housing projects in the old
Muslim quarter so that the Hui would be able to afford them.
So, now you have relatively nice, new apartment buildings built
around the old mosques in the Muslim quarter. So, that is an
example of a successful negotiation.
One that is ongoing and that I would commend to your
attention is in the city of Xi’an, where until at least a
couple of years ago, the last time I visited, there had not
been any major renewal of that one quarter of the city. The
rest of Xi’an has been done, but the Muslim quarter, the Hui
minfang, has not. The Hui mingfang of Xi’an is not a
particularly hygienic place, but the folks who live there like
it and they wanted to hold onto it. They have no objection to
better housing, but they do not want to be scattered to the
suburbs, especially since there are 13 mosques right there in
the quarter, and several of them are historic mosques and the
others are centers of the community. If the people were forced
to move, they would not be able to do so with their mosques.
So, they are negotiating. This is a place where I have seen
voluntary association work remarkably well. There is an Islamic
Cultural Society that was set up by local residents to study
these problems. They actually did survey research in the
quarter and published the results in their own little journal
to persuade the state and its local representatives to deal
with them. They did it seriously and the did it legally. That
is very important. They made sure that they got permission at
every level to organize these societies in order to keep their
quarter whole. They have succeeded so far, at least in
preventing urban renewal from scattering them. They have not
yet been able to negotiate, as the Zhengzhou Muslims did, a new
quarter for themselves where they can afford to live.
Mr. Dorman. Good. Thank you.
Professor Bovingdon, in your opening statement you referred
to the striking differences–I think I may have added the word
“striking,” not you–in allowable religious practices for Hui
and Uighur communities. Has the PRC Government commented on
these differences publicly or acknowledged them? If so, what
does the PRC Government present as the reason?
Mr. Bovingdon. I am not aware of the government ever having
said, we treat Hui Islam and Islamic practice differently from
Uighur Islamic practice. As far as I know, the standard
strategy is simply to say that the government is cracking down
on illegal religious behavior, which, as I said, is vaguely
defined, such that it can be locally interpreted. But there has
never, to my knowledge, been an explicit acknowledgement of
Mr. Lipman. Could I add one sentence to that?
Mr. Dorman. Sure.
Mr. Lipman. One of my scholarly friends from the northwest
went to Beijing to become an official in the Islamic
Association, which is a putatively independent religious
organization under the aegis of the government. When I asked
him precisely the question that you asked, he said–how to
translate this–we administer Xinjiang somewhat more severely.
Xinjiang guande bijiao lihai. “We keep an eye on Xinjiang with
a considerably more constraining focus.” That is the closest I
have ever heard. But, of course, it did not appear in a
document, it was a private conversation.
Mr. Foarde. Thank you.
Susan, another question? Please, go ahead.
Ms. O’Sullivan. I was wondering if any of you had some
thoughts about the question of using this label of terrorism on
Uighurs. Shortly after 9/11, we saw the Chinese put this label
on a lot of different groups, Tibetans, Falun Gong, but with
the Uighurs it has stuck in a way that it has not in other
groups. The State Department is under increasing pressure to
designate Uighur groups as terrorist groups, or even to
acknowledge that individuals are terrorists whom we know are
not. I am wondering if you have any recommendations for us on
things that we could do to protect the Uighur community from
the misuse of this label, if there is anything that those of us
in the international community could do that we are not doing
Mr. Bovingdon. The only things that I would say, would be
to make sure you have an independent basis of evidence and that
you do not apply the labels willy-nilly. I know that many
people in the U.S. Government already have taken these points
very much to heart.
I think it is very important to point out that 9/11 has,
unfortunately, provided a great opportunity for states to label
all kinds of anti-state activity with this blanket term. It is
very important not simply to fall in line with that, but rather
to maintain objectivity, to check evidence trails, and to check
the explicit statements of the people involved.
Plenty of Uighur leaders who have been labeled terrorists
have said explicitly that they disavow terror, and the
organizations in which they are involved have never advocated,
nor to my knowledge been involved in, terrorist activities.
Mr. Barat. The Chinese were 3 percent, by official record,
in 1949. Today, they are 50 percent. Those 50 percent are
employed, salary collected, protected, and weapon-holding
people. That much of the pressure, seven million Chinese
pressing into the Uighur region within 50 years. That is very
heavy pressure for the Uighur people. And very little possible
in the southern region, like Kashgar, Hotan, and those places,
the peasants are leaving two months to six months for corvee
labor. With that annual income here, you cannot feed a guinea
pig. Same with the labor situation. There is very little, tiny
bit of resistance with exhausted, poor people now labeled as
We know in Bosnia how many people died. We know how many
people died in Chechnya. But we do not know how many people
died in East Turkestan. I always doubted the half a million,
one million exaggerated numbers.
But as a Uighur scholar and years of observing, I believe
six digits are correct, absolutely correct. But we need to
investigate. The government needs to investigate. All human
rights organizations should investigate this one.
These Uighur prisoners, by hundreds and thousands, they are
staying in prison, squeezed in and dying. There are a lot and
they are dying. If the International Red Cross does not do
anything, the U.S. Government does not do anything, if the
United Nations does not do anything, these people will die in
prison, and there are so many. Among these persecuted people,
there are some Chinese policemen also being persecuted because
they did not bury it well enough. Workers there digging in the
sand, they found out the masquerade, that the Uighurs are
buried there. And then when this thing happened, the soldiers
got persecuted because they did not do a good job, they did not
bury them down deep enough, this kind of thing.
So, in the world, something happened in Bosnia, something
happened in Chechnya, and now something happened in East
Turkestan. So, we should pay big attention and rescue these
people. These boys and girls are dying.
Mr. Lipman. Let me just add one sentence which I wrote in
response to one of the e-mails I got from Ann and Susan. The
greatest threat to Islam in Xinjiang, according to the Uighurs
with whom I have talked, comes from the vast immigration of
Han, which they believe can destroy not only the environment of
their homeland, but their religion and national identity as
well. Obviously, domestic migration is a very vexed social
issue in a lot of societies, and there is no easy way for
anybody in the international community to have anything to do
with it. It is entirely a domestic affair of the People’s
Republic of China.
But we should certainly be conscious of the effects that
long-term immigration of cultural others, to put it kindly, can
have on religious identity, on national identity, and so on.
The comparison is often made by Uighur friends to Inner
Mongolia, where the population is now 75 or 80 percent non-
Mongol and where the Mongol heritage is preserved largely as a
museum piece rather than a living culture.
People are very afraid of that happening. Islam, as a
crucial component of Uighur identity, is perceived to be under
threat for precisely that reason.
Mr. Barat. China has a saying, “By killing the rooster,
scare the monkeys.” Now in these 10 years, what is going on is
killing the Uighurs and scaring the other 50 minorities.
Mr. Foarde. With that thought, our time is up for this
First, I would like to thank our three panelists, Jonathan
Lipman, Kahar Barat, Gardner Bovingdon. Thanks to all three of
you for coming so far to share your expertise with us. On
behalf of Chairman Jim Leach and Co-chairman Chuck Hagel of the
CECC, thanks to all of you for attending this afternoon.
You will see the transcript up on the website in a few
weeks. Please keep checking our website for information on the
next CECC activities. We will do more roundtables and hearings
yet this spring.
For this afternoon, let us put this one to a close. Thank you.
[Whereupon, at 3:35 p.m. the roundtable was concluded.]
A P P E N D I X
Prepared Statement of Jonathan N. Lipman may 17, 2004
The presence of considerable numbers of Muslims throughout the
Chinese culture area has created difficulties of both perception and
policy for every China-based State since the 14th century. Living in
every province and almost every county of the PRC, the people now
called Hui have managed simultaneously to acculturate to local society
wherever they live and to remain effectively different–though to
widely varying extents–from their non-Muslim neighbors. Most of them
use local Chinese language exclusively, and they have developed their
“customs and habits” in constant interaction with local non-Muslims,
whom they usually resemble strongly in material life. Intermarriage has
made them physically similar to their neighbors (with some exceptions
in the northwest), but their Islamic practice and/or collective memory
of a separate tradition and history allow them to maintain distinct
identities. In short, they are both Chinese and Muslim, a problem that
must be solved within many local contexts, for there is no single
isolated territory occupied primarily by Hui people which could serve
as a model for Hui all over China.
Many of the characteristics of the Chinese Muslims can only be
understood through the localness of Hui communities, despite their
common Muslim religion and (state-defined) minzu identity. Their
adaptations include learning local language and fitting into local
economic systems, sometimes, but not always, in occupations marked as
“Hui,” such as tanning, jade selling, and keeping halal restaurants.
Chinese scholars posit two simultaneous interlocking processes–
ethnicization (minzuhua) and localization (diquhua)–as responsible for
the formation of the Hui within the Chinese cultural matrix, but those
processes have not generated any uniformity among their communities.
Even the centrality of the mosque, obvious in Muslim communities
anywhere, has been modified by acculturative processes in some eastern
Hui intellectuals emphasize the national quality of Huiness, its
“minority nationality” core, while many ordinary Hui stress the local
in discussing who they are. Religious leaders and pious individuals, of
course, place greatest importance on Islamic religion as a unifying
valence of identity, but they also recognize its limits. Despite the
claim that “all Muslims under Heaven are one family,” most Hui clergy
do not connect themselves easily or comfortably with Turkic-speaking
Muslims in Xinjiang, either their culture or their (sometimes imagined)
sociopolitical ambitions. After all, the vast majority of Hui, even
those who have traveled extensively in the Middle East, are clearly
Chinese in their language, material culture, and textual lives outside
the mosque. However much they might identify with Muslims elsewhere–
even unto donning Arab clothing and headgear for photo opportunities–
Hui are not members of Malay or Turkish or Persian or Arab or any other
“Muslim” culture in which Islam is a “natural” component of
identity. On the contrary, they must distinguish themselves constantly
from the overwhelming majority of Chinese-speakers, who are not
Muslims, while still remaining part of the only culture and polity in
which their identity makes sense–that of China.
Seen in that light, my study of the Hui suggests some conclusions
regarding their place in contemporary China. First, “the Hui” do not
exist as a unified, self-conscious, organized entity. Some would argue
that no ethnic group conforms to these criteria, but our commonsensical
notion of “the Tibetans” or “the Uygurs,” discussed in endless
newspaper articles and web postings, indicates that many of us believe
that they do, or should. The Hui have national leaders, but they are
all empowered and thus, to some subjective extent, delegitimized by
their intimate association with the state–through the national Islamic
Association (Ch. Yixie), the Nationalities Commission (Ch. Minwei),
state-sponsored madrassas, universities, and other government-approved
organizations. The separatist Eastern Turkestan movement based in
Germany and the USA, the independent Republic of Mongolia, and the
Dalai Lama’s leadership of a substantial portion of Tibetans from
exile–all headquartered outside of China–represent models for ethnic
identity which the Hui (and, I would suggest, at least some other
minzu) do not, indeed cannot, follow.
Second, some Hui communities are more difficult, sensitive,
volatile, and potentially violent than others. This could be due to
historical memory of confrontation and desire for revenge, to bellicose
or inflexible Muslim leadership, to local geographical or economic
conditions which militate against harmony with non-Muslim neighbors
and/or the state, to insensitive or downright discriminatory policy or
behavior from functionaries at several levels of government.
Negotiation between Muslim leaders and state authorities has succeeded
in some cities and prevented the escalation of conflict in others,
allowing Hui communities to thrive. On the other hand, in places such
as Yuxi and Shadian in Yunnan, western Shandong, and southern Ningxia,
Hui communities exploded in violence against one another or the forces
of law and order. Similar and geographically proximate communities in
Yunnan have had very different histories. How much more disparate must
local Hui histories be in Gansu, Henan, Beijing, or elsewhere?
Third, we cannot ignore the power of PRC minzu policy and its
underlying vision of “the minorities” (including the Hui) as
primitive peoples who require the leadership of the advanced Han minzu
in order to advance toward the light of modernity. This mixture of
condescension and fear toward non-Chinese people has much power in Han
society There can be no question that some Hui resent this attitude and
its attendant policies. But others do not, or at least mute their
enmity with acknowledgement of Hui achievements and successes, in both
the past and the present. An oft-heard contemporary claim, that “We
Hui can always defeat the Han in business; they are afraid of us,”
echoes edgy old Han proverbial knowledge– “Ten Hui, nine thieves.”
Though this persistent ethnocentrism will always produce small-scale
confrontation, even rage and violence, there are no Hui leaders or
organizations calling upon all Hui, all over China, to reject the
authority of the current system in favor of Hui hegemony or emigration.
In this the Hui of China strongly resemble the Muslims of India, who
persist in their homeland despite constant tension and occasional open
ruptures with a majority society which, to some extent, denies the
validity of their sense of belonging and brands them as dangerous and
foreign. But unlike the Indian Muslims, the Hui have no Pakistan, no
Bangladesh to which they can turn as a “more authentic” homeland, and
they constitute an incomparably smaller percentage of the general
Finally, as far as most Hui are concerned, neither separatist
movements nor Islamic fundamentalism should undermine the unity of
China as a nation-state. The Hui can only be Hui in China, however
orthodox or orthopractic they may be in their Islamic lives. Even if
increasing international communication raises the consciousness of
Middle Eastern issues and Islamic identity among the Hui, this will
result in calls for “authentic” religion rather than separatism. The
small communities of Hui living outside of China–in Turkey, for
example, or Los Angeles–have not attempted to set up governments in
exile but rather halal Chinese restaurants, conforming to the pattern
of other Chinese emigrants in those parts of the world. Thus, despite
the Hui being defined as a “minority nationality,” we must
nonetheless regard them as unequivocally Chinese, though sometimes
marginal or even despised Chinese. Some among them, especially young
and militant imams, might claim that the unity of the Islamic umma
overrides national (Chinese) identity, but this contention cannot be
shared by most Hui. Like African Americans or French Jews, the majority
of Hui participate as patriotic citizens in the political and cultural
life of their homeland, even when antagonistic elements in the society
or State challenge their authenticity or loyalty.
Prepared Statement of Kahar Barat
MAY 17, 2004
Thanks to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China for inviting me today to present testimony about the religious situation in East Turkistan. And also thanks to the Uighur friends for sharing ideas with me on this issue.
The Uighur territory was the easternmost border of Islamic Empire
where religion had been loose, isolated and backward. Missionaries
brought Islam to Kashgar in the 10th century. But the Islamization of
the whole East Turkistan took more than 500 years as the widely
displaced oasis population was converted one by one from Buddhism and
Christianity. Preserving pre-Islamic and indigenous religious believes,
the people created a moderate and liberal form of Sunni Islam. Under
the patronage of Chagatai rulers, Islam gained a strong theocratic
power. Central Asian Naqshbandiyya Sufism influenced, especially the Tarim basin, for centuries.
But the Manchurian invasion in 1759 blanketed the area with
colonial non-Muslim administration and limited the Islamic authority to
a secondary position. During early modernism period, some progressive
merchants such as Musabay and Muhiti brought Jadidist teachers from
Kazan, Istanbul and Moscow universities to open western style schools.
From1885 to 1916, there were already 16 new schools open in East
Turkistan. A textbook publisher was established in 1910 in Kashgar.
Mao Zedong’s religious policy was of a typical Soviet type simply
eliminating religion from society. They trumpeted communism and atheism
as progressive and Islam as feudal, backward and superstitious. That
time each town had only one mosque, big cities had 2-3 mosques open
mainly for funeral ceremonies. A more devastating attack came in 1967–
1969 during Cultural Revolution when almost all mosques were destroyed,
Imams were persecuted, and millions of books were burned.
As a result of 30 years of enforced atheism, the majority of Uighur
people became separated from Islam. Younger generations grew up knowing
nothing about the religion, and the Koran was not available. Despite
all this, there had been always a small group of old people who kept
praying secretly. Uighur people maintained their faith at a minimum
level. No boy remained without circumcision, no one buried without
prayer, and almost no Uighur ate pork even though some Uighur cadre raised pig.
Since the introduction of the open door policy in China, there was
a short period of time in which Uighur Muslims could restore the
mosques, some attended organized Hajj pilgrimage, and students went to
al-Azhar and Islamabad universities to study Islam. To an unprepared
Uighur nation, return to Islam caused a great excitement. Young and old
desperately searched for a way to learn how to pray. Mosques were soon
full again. Privately funded mosques were built everywhere. Many Uighur
studied abroad or back from Hajj brought a new understanding about
Islam on the contrary to communistic distortion, which was much open,
intelligent and cosmopolitan. Koran was translated into Uighur in 1985
as well as Bukhari and other Arab classics. Some young Imams played an
active role fighting against the social pollution and crimes, such as
alcoholism, drug, prostitution, which is still a disaster in China. But
the government viewed the new trend as a threat, and responded it with
a hard line repressive policy. Such new religious freedom lasted only 10 years from 1978 to 1988.
Sun Yatsin and Mao’s nationalistic revolutions wiped out the royal
clan and religion from China without hesitation. What that might bring
to this strong Nation is a historical myth. Does Chinese society need
religion? Why did Falun Gong develop? Ever since, Han chauvinism became
the leading ideology in all administration. The economic growth and
social changes in China simultaneously brought a drastic assimilation
of all minority cultures and even Chinese local cultures. If the
situation continues as it is, within a century, we may see only 6
nationalities left, not 56, that will not bring anything positive to
this society. China!s reckless growth of population had already brought
a disaster to all minorities and even themselves, now the ethnic
assimilation is attacking the minorities in both quiet and violent two
directions: either you give up your identity to become Chinese, or I
will kill your language, religion and culture to make you a Chinese.
What we are seeing lately is the last scene of communism where the
anti-Islamic ethnic killings happen in Bosnia and Chechen. China also
operated a same war at its backyard by supplementing the military
presence in Uighur area. Accusing of “religious extremists,”
“Islamic fundamentalists” associated with “separatists,” they
killed and arrested thousands of religious teachers and students. The
1995 Khotan incident was triggered by the arrest of Imam Abduqeyim
Abdumijit. 1997 Ili incident was also started by the police arrest of
some Uighur boys and girls while they were praying during the month of
Holy Ramadan. Who is using the religion for what purpose?
Now all the State employees and students are strictly forbidden
from practicing Islam. China’s propaganda machine has been using their
traditional methods, created an ethnic hatred, demonized Uighur image,
translated Uighur resistance into international terrorism, and
convinced the international community in many ways. Many Uighur people
feel that they are betrayed by the world. Neighboring weak countries
deported Uighur refugees back to China sacrificing lamb to the beast.
Life has become so confusing for Uighurs that many have stopped going to mosque again.
In the meanwhile, Hui Muslims calmly watched the persecution of
Uighur Muslims; they then started looking for a way to negotiate with
the government. After 3 major experiments with Islam, going from one
extreme to another, Chinese leaders seem to have come down to their
last bargain: the religion must follow socialistic guidelines. Islamic
practice is allowed only through officially trained Imams with new
interpretations. Recently the Islamic associations started to compile
“new interpretations” of Koran and standard Islamic textbooks. All
local 470 Islamic associations are busy training young Imams. A new
“interpretation” of Koran conference was held in Urumchi on September
9, 2003 implying the introduction of this new policy into the Uighur
We hope the US government will take appropriate action to stop the religious persecutions in China, and improve access to Uighur people to practice true religion.