Cultural erasure: Tracing the destruction of Uyghur and Islamic spaces in XinjiangSeptember 24, 2020
The deliberate erasure of tangible elements of indigenous Uyghur and Islamic culture in Xinjiang appears to be a centrally driven yet locally implemented policy, the ultimate aim of which is the ‘sinicisation’ (中国化) of indigenous cultures, and ultimately, the complete ‘transformation’ (转化) of the Uyghur community’s thoughts and behaviour.
Media and non-government organisation reports have unearthed individual examples of the deliberate destruction of mosques and culturally significant sites in recent years. Our analysis found that such destruction is likely to be more widespread than reported, and that an estimated one in three mosques in Xinjiang has been demolished, mostly since 2017.
This equates to roughly 8,450 mosques (±4%) destroyed across Xinjiang, and a further estimated 7,550 mosques (±3.95%) have been damaged or ‘rectified’ to remove Islamic-style architecture and symbols . . . Areas visited by large numbers of tourists are an exception to this trend in the rest of Xinjiang: in the regional capital, Urumqi, and in the city of Kashgar, almost all mosques remain structurally intact. Most of the sites where mosques were demolished haven’t been rebuilt or repurposed and remain vacant.
Besides mosques, Chinese Government authorities have also desecrated important sacred shrines, cemeteries and pilgrimage sites. Our data and analysis suggest that 30% of those sacred sites have been demolished, mostly since 2017. An additional 27.8% have been damaged in some way. In total, 17.4% of sites protected under Chinese law have been destroyed, and 61.8% of unprotected sites have been damaged or destroyed.