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RELIGIONS OF CHINA UPDATES
1. Ramadan in China: Faithful dwindle under limits on religion.
2. Mosques disappear as China strives to ‘build a beautiful Xinjiang.
Ramadan in China: Faithful dwindle under limits on religion.
6th May 2021
By: KEN MORITSUGU AND DAKE KANG ASSOCIATED PRESS
Tursunjan Mamat, a practicing Muslim in western China’s Xinjiang region, said he's fasting for Ramadan but his daughters, ages 8 and 10, are not. Religious activity including fasting is not permitted for minors, he explained.
The 32-year-old ethnic Uyghur wasn't complaining, at least not to a group of foreign journalists brought to his home outside the city of Aksu by government officials, who listened in on his responses. It seemed he was giving a matter-of-fact description of how religion is practiced under rules set by China's Communist Party.
“My children know who our holy creator is, but I don’t give them detailed religious knowledge,” he said, speaking through a translator. “After they reach 18, they can receive religious education according to their own will.”
Under the weight of official policies, the future of Islam appears precarious in Xinjiang, a rugged realm of craggy snow-capped mountains and barren deserts bordering Central Asia. Outside observers say scores of mosques have been demolished, a charge Beijing denies, and locals say the number of worshippers is sinking.
A decade ago, 4,000 to 5,000 people attended Friday prayers at the Id Kah Mosque in the historic Silk Road city of Kashgar. Now only 800 to 900 do, said the mosque's imam, Mamat Juma. He attributed the drop to a natural shift in values, not government policy, saying the younger generation wants to spend more time working than praying.
The Chinese government organized a five-day visit to Xinjiang in April for about a dozen foreign correspondents, part of an intense propaganda campaign to counter allegations of abuse. Officials repeatedly urged journalists to recount what they saw, not what China calls the lies of critical Western politicians and media.
Beijing says it protects freedom of religion, and citizens can practice their faith so long as they adhere to laws and regulations. In practice, any religious activity must be done in line with restrictions evident at almost every stop in Xinjiang — from a primary school where the headmaster said fasting wasn’t observed because of the “separation of religion and education,” to a cotton yarn factory where workers are banned from praying on site, even in their dormitory rooms.
“Within the factory grounds, it’s prohibited. But they can go home, or they can go to the mosque to pray,” said Li Qiang, the general manager of Aksu Huafu Textiles Co. “Dormitories are for the workers to rest. We want them to rest well so that they can maintain their health.”
By law, Chinese are allowed to follow Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Roman Catholicism or non-denominational Protestantism. In practice, there are limits. Workers are free to fast, the factory manager said, but they are required to take care of their bodies. If children fast, it's not good for their growth, said the Id Kah mosque's imam.
Researchers at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank, said in a report last year that mosques have been torn down or damaged in what they called the deliberate erasure of Uyghur and Islamic culture. They identified 170 destroyed mosques through satellite imagery, about 30% of a sample they examined.
Mosques disappear as China strives to ‘build a beautiful Xinjiang.
13th May 2021
By: Cate Cadell
QIRA, China (Reuters) – The Jiaman mosque in the city of Qira, in the far western Chinese region of Xinjiang, is hidden behind high walls and Communist Party propaganda signs, leaving passersby with no indication that it is home to a religious site.
In late April, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, two ethnic Uyghur women sat behind a tiny mesh grate, underneath a surveillance camera, inside the compound of what had long been the city’s largest place of worship.
Reuters could not establish if the place was currently functioning as a mosque.
Within minutes of reporters arriving, four men in plain clothes showed up and took up positions around the site, locking gates to nearby residential buildings.
The men told the reporters it was illegal to take photos and to leave.
“There’s no mosque here … there has never been a mosque at this site,” said one of the men in response to a question from Reuters if there was a mosque inside. He declined to identify himself.
Minarets on the building’s four corners, visible in publicly available satellite images in 2019, have gone. A large blue metal box stood where the mosque’s central dome had once been. It was not clear if it was a place of worship at that time the satellite images were taken.
In recent months, China has stepped up a campaign on state media and with government-arranged tours to counter the criticism of researchers, rights groups and former Xinjiang residents who say thousands of mosques have been targeted in a crackdown on the region’s mostly Muslim Uyghur people.
Officials from Xinjiang and Beijing told reporters in Beijing that no religious sites had been forcibly destroyed or restricted and invited them to visit and report.
“Instead, we have taken a series of measures to protect them,” Elijan Anayat, a spokesman for the Xinjiang government, said of mosques late last year.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Wednesday some mosques had been demolished, while others had been upgraded and expanded as part of rural revitalisation but Muslims could practise their religion openly at home and in mosques.
Asked about restrictions authorities put on journalists visiting the area, Hua said reporters had to try harder to “win the trust of the Chinese people” and report objectively.
Reuters visited more than two dozen mosques across seven counties in southwest and central Xinjiang on a 12-day visit during Ramadan, which ends on Thursday.
There is a contrast between Beijing’s campaign to protect mosques and free religious freedom and the reality on the ground. Most of the mosques that Reuters visited had been partially or completely demolished.
‘LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL’
China repeatedly says that Xinjiang faces a serious threat from “separatists, terrorists and religious extremists” who plot attacks and stir up tension between Uyghurs who call the region home and the ethnic Han, China’s majority community.
A mass crackdown that includes a campaign of restrictions on religious practice and what rights groups call the “forced political indoctrination” of more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslims began in earnest in 2017.
Beijing denies detaining people in detention camps, calling them vocational training centres.
The government says there are more than 20,000 mosques in Xinjiang but no detailed data on their status is available.
Some functioning mosques have signs saying congregants must register while citizens from outside the area, foreigners and anyone under the age of 18 are banned from going in.
Functioning mosques feature surveillance cameras and include Chinese flags and propaganda displays declaring loyalty to the ruling Communist Party.
Visiting reporters were almost always followed by plainclothes personnel and warned not to take photographs.
A Han woman, who said she had moved to the city of Hotan six years ago from central China, said Muslims who wanted to pray could do so at home.
“There are no Muslims like that here anymore,” the woman, said, referring to those who used to pray at the mosque. She added: “Life in Xinjiang is beautiful.”
Some state-sanctioned mosques are shown off to visiting journalists and diplomats, like the Jiaman Mosque in Hotan.
“Everything is paid for by the party,” said a Hotan official at the mosque on a visit arranged for Reuters by the city propaganda department.
The official, who went by the nickname “Ade” but declined to give his full name, said men were free to pray at the mosque five times a day, according to Islamic custom.
While reporters were there, several dozen men, most of them elderly, came to pray as dusk fell. Afterwards, they broke their fast with food provided by the local government.
The mosque, more than 170 years old, is one of four in the region earmarked as cultural relics, with funds for renovation from the central government, the Xinjiang government said.
As the mosque’s leader or imam removed his shoes, Ade demonstrated a machine given by the government that shrink-wraps shoes in plastic.
“Now you don’t even need to take your shoes off in the mosque, it’s very convenient,” he said.
In Changji, about 40 km west of the regional capital, Urumqi, green and red minarets of the city’s Xinqu Mosque lay broken below a Chinese flag flying over the deserted building’s courtyard.
Reuters analysed satellite imagery of 10 mosques in Changji city and visited six of them.
A total of 31 minarets and 12 green or gold domes had been removed within a period of two months after April 2018, according to dated images.
At several mosques, Islamic architecture was replaced with Chinese-style roofing. These included Changji’s Tianchi road mosque, whose gold dome and minarets were removed in 2018, according to publicly available satellite images.
Reuters was unable to reach local officials or authorities in Xinjiang for comment on how the mosque was being used.
Researchers at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute estimated in 2020, after a survey of 900 Xinjiang locations, that 16,000 mosques had been partially or completely destroyed over the previous three years.
Signs outside the Xinqu Mosque said a housing development would soon be built on the site.
“For ethic unity, build a beautiful Xinjiang,” a sign read.
(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Robert Birsel)
RELIGIONS OF CHINA UPDATES
1. Is the Dalai Lama set to become a relic of Tibet’s past?
1st November 2020
South China Morning Post
Is the Dalai Lama set to become a relic of Tibet’s past?
* According to Beijing’s propaganda banners, the spiritual leader is ‘the head of a political clique that seeks independence for Tibet’
* China’s Communist Party is ‘continually refining its techniques for aggressive
secularisation’, academic says
By: Jun Mai in Lhasa
“I don’t know much about him,” said Chongji Lamu, 25, when asked her opinion of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet.
“The older folks might know, but we don’t ask and they don’t tell,” she said, near her village in Shigatse in central Tibet.
There is every reason for her to be cautious. Beijing’s verdict on the Dalai Lama, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is spelt out on banners across rural Tibet.
“The 14th Dalai Lama is the head of a political clique that seeks independence for Tibet,” one says beside a road in Shigatse. The sign has been erected in front of a sea of prayer flags.
“He is the loyal tool of the international anti-China forces, and ultimate root of Tibet’s social unrest.”
Speaking to the South China Morning Post during a reporting trip to Tibet organised by the Chinese government, Lamu, who finished college 2018 in Shandong, the coastal province designated to provide point-to-point aides to her city, said she now worked in a food factory set up as a part of the country’s poverty alleviation programme.
“Whenever I visit the downtown, I visit Tashi Lhunpo Monastery,” she said, referring to the traditional monastic seat of the Panchen Lama, the second highest lama in Tibetan Buddhism.
The current Panchen Lama is a 30-year-old member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, China’s highest political advisory body.
“But that’s just me,” said Lamu. “Young Tibetans don’t care much about religion. They don’t have time to.”
The issue of the Dalai Lama is at the heart of Beijing’s decade-long grievances in Tibetan areas. Ethnic unrest rocked the city of Lhasa in late 1980s and in 2008, which Beijing blamed on the Dalai Lama but rights groups said were signs of desperate resistance by the Tibetans against the government’s repressive religious policies.
The South China Morning Post joined a reporting trip to Tibet organised by the Chinese government. It was heavily focused on poverty alleviation, but also offered a glimpse into how Beijing’s religious policies are being implemented on the ground.
The Dalai Lama, who turned 85 in July, had suggested terminating the reincarnation practice, but Beijing insists that it must be done according to Chinese laws. A Chinese scholar has publicly argued that the next Dalai Lama will be a “patriotic” one.
Beijing’s strategy on the Dalai Lama seems to be just waiting him out.
“He left [Tibet] many years ago,” said Gama Danba, a senior propaganda official, referring to the Dalai Lama’s secret flight from Lhasa in 1959. “The people have almost forgotten about him.”
It is impossible to independently verify his claim. Portraits of the Dalai Lama are strictly prohibited in China, but on lower level governance, the issue obviously still resonates.
In 2016, a Communist Party member in Yushu, a Tibetan area of Qinghai province, was punished for putting up a portrait of the Dalai Lama in his home, according to a post on a local government website.
In 2014, the party chief of Ganzi, a Tibetan prefecture in Sichuan province, ordered local officials to confiscate portraits of the Dalai Lama found in vehicles and trace where they came from, according to local media reports.
Tibet’s Communist Party chief Wu Yingjie wrote on the subject in the party’s flagship magazine in October, but framed it as both a political and economic development issue.
“[We] must firmly grasp the control of ideology, better manage the brains after we manage the tummies,” he wrote.
“[We must] resolutely eliminate the negative influence caused by the 14th Dalai Lama under the cloak of religion, and guide the people to treat religion rationally and give greater focus on their present life.”
While it is impossible to accurately assess public opinion in Tibet, Beijing’s policies might work, said Robert Barnett, a former director of Columbia University’s modern Tibetan studies programme.
“The Chinese Communist Party is continually refining its techniques for aggressive secularisation and is now combining them with more sophisticated forms of social and cultural dislocation,” he said.
“So perhaps this will finally work among the younger generation.”
Barnett said that while Beijing had traditionally been confident about Tibet’s stability, the death of the Dalai Lama, and selection of his successor, could provide a flashpoint for dissidence.
Beijing insists that religious freedom is safeguarded in Tibet, but the regional government has talked openly about a campaign to “play down negative religious influence” among Tibetans.
Chinese officials regard people’s dedication to Buddhism as an obstacle to economic development. So called overgenerous offerings to temples, people’s indifference to education, the reluctance of Tibetan herdsmen to sell their cattle and believers banking on a better afterlife are all frowned upon.
“Some officials, including ethnic Tibetans, are hostile to religion and some are tolerant,” said Barry Sautman, an expert on Tibetan studies with Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
“Almost all have the typical developmentalist viewpoint common to officialdom throughout China and elsewhere. They therefore inevitably decry any indifference to present life,” he said.
But forced disassociation of people from their religion did not appear to be a general policy in Tibet, he said.
Deji Baizhen, the Communist Party chief of Caiqutang village, about 90km (56 miles) from Lhasa, tries to walk a fine line. More than 600 herdsmen moved to her village from remote areas in 2017, in a government-funded relocation project that offers free housing in areas that promises better education and health care.
“Playing it down [religious influence] takes time. There’s no way we can shut down a shrine for the Buddha by force,” she said in Mandarin, referring to private shrine Tibetans set up at home for the worship of the Buddhas. “The elders especially have such needs. We can’t be too harsh.”
All Communist Party members were required to sign pledges every year confirming that they were atheist, and would try to non-atheists to think less about religion, Baizhen told the visiting journalists.
“We also conduct campaigns and sometimes surprise inspections to check if they have set up new shrines for the Buddhas,” the ethnic Tibetan said.
Barnett said the party’s approach marked a new strategy, targeting religious beliefs among the public on top of limiting religious institutes.
In 2006, there were about 46,000 monks and nuns in the Tibet autonomous region, equivalent to about 1.5 per cent of the region’s population at the time, according to government figures. Before the Dalai Lama was forced into exile the proportion was about 10 times that.
“Adding more monks, building new temples or organising new religious events are not allowed,” Gama Danba said. “But we can keep what’s already here.”
While Beijing’s plan on Tibet is clear to many, Todd Stein – who worked as director of government relations at the International Campaign for Tibet before joining the US state department, where he was senior adviser to the undersecretary of state for civilian security, democracy and human rights and special coordinator for Tibetan issues – described the situation as a result of both government policies and personal choices.
“Tibet advocates tend to undervalue the choices that individual Tibetans inside Tibet make about the role of religion or language in their lives, in order to make their way in the world they are growing up in,” said Stein, who has worked in Tibet for the US government.
“At the same time … it is very hard to distinguish ethnic and religious identities, and even languages and cultural practices repressed for centuries have a way of blossoming,” he said.
“I think he [the Dalai Lama] will be revered for decades, if not centuries, after his passing, as the symbol of what was taken from Tibetans, and what they strive to reclaim.”
* This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Beijing hoping to wait Dalai Lama out
* Jun Mai is an award-winning journalist and has covered Chinese politics, diplomacy, legal affairs, social activism and general breaking news for a decade. Before his current posting in Beijing, he was based in Hong Kong and has also completed a stint in Washington D.C.