Chairman Mao tried to sell the Marxist-Leninist thought to solve the ethnic problem in his multi-ethnic country (PRC). Not only did the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) fail but Mao’s social engineering proved to be highly destructive. It led to the widespread discrimination and segregation of the non-Han minorities prevalent today based on their distinct religion, habitus, physiognomy, language, culture and socioeconomic status. After the death of Chairman Mao in 1976, the CCP began to relax its policies towards Muslims in 1978. But its policy of Hanification of the non-Han communities via the all-too-familiar colonial-style settlements and acculturation or a forced assimilation to the dominant Han culture did not ebb an iota.
The most vivid example of this experiment is Xinjiang (formerly East Turkestan) where the Han Communists developed it as a penal colony, as a nuclear testing ground and dumping ground for radioactive wastes (that is responsible for unusually high birth defects and mortality rate amongst the inhabitants) and as a buffer zone against invasion, and as a supplier of raw materials and living space for an overpopulated country. [Note: In this respect, Hanification has some resemblance to the Soviet experiment in the Muslim-majority Central Asia.]
Determined to end the push and pull of centuries, Mao’s successors resorted to Hanification of Xinjiang, which is primarily carried out in two folds: settlements and language or culture. They have had changed the demography of the region by settling the Han Chinese from other parts of the PRC and conducted forced abortion on Uighur women. Arienne M. Dwyer notes in an article – The Xinjiang Conflict: Uyghur Identity, Language Policy, and Political Discourse – the Han population “increased from nearly 300,000 in 1953 to nearly 6 million in 1990, in addition to more than one-half million demobilized soldiers in the Production and Construction Corps.” This increase in Xinjiang was made possible “as a result of state-sponsored population transfers from other parts of China.”
A second massive Hanification in the form of systematic colonization took place in the 1990s soon after the collapse of the Soviet Empire. Mindful of the emergence of the Central Asian republics (that are culturally, mostly Turkish), the CCP offered an attractive economic incentive program called the “Big Development of the Northwest” to the poor Han-Chinese to transfer them from the underdeveloped areas of the country to the Muslim-majority territories. The CCP’s calculated attempts brought success. It brought between one and two million new Han-Chinese settlers to Xinjiang alone. Today, the Han–Chinese population makes up more than 40 percent of Xinjiang’s total population of 22 million, from what was only 6 percent in the early 1950s.
As part of its acculturation strategy, the Han supremacists curtailed the Xinjiang’s millennium-plus-years old rich Muslim culture and are practicing widespread religious repression against the ethnic Uighurs (also spelled Uyghur). They have closed down Qur’anic and Uighur language schools to cut down their Islamic and cultural ties with other Muslims. Because of the Mandarin-based educational policy of the state, the Uighurs can’t pass and find jobs in their own land. The party-state has institutionalized discrimination based on Uighur’s distinct religion, habitus, physiognomy, language culture and socioeconomic status. In so doing, they have only widened the gap between the settlers and the indigenous inhabitants.
Since the 1950s, successive Chinese political leaderships have systematically formulated policies and carefully implemented action plans to ensure the total de-empowerment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang: politically, socially and economically. [Interested readers may like to read the article: China’s Hanification of Xinjiang is Failing By Habib Siddiqui and A.R.M. Imtiyaz]
In January 2019, Beijing passed a new Draconian law that seeks to “Sinicize” Islam. The campaign to “Sinicize religion” – the third form of Hanification – actually began in 2015 when President Xi Jinping passed a policy to bring religions in line with Chinese culture and the CCP. The law criminalized any expression of dissent or religious belief on behalf of Uyghurs alongside with branding their cultural traditions as signs of radicalization and terrorism. In October 2016, the government declared that all Xinjiang residents need to submit their documents for review to the Public Security Bureau (PSB), with the intention of limiting their travel outside the country. As a result of that, many students who pursued education abroad were forcefully returned and disappeared upon arrival at the Chinese border since their loyalty to the People’s Party was questioned.
In addition to that, throughout the province, smartphone owners found their phones inspected for suspicious content or undesirable social media applications, as a result of which many of them reportedly got installed bug- and tracking devices or spyware. Surveillance cameras were also updated with face recognition software, which facilitated the identification of individuals at crowded places. In South-eastern Xinjiang, authorities have ordered all vehicles to have compulsory GPS trackers installed, for what they call a ‘comprehensive supervision’. These and various other stringent security measures established the legislative foundation for the State’s repressive policies in the following years.
While Islam is one of the five officially recognized religions in China, the Han Chinese leadership began to show its unease toward Islam as well as Christianity soon after 9/11. The latest phase of taking down Arabic script and Islamic symbols, including those from halal restaurants and food stalls, represents an escalation in the Sinicization of Islam, especially in major cities like Beijing with high Hui Muslim population.
The new law, symbolizing Han anti-Muslim supremacist assaults, has led to painful experience for tens of millions of Chinese Muslims, especially the Uighur and Hui Muslims. Hundreds of Muslim intellectuals have either been executed or simply disappeared in the Chinese Gulag. One of those academics is Tashpolat Tiyip, a Uighur Muslim. Until 2017 he was a model academic, head of Xinjiang University, globally connected, and with an honorary degree from a prestigious Paris university. But that year, without warning, he disappeared, with no word from officials. His friends believe that after a secret trial, Prof Tiyip was convicted of separatism and sentenced to death.
As I noted in an earlier article, Professor Tiyip is not the only academic to disappear in the Chinese Gulag. Among the first high profile arrests was economist Ilham Tohti, another Uighur Muslim, who was convicted of separatism and sentenced to life in prison in 2014. Last month (Sept. 2019), he was awarded the Council of Europe’s Vaclaw Havel Prize for human rights. Another example is anthropologist Rahile Dawut, also of Xinjiang University. She disappeared in late 2017 and has not been heard of since.
According to Michael Caster, a researcher and author of The People’s Republic of the Disappeared, “There are hundreds of Uighur academics and professionals swept up into this mass internment campaign.” “This is targeting community, cultural, and intellectual leaders; it is tantamount to cultural genocide.”
One of the latest strategies towards cementing Han supremacy is the building of detention camps, which are being branded as “re-education centres”, and undeniably further deteriorate the situation by disenfranchising the local population. The epithet, “re-education camps” has been given to internment camps, which have been operating secretly and unlawfully since 2016.
In 2018 a United Nations committee estimated that about 1 million Muslims — mostly ethnic Uighurs but also other Muslim minorities — were being “held incommunicado” in Xinjiang without “being charged or tried, under the pretext of countering terrorism and religious extremism.” Experts say the Turkic minorities are being subjected to intense political indoctrination, forced confessions and intimidation. Dr. Adrian Zenz, an academic, whose research focus is on China’s ethnic policy and public recruitment in Tibetan regions and Xinjiang, argues that these mass camps are indiscriminately subjecting Uyghur Muslims to extrajudicial inhumane, humiliating and brainwashing conditions, supposedly as an attempt of lecturing the detainees how to distinguish the so-called ‘legitimate’ from ‘illegitimate’ religious practices, traditions and behavior.
Dr. Sean R. Roberts, Director of the International Development Studies Program at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and expert on Central Asia and China, has characterized Beijing’s perception of the Uyghurs as a “biological threat to society, akin to a virus that must be eradicated, quarantined, or cleansed from those it infects”. He explains how such attitude generates an environment similar to Michael Foucault’s all-seeing Panopticon or George Orwell’s Surveillance Society, where every single move or word of the individual is being monitored, rendering a milieu where surveillance remains the norm, even if the person discontinues his/her actions.
In a recently published article – Ethnic Cleansing of Uyghur Identity by China – the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) notes, “China’s campaign of coercive social re-engineering, justified under the slogan of “war on terror”, clearly comes closer to “war on humankind”. Such violent repression inevitably appears counter-productive, since it evokes even more violent resistance on behalf of the Uyghurs, which eventually leads to more repressive security measures on behalf of Beijing. Therefore, such perpetual cycle of repression-violence-repression only contributes to the complete disintegration of relations between the Chinese and the Uyghurs, rendering their peaceful habitation practically impossible.”
The latest reports suggest that some 3 million Uighurs are being detained in China’s concentration camps, making them the largest group since Nazi Germany. They are facing what can surely be termed as ‘cultural genocide.’ Muslims cannot fast during Ramadan and are forced to eat pork, which is considered haram in Islam. In recent months, scores of mosques have also been razed to the ground at the behest of the PRC government. Among the sites completely destroyed was the Imam Asim shrine, which used to attract thousands of Uighur pilgrims each year. Its mosque and other buildings have been torn down and only the tomb remained, the Guardian reported.
Muslims caught praying, fasting, growing a beard or wearing a hijab, a headscarf worn by many Muslim women who feel it is part of their religion, face the threat of arrest. According to the Human Rights Watch, Beijing keeps a database of “DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scans and blood types of all residents between the age of 12 and 16” in Xinjiang. Many Uighurs are now feared to have vanished – either killed or held in detention camps by the Chinese authorities.
Succinctly put, President Xi Jinping’s communist regime has proven to be anti-Muslim, supremacist and brutally serious about Hanification of the entire country. Under his authoritarian rule, PRC has become a state of, for and by the Han Chinese via the all-too-obvious supremacist Hanification process.
Thus, the disappearance and detention of more than a million Uighurs in Xinjiang who are victims of one of the worst forms of persecution and face a socio-economic-cultural genocide today in their ancestral land with their rights robbed and mutilated are all part of a statist project to cementing Han racial supremacy, and colonizing, minoritizing and securitizing them by every possible means. The sad reality is with the Chinese veto power in the UN and its enormous economic muscle (second only to the USA), the likelihood of securing the level of international cooperation needed to either punish the Han supremacists or change their criminally repugnant policy remains very low.