The Uighurs are a Turkic-language ethnic group that has always lived in the territory of Central and East Asia. Their cultural identity is closely linked with the Muslim religion: by the 16th century, this population was fully Islamized. They are native to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region that is an autonomous region in Northwest China. Even though the People’s Republic of China places the Uighurs people among the 55 ethnic minorities in Chinese territory, it does not consider them to be an indigenous group. Moreover, in the past decades, the Chinese government has been restricting Uighurs’ rights. All this resulted in an attempt to reduce the influence of Islam in the nation.
China against the Uighurs
China has built an estimated number of thousands of re-education camps where more than 500,000 Uighurs – and other Muslims – are detained. Many of them are there for no reason at all – just because they are Mulsim. Moreover, there are other measures that the Chinese government has taken to control the Uighurs. For instance, there is a police station every 300 meters at which Uighurs have to stop and be inspected. As a result, every restaurant and shop has to employ a part-time policeman.
A great effort is made to collect as much personal information on Uighurs as possible. Teams of people – organized under a system called “fanghuiju” – visit Uighurs households to gather personal information. Moreover, there is a public-health program called “Physicals for All” where people give their blood samples that the government uses to collect biometric material. Another program called “becoming of kin” demands that Uighur families adopt an official to help integrate into the Chinese ideology. However, its real aim is to collect and verify the information they already possess.
China has eliminated the teaching of Uighur-language in schools. Uighur parents are not allowed to call their children with around 30 Islamic names. Many mosques on the territory are now empty since Uighur cannot pray and overall engage in religious activities.
What Lies Behind the Oppression in Xinjiang
The motivations behind the oppression in Xinjiang are rooted in historical, economic, and cultural aspects. However, it is still possible to identify at least two of the main reasons that are at the heart of China’s effort to weaken the Uighur culture and identity:
- Territory: The territory of Xinjiang is of great importance to China because of its size and its strategic position. The region borders the countries of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Mongolia. The region is an essential element in China’s Belt and Road Initiative – an infrastructure project which aims to connect Asia to Europe. Moreover, China’s largest coal and natural reserves are located in Xinjiang;
- Ideology: China’s government feels threatened by the Uighurs because of their extremist and separatist ideas that may inspire unrest and undermine China’s unity.