China: Mosques Shuttered, Razed, Altered In Muslim Areas, Says HRW


The Chinese government is significantly reducing the number of mosques in Ningxia and Gansu provinces under its “mosque consolidation” policy, in violation of the right to freedom of religion, Human Rights Watch said.

Chinese authorities have decommissioned, closed down, demolished, and converted mosques for secular use as part of the government’s efforts to restrict the practice of Islam. The authorities have removed Islamic architectural features, such as domes and minarets, from many other mosques.

“The Chinese government is not ‘consolidating’ mosques as it claims, but closing many down in violation of religious freedom,” said Maya Wang, acting China director at Human Rights Watch. “The Chinese government’s closure, destruction, and repurposing of mosques is part of a systematic effort to curb the practice of Islam in China.”

Chinese law allows people to practice only in officially approved places of worship of officially approved religions, and authorities retain strict control over houses of worship. Since 2016, when President Xi Jinping called for the “Sinicization” of religions, which aims to ensure that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the arbiter of people’s spiritual life, state control over religion has strengthened.

“Mosque consolidation”[1] is referenced in an April 2018 central CCP document that outlines a multi-pronged national strategy to “Sinicize” Islam, or make it more Chinese.[2] It instructs the CCP and state agencies throughout the country to “strengthen the standardized management of the construction, renovation and expansion of Islamic religious venues.” The document notes that a central principle behind such “management” is that “there should not be newly built Islamic venues,” in order to “compress the overall number [of mosques].” While there can be exceptions, the document states that “there should be more [mosque] demolitions than constructions.”

Ma Ju, a US-based Hui Muslim activist who has been in contact with Hui in China affected by the policy, told Human Rights Watch that it is part of efforts to “transform” (转化) devout Muslims in order to redirect their loyalty toward the CCP: “Government officials first approach those Communist Party members who are also Hui Muslims … then they move onto ‘persuading’ students and governmental workers, who are threatened with school probation and unemployment if they continue with their faith.”

Available government documents suggest that the Chinese government has been “consolidating” mosques in Ningxia and Gansu provinces, which have the highest Muslim populations in China after Xinjiang.[3] Since 2017, Chinese authorities in Xinjiang have damaged or destroyed two-thirds of the region’s mosques, according to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). About half have been demolished outright.

In Ningxia, Human Rights Watch has verified and analyzed videos and pictures posted online by Hui Muslims and used satellite imagery to corroborate them in order to examine the policy’s implementation in two villages. Of these villages’ seven mosques, four had significant destruction: three main buildings had been razed and the ablution hall of one was damaged inside. The authorities have removed the domes and minarets of all seven mosques.

Human Rights Watch is unable to determine the number of mosques shuttered or repurposed throughout Ningxia and Gansu, as official documents do not give precise details. In a forthcoming research report, two scholars on Hui Muslims, Hannah Theaker and David Stroup, have estimated that one-third of mosques in Ningxia have been closed since 2020.[4] A March 2021 Radio Free Asia reportestimated that between 400 and 500 mosques faced closure in Ningxia, which had 4,203 mosques as of 2014.

The Chinese government claims that the mosque consolidation policy aims to “reduce the economic burden” on Muslims, especially those who live in impoverished and rural areas.[5] Actions against mosques often take place as the Chinese government relocates villagers from these areas, consolidating several villages into one.[6] The government also claims that as different Islamic denominations share the same venues, they learn to become more “unified” and “harmonious.

Some Hui Muslims have publicly opposed the policy, despite government censorship. In January 2021, Ningxia officials indicted five Hui for “creating disturbances” after they led 20 people to oppose the policy at the village Party chief’s office. People have also protested mosque closures and demolitions, as well as the removal of domes and minarets in Ningxia, Gansu and other Hui Muslim regions, such as Qinghai and Yunnan.[7]

Ma Ju told Human Rights Watch that mosque consolidation aims to dissuade people from going to pray at mosques: “After removing the minarets and domes, local governments would start removing things that are essential to religious activities such as ablution halls and preacher’s podiums.”

Ma Ju said the government has sought to discourage religious practice: “When people stop going, they [the authorities] would then use that as an excuse to close the mosques.” He said that the authorities install surveillance systems in the remaining “Sinicized” mosques: “After the mosques are converted, the local governments strictly monitor attendance at the remaining mosques,” he said. “In the beginning, they would check the attendees’ national identification cards. Then they install surveillance cameras … to flag [those prohibited from mosques, including] Communist Party members or children.”

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “[e]veryone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” One has the right to manifest their “religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” The Chinese government should reverse its Sinicization campaign on religions, review and repeal laws and regulations that restrict the right to freedom of religion, and release those detained for peaceful criticism or protest against such restrictive policies.

Foreign governments, particularly member countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), should press the Chinese government to cease their mosque consolidation policy and the broader Sinicization campaign.

“The Chinese government’s policies of Sinicization show a blanket disregard for freedom of religion not only of all Muslims in China, but all religious communities in the country,” Wang said. “Governments concerned about religious freedom should raise these issues directly with the Chinese government and at the United Nations and other international forums.”


[1] This policy is sometimes referred to as “合坊并寺,” “合坊建寺” or “合村并寺” in Chinese.

[2] The document, known as “Document No.10,” has not been made public by the Chinese government. It was leaked as part of the “Xinjiang Papers.” See pages 5 and 6, which enumerate the policy to reduce the number of mosques in China.

[3] China had 39,135 mosques as of 2014, according to official figures. The top three regions with the largest number of mosques are Xinjiang (24,100), Gansu (4,606) and Ningxia (4,203). See “版权所有 中国伊斯兰教协会, “2015最新中国清真寺数量及分布,” March 3, 2015.  

[4] Hannah Theaker and David Stroup, Making Islam Chinese: Religious Policy and Mosque Sinicization in the Xi Era, forthcoming.

[5] On rural relocations, see: Emily Feng, “In Rural China, Villagers Say They’re Forced From Farm Homes To High-Rises,” NPR, August 10, 2020,

[6] Laochi consolidated villages outside Yinchuan City (西夏区兴泾镇十里铺村涝池组合坊) used to have at least three mosques (Laochi South Mosque, Laochi North Mosque, and Laochi East Mosque), according to a 2009 Ningxia mosque directory. As authorities consolidated the villages, only two mosques were rebuilt. See: 北京市建壮咨询有限公司宁夏分公司, “十里铺村涝池组合坊并寺异地重建项目1#寺施工变更公告[变更公告],” July 1, 2021, and 十里铺村涝池组合坊并寺异地重建项目2#寺施工招标文件, “十里铺村涝池组合坊并寺异地重建项目2#寺施工招标公告,” January 18, 2021,  

[7] The forthcoming research by academics Theaker and Stroup also showed how the mosque consolidation policy is being implemented in Qinghai Province, albeit under different policy names, and that it will likely be implemented in Yunnan Province, given how the authorities’ Sinicization efforts have started in Ningxia before the same methods are used elsewhere.

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