We must not ignore China’s cultural purging

Photo Courtesy of Kayla O'Mahony

William Wehrs

wiwehrs@ursinus.edu

When one turns on the news these days, one tends to see constant stories about the 2020 Presidential election, or President Donald Trump. When Trump’s administration was in the midst of separating children on the US borders, people did an admirable job coming together to protest
the inhumane policy. It is highly unfortunate that the 24-hour news media has paid comparatively little attention to a growing problem in China: the increased persecution of the Muslim minority population, most notably the Uighurs, but other minority Muslim populations as well such as the Kazakhs and the Kyrgyzs.

According to Rachel Harris of “The Guardian,” China has begun to bulldoze many of the Uighur’s mosques. Satellite images were able to confirm that the Keriya mosque, which was probably built in 1237, and was located in the southern region of Hotan, no longer exists. It is far from the only mosque to suffer this fate, however. In 2016, there were 800 mosques in the eastern region of China, but 200 were bulldozed in 2017 and 600 more are scheduled to be bulldozed this year.

The Uighur people are also subjects of intensive surveillance technology and their homes are frequently raided by the Chinese government. According to the Associated Press, the Chinese government keeps tabs on what they perceive to be subversive activity through a network of around
1.1 million spies. The spies are sent by the government to live in Uighur homes in what is known as the “ Pair Up and Become Family” program.” The Chinese government paints this as simply a friendly example of cultural ex- change, but in fact the spies then report on ridiculously innocuous things like Uighur families not wanting cigarettes or alcohol or not watching television.

As reported by BBC News, the Chinese government has also passed strict laws that limit Uighurs’ freedom of expression. For example, long beards and headscarves are now forbidden.

The Uighur also cannot leave legally because the Chinese government has passed an edict that forced all of them to surrender their passports. According to the Chinese government, they simply wanted the passports for safe keeping. Uighurs are also prohibited from practicing Islam in any way, such as fasting during Ramadan. According to Durrie Bouscaren of PRI, if the Chinese government eventually deems that a person is too subversive, then she or he will be sent to a “re-education camp.” Stephanie Nebehay estimates that there are 1.5 million Mulisms being sent to these camps.

The conditions at these camps are often horrible. These camps often involved forced indoctrination of Chinese values. Camp residents are expected to sing patriotic songs and speak Mandarin. If the camp residents refuse, then they will be beaten or starved. Ablet Tursun Tohti spoke to BBC news about his harrowing experience. He recalls that he and the fellow residents were woken up before sunrise each morning and were told they had one minute to get the exercise yard and then run. Those who were too slow faced severe punishment: “There was a special room to punish those who didn’t run fast enough . . . There were two men there, one to beat with a belt, the other just to kick.” Ablet said. He was released and was fortunate to be one of the last to be able to leave. His 74-year-old father and eight of his siblings were not lucky and are currently still incarcerated. Ablet noted, “There is no-one left outside.”

A woman, Mihrigul Tursun, told CNN of the horrible conditions she witnessed. Her three children were taken from her and when she was finally released, she inquired about the fate of her infant child, and was flatly told that he had died. During her imprisonment, she was kept in a cell with more than 50 other women. One woman had spent six months in there and was covered with rashes.

China has continued to maintain its position that there is nothing wrong with this treatment. According to the BBC, “State-run TV has been show- ing glossy reports, full of clean classrooms and grateful students, apparently willingly submitting themselves to the coursework.” Additionally, testimonials are frequently shown. “I have deeply understood my own mistakes,’ one man tells the camera, vowing to be a good citizen ‘after I get home.’” Yet, when the BBC tried to inspect the camps, they were turned away by Chinese police officials. Despite the efforts of a few intrepid journalistic parties, including the ones cited in this article, the media has failed to give this issue the mainstream recognition that it deserves. There is a growing cultural purging and it deserves far more focus by our media and American citizens. We should be just as willing to take similar actions when similar policy is happening in other countries.