BRIEFING: Cultural Destruction in East Turkestan

January 2019

Demolition of Uyghur Neighborhoods

The Chinese government has been demolishing Uyghur neighborhoods across East Turkestan, for more than a decade. This has resulted in the loss of physical structures, including Uyghur homes, shops, and religious sites. Uyghurs have been forcibly relocated to heavily monitored apartment blocks.

Demolition of Uyghur homes in Kashgar

Kashgar Old City, the spiritual heart of Uyghur culture and previously one of the best-preserved Islamic cities, has been demolished. The redevelopment of the Old City for tourism has decimated traditional Uyghur life.

Eradication of Customs and Traditions

Uyghur Meshrep

Chinese authorities are attempting to assimilate Uyghurs through repression of customs and traditions, and allowing Uyghur culture to take only officially defined forms. Chinese policy states that cultural practices and religious belief must serve socialist values.

The suites of classical music known as the Muqam, and the Meshrep, a traditional event that served as a platform for a wide variety of Uyghur cultural expression, including music, dance, and oral history, must conform to government orders on correctness.

Uyghurs are forced to publicly perform Chinese dances, sing Communist “Red Songs,” wear traditional Chinese robes, and celebrate Chines New Year. 

Crackdown on Artists, Academics, and Journalists

  • Chinese government policies have criminalized the study and transmission of Uyghur history and artistic expression.
  • Opinions that diverge from official views and unapproved expressions of cultural identity are labelled “separatist” or “terrorist,” and prosecuted as ‘endangering state security.’

Uyghur Folklorist Rahile Dawut

  • Uyghur journalist Gheyret Niyaz was sentenced to 10 years in prison in July 2010 for endangering state security by speaking to foreign journalists. Ms. Gulmire Imin, an administrator for the website Salkin, was sentenced to life in prison in 2017.
  • Popular singers Zahirshah Ablimit and Ablajan Ayup, musician Abdurehim Heyit, poets Chimengul Awut and Perhat Tursun, and comedian Adil Mijit have all been interned in camps.