There have been many attempts by the Chinese communist government to obliterate the existence of minority groups that they believe threaten their state ideology, such as the Hui and Uighurs. The Hui are an ethnic group related to the Han Chinese. The Uighurs are a Muslim Turkic ethnic group native to Xinjiang Province. The government has focused its attention on the Uighurs who reject assimilation and demand independence from China.
There has long been a discord between the Uighurs and the Chinese government. The Hui minority group are able to assimilate to the Chinese culture while maintaining their religious practices. They speak Mandarin, integrate local Chinese customs with theirs, intermarry with the Han, and live in harmony with the Han people. In fact, other than religion there are no differences that distinguish the Hui from the Han people.
Unlike the Hui, the Uighurs resist adaptation to the Chinese culture. They do not speak Mandarin as their first language, they live in a region whose population is dominantly Muslim Uighurs, and they incorporate many of their customs that they practice in their daily lives from Islam. The Hui are not persecuted as the Uighurs, because they are assimilated. In the eyes of the Chinese government, the Uighurs’ defiant attitudes towards assimilation is threatening. According to Dr. Breffni O’Rourke, an associate professor in Applied Linguistics at Trinity College Dublin, “The [Uighurs] of western China are an ethnic Turkic people who are by tradition Muslim, and who feel more kinship with the peoples of Central Asia than with the Han Chinese.”
The Uighurs’ desire for independence is one reason why the “us” versus “them” mentality intensifies between them and the Han Chinese. They bump heads. The Han Chinese want political and cultural unity, whereas the Uighurs want an independent state called East Turkestan. They want an independence that would allow them to thrive economically and socially.
According to an article titled “Why is there tension between China and the Uighurs?” by BBC News, “Major development projects have brought prosperity to Xinjiang’s big cities, attracting young and technically qualified Han Chinese from eastern provinces. The Han Chinese are said to be given the best jobs and the majority do well economically, something that has fuelled resentment among Uighurs.” The developments in Xinjiang have gravitated many Han people.
According to BBC News, “In the 2000 census, Han Chinese made up 40% of the population, as well as large numbers of troops stationed in the region.” Seeking unity, the Chinese government promotes the integration of the Han Chinese in Xinjiang. As the number of Han people settling in the province increases, their language, ideas, and practices are being incorporated in the province. The Uighurs are most likely fearing what such an influence might have on the Uighurs’ lifestyle. They are angered by the increased number of Han people migrating to Xinjiang and taking away job opportunities.
David Palumbo-Liu, a Professor at Stanford University, writes in his article titled “The Ongoing Persecution of China’s Uyghurs”, “Economics also plays a large role in the persecution and repression of the [Uighur] as well.” Xinjiang is very important for its location and natural resources. This seems to be a reason why the government is persecuting the Uighurs. They are against the idea of Xinjiang becoming an independent region because they are benefiting economically.
According to Palumbo-Liu, they want to exploit Xinjiang’s vast natural resources and increase oil extraction and refining. “The province has an estimated twenty-one billion tons of oil reserves; its coal resources represent 40 percent of China’s total”, continues Palumbo-Liu. The increasing developments in the region have gravitated many Han Chinese to settle in Xinjiang. Many of the development projects have opened employment opportunities to Han Chinese settled in the region.
According to Kiyo Dörrer, a Reporter & Video Journalist at Deutsche Welle, “Many of the ethno-religious group seek independence from China, and the Uighurs as such are oppressed for it.” Much of the tension between the Uighurs and the Chinese government stems from the Uighurs’ desire for separation. This tension has sparked an ongoing conflict. Many underground Uighur separatists use acts of violence to fight for independence. In an article titled “Xinjiang: Uighurs Grapple with Travel Restrictions”, Gary Sands writes that the authorities coerce the residents in Xinjiang to give up their passports with the hope that they would be able to control the movement of militant Uighurs. The anti-separatists Chinese authorities respond with violence, enforce strict policies, and establish internment camps.
China’s government continues its relentless religious persecution of China’s Uighurs. They are separating families and sending individuals to internment camps to indoctrinate them. Children are sent to boarding schools far from their parents’ influence. The government wants to re-educate them by introducing a new belief system, a new lifestyle, a new language, and culture.
Ferkat Jawdat, an Uighur Activist, has received many threats from the Chinese authorities for speaking out about the governments’ oppression of the Uighurs. In an interview with Christiane Amanpour, the host of CNN International’s nightly interview program Amanpour, Jawdat says, “Many different aspects of the Uighur culture, Uighur identity are being destroyed.” He continues to explain that infants and teenagers are being separated from their families and placed in State-Run Orphan Centers. He asserts that his mother and other relatives were forcibly taken to concentration camps. Jawdat describes the government’s actions as being outright cultural genocide.
This is the government’s attempt to destroy the minority groups’ lifestyle, culture, and Muslim identity which they regard as a threat to China’s national security. Palumbo-Liu stresses that the Chinese government is categorizing an entire ethnic group as being terrorists. He explains that the government is justifying its actions by claiming that it is carrying antiterrorism work to de-extremize the Uighurs. Though, it seems to be their ethnocentrism that is leading them to violate the Uighurs’ human rights.
The Chinese government associates Islam with terrorism. They desire to secure unity and weaken the threat of terrorism which they believe justifies their oppression of the Uighurs. Innocent men, women, and children are punished because of their religion that is connected to their daily cultural practices. The government is not allowing the Uighurs to freely practice Islam. To bring about unity and fight terrorism, they believe in making the Uighurs assimilate to the Chinese culture.
The Uighurs are banned from fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. According to an article by Al Jazeera titled, “China bans Muslims from fasting Ramadan in Xinjiang”, “China has banned civil servants, students and teachers in its mainly Muslim Xinjiang region from fasting during Ramadan and ordered restaurants to stay open.” The restrictions on the religious practices are the reason behind many of the violent clashes between both groups. These restrictions initiate “premeditated attacks by some Uighurs against police, pro-Beijing religious leaders, and civilians”, according to Sarah Cook, a Senior Research Analyst. In response, the government has implemented harsh punishments even for peaceful religious practice, continues Cook. The authorities want the Uighurs to have absolute loyalty to the communist rule. They are violating the Uighurs’ human rights and wiping out their ethnic and cultural identities.