China’s “Sinicization” of historic mosque met with protest

Najiaying Mosque pictured in 2015. Image:

By Tsering Choephel

DHARAMSALA, 30 May: Hui Muslim residents of Najiaying Village in Yunnan province in China have clashed with police on Saturday, May 27 when trucks, cranes and bulldozers were seen entering the centuries-old mosque’s courtyard to demolish a part of the mosque, reported. 

“After arriving at the mosque, we realised that they had driven the cranes into the compound and were ready for the forced demolition,” reported citing an anonymous source adding that scaffolding has already been erected around the mosque. 

Videos and photos doing the rounds online from the scene show lines of special police in tactical uniforms and riot gear engaged in a scuffle with protestors. However, according to DW News, Chinese authorities quickly removed the videos from Chinese social media platforms. 

Police were seen blocking the entrance to the Najiaying mosque’s courtyard in Najiaying, Tonghai cocounty, Yunnan, on Saturday. But this photo has since been censored in China. Image:

On Sunday morning, the local authority issued a notice announcing an investigation into “a case that severely disrupted social management and order.” The notice also asked those involved in the protest to “surrender themselves and confess the fact of the offence” and warned of severe punishment to those who don’t turn themselves in. 

“The usual scenario in such situations is first to arrest and convict a couple of people as a way to intimidate the public. The authorities will then send working teams to do door-to-door ideological work. Finding some enthusiasts, they will use them as an example to break those who are not clear in their stance. After that, they will round up all those whose stance is firm. After that, the end!” quoted a resident from Najiaying village as saying this during their phone conversation. 

Activists say dozens of people have been arrested. And the planned demolition of the part of the mosque is rumoured to have been postponed to early next month. 

The Njiaying Mosque and the Grand Mosque in Shadian village nearby are considered to be the last two government-approved “Arabic-Style” mosques in China, with hundreds of other mosques across the country already forced into ‘Chinese-Pagoda-styled’ renovation. 

In March 2016 during a religious work meeting chaired by Xi Jinping, he emphasised the need for religions to merge with the dominant Chinese culture and the core values of socialism, in a clear campaign to Sinicize and tighten his control over diverse cultural-religious practices that exist within current China. What came as a directive quickly morphed into a repressive campaign of assimilation. 

In 2018, protests by thousands of Hui residents briefly stopped the demolition of a newly built mosque in Ningxia. However, the demolition continued later with the mosque’s domes and minarets being replaced with traditional Chinese-style pagodas. 

In the same years, three other mosques in Yunnan were shut down in alleged ‘illegal religious education’. 

Under the guise of vocational training, an estimation of over a million Muslims, mostly Uyghurs, have been arbitrarily detained in reeducation camps in the East Turkistan region since 2017. Citing overcrowding as a concern, in 2016 the Chinese authority carried out the demolition of a large section of Larung Gar, a Tibetan Buddhist Academy in Serta, eastern Tibet and demanded a substantial reduction in the number of monks and nuns in what is considered one of the largest centres of Buddhist learning in Tibet.

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