Behind the picture of “a happy family of nations,” painted for the ethnic minorities’ sports games in Henan, hides the harsh reality of religious persecution.
by Wang Yichi
On September 8, the 11th National Traditional Games of Ethnic Minorities were launched in Zhengzhou, the capital of the central province of Henan. For eight days, more than 7,000 athletes from 34 teams, representing China’s municipalities, provinces, autonomous regions, and the army, will compete for medals in 17 ethnic sports, like stilt or dragon boat races. The first such games were held in 1953. After a 29-year break, the second games were organized in Inner Mongolia in 1982, and since 1991, the event is held every four years.
The CCP is using this year’s games to create a harmonious image of “one family” and unity between ethnic groups in China. Long before the opening ceremony, propaganda posters, such as “All ethnic groups in China are one family” and “Great unity of China’s nations,” filled the streets of Zhengzhou.
For the local Hui people, however, these propaganda posters are like a slap in the face. As a Muslim minority, many of them have personally experienced the heavy-handed oppression by the state, as the authorities continuously violate their rights and freedoms. Even before these games, numerous ethnic and religious symbols have been forcibly dismantled from mosques in Zhengzhou.
In early July, a government-hired worker used a sledgehammer to dismantle a dome on a mosque in Duizhou village, which is under the jurisdiction of Zhengzhou. The dome was so large that it took several days to take it down. First, the outer cement layer was chiseled off, and then, the steel bars that created the dome’s structure were removed.
During the demolition process, a blue construction fence concealed the entrance to the mosque, making it impossible to see what was happening inside. People could only hear the piercing sound of electric drills. No one dared to protest; passers-by would stop just for a brief moment but immediately left as soon as they understood what was happening, seemingly not wanting to get into trouble.
The dome of a mosque in Duizhou village is being dismantled.
The mosque in Duizhou village is by no means the only victim of the purge of Islamic symbols ahead of the Ethnic Minorities’ Games. From June 22 to July 1, domes and crescent moon symbols were removed from at least four mosques in Zhengzhou-administered Jiayu town alone. Magou Mosque was among them: its crescent moon symbol and green dome were dismantled and smashed to pieces.
The domes and crescent moon symbols on other mosques were covered up, making them look like little houses have been built on their roofs.
The once solemn and striking Islamic symbols are disappearing from the mosques across China. “The government removed all the crescent moon symbols from the major buildings. The CCP wants us to only believe in it. This is an infringement on our faith,” a Hui resident expressed his discontent with the government’s actions. But he doesn’t dare to express his opinion publicly, because doing so would provoke retaliation from the authorities. “This is Xi Jinping’s order. We don’t dare to resist,” he explained.
The suppression of the Hui people extends far beyond the removal of Islamic symbols from just mosques. The owner of a halal restaurant revealed to Bitter Winter that faith-related symbols and phrases on vehicles and inside restaurants and hotels were ordered to be forcibly dismantled as well.
“If they aren’t removed, the police will seize every such vehicle that they see on the road. In restaurants, only Chinese characters for ‘halal’ are allowed; no other faith-related symbols can be displayed,” the restaurant owner said.