Chairman Mao Zedong once mentioned that we say China is a
country vast in territory, rich in resources and large in population; as a
matter of fact, it is the Han nationality whose population is large and the
minority nationalities whose territory is vast and whose resources are rich, or
at least in all probability their resources under the soil are rich. It shows
that culture indicates the identity of any individual, family or community.
The fundamental question is that how Chinese government
managed the Xinjiang region over the period of time? Another point is that, why
is the Turkish school preserving the culture of young Uighurs in exile? Why are
the Uighurs leaving in exile? This piece highlights the relation between
Chinese Communist Party and people of XUAR.
Uyghurs are a Turkic Muslim minority group residing
primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in the north-western
region of China. XUAR occupies one-sixth of China’s territory and is the
largest province of PRC.
Uyghurs are the primary community group in Xinjiang, so the
region is named XUAR after them. Xinjiang was legitimately brought into China
in 1884, during the Great Game era, when the Qing dynasty ruled over China.
Xinjiang is an important region for China to attain its aims
because of its abundant natural resources, strategic location as a gateway to
Central Asia and Europe as proposed in Belt and Road Initiative, and security
issues. After a brief understanding of XUAR, this section points out why
Uyghurs are in exile.
Demographic Change: Uyghurs vs Hans
As per the China’s official census statistics in 1953, the
Uyghur ethnic minority community was around 75 percent, whereas the Chinese Han
community made up only 6 percent out of the total population.
However, Uyghurs comprise 10.069 million, accounting for
only 0.76% of the total population, according to the 2010 national population
census. The XUAR is home to around 10 million Uyghurs and 8.83 million Hans.
The Han population relocation to XUAR disrupted the Uyghur people’s way of life
in every aspect.
Chinese Government vs XUAR
The 1950s was a time of tolerance, during which the
Communist Party of China (CPC) created positive relationships with local social
and religious leaders. During those years, the Chinese government intervened
relatively little in commerce, religious practices, and social traditions.
However, by the mid-1950s, Mao Zedong had promoted several
socialist changes in the country and, with the advent of the Cultural
Revolution in 1966, reversed the early 1960s move to conservatism.
The Cultural Revolution profoundly impacted XUAR, and by
1976, alienation was daily part of the people of Xinjiang. It happened due to
the Central Chinese government’s language and cultural programs to eradicate
religious beliefs. However, Deng Xiaoping declaration of economic
liberalisation in China in 1978 was swiftly followed by significantly tolerant
cultural and economic initiatives in Xinjiang, although it was unconnected to
Many reports highlight the Hanisation that was taking place
in XUAR. Han Chinese was getting well-paid jobs and high-status posts in
various corporations or government For example, the major towns of Xinjiang
have publicly highlighted the Chinese government’s development schemes for the
prosperity of Han Chinese, especially who are technically skilled, young
professionals mostly living in the Eastern regions.
The CPC policies and its practice clearly show how it began
to chance the demographic of the XUAR through the systematic development of
internal colonies. There are differences between the Uyghur demand for autonomy
and the creation of an independent East Turkistan state.
Since they had previously experienced some degree of
autonomy, Uyghurs continue to ask for more autonomy and want their own
independent state, “East Turkestan”. As an initial response, the Chinese
authorized to grant autonomous status to XUAR on October 1, 1955. The Uyghur
perceive it as mere eyewash, and Chinese policy continued to be oppressive, that is why Uyghurs are demanding
an independent East Turkistan state.
The local Muslim Uyghurs, poses an ethnic-nationalist danger
to China’s unity and territorial integrity. The demand for a separate state for
Uyghurs continued from the last 20 years on the grounds of their religion,
In this way, an ethnic-nationalist demand has transformed
into a religious one. Therefore, PRC, implemented attempts to restrict Islamic
religious practices in Xinjiang as Chinese authorities viewed Islam as
exacerbating the Uyghur ethnic identity.
The Chinese Central Government currently handles religious
matters in the northwest XUAR, making it evident that it constantly imposes
limits on religious and cultural freedom. According to the CPC’s atheist
stance, fasting during Ramadan has a health concern.
The sceptic CPC began to visit Uyghur households throughout
Ramadan and compel them to eat. If they refused, they have to face the
allegation of engaging in unlawful activity. Xi Jinping also discussed the
“Sinicisation of Islam” in 2015, implying that all ideals could be abandoned in
favour of Chinese society and the Communist Party.
According to Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) research,
from 2016 onwards, every town, municipality, and county in Xinjiang has
witnessed the demolition of between 10,000 and 15,000 mosques and other
significant cultural landmarks.
When news broke out that Chinese officials had built an open
lavatory on the site of a demolished mosque, the country’s campaign against
Uyghurs in Xinjiang reached a new low. The event was recorded in the Atush
region of Xinjiang, where a mosque in the village of Suntagh was razed in 2018
and rebuilt with a toilet stall two years later.
The governor, Chen Quanguo, was appointed in Xinjiang
province in 2016. During his administration, the persecution of Uyghurs was
extremely harsh. Numerous ethnic minority members were transported to camps
seemingly sprung overnight on the fringes of desert settlements. The name of
these camps was “transformation via education” (re-education camps). Detainees
were brought there, among other things, for indoctrination.
The Chinese government continues to discriminate against
Uyghurs by banning names from the Islamic religion, such as Mohammad, Islam,
Haji, Imam and also prohibited “Turk,” names such as Turkizat and Turkinaz. The
authorities said that the name regulations were put in place to lessen
However, Uyghur nationalism, which is commonly linked to
Islamic extremism in China, is routinely condemned by state decisions. In
addition, the restriction on babies’ names, lengthy beards, face veiling, and
body part coverings.
The seizure of passports in 2016 directly calls into
question the Uyghurs’ fundamental right to freedom. Coercive security protocols
in Xinjiang are a source of great resentment and threaten the Muslim
population. They perceive that the Uyghur people in China are a lower race.
Even though the law protects minority rights, the CCP does not encourage or
value local cultures.
China’s massive detention facilities in Xinjiang became the
focus of worldwide criticism in 2019, following the disclosure of certain
classified documents known as “China Cable” by the International Consortium of
Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Arrests for crimes have increased
dramatically. The inmates at the detention camps have allegedly been subjected
to cruel treatment and torture, according to the EFSAS study (2018).
In order to pressure China to stop the crimes committed in
these camps, 22 Western nations sent a letter to the UN High Commissioner for
Human Rights and the president of the UN Human Rights Council. In contrast, 37
nations, most of which are Muslim, sent a similar statement to the Human Rights
Council in favour of China.
These nations backed China’s assertion that these camps
served as vocational training facilities. They also blasted the West for making
the subject of human rights in China political.
The Chinese forcefully control the region and are not ready
to accept the culture and tradition of the Uighurs in Xinjiang. This should be
one of the reasons for Uighur staying in exile and therefore, Turkish schools
are preserving the culture of young Uighurs.
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Dr. Madhukar Shyam is a Research Assistant at Centre for
Strategic Studies and Simulation (CS3) at the United Service Institution of
India, New Delhi. He specializes in China studies and International
politics. He has done his M.Phil. and PhD
from Centre for East Asian Studies at School of International Studies, from
Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Article uploaded : 09-09-2022
Disclaimer : The views expressed are those of the author and
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