As part of a five-year plan to reform Islam, mosques remodeled to look Chinese and Hui culture suppressed, sparking anger among Henan capital’s Muslim residents.
by Wang Yichi
In mid-August, Bitter Winter visited Beida Mosque in Zhengzhou, the capital of the central province of Henan, and discovered that its dome and crescent moon and star symbol atop the 40-meter-tall minaret had been replaced with a Chinese-style hexagonal pavilion. The tower was repainted a dark-gray hue.
The mosque has a history spanning hundreds of years and is the oldest and largest mosque in Zhengzhou. In 2006, it was listed by the Henan government as a “historical and cultural site protected at the provincial level.”
“Efforts must be made to actively explore effective ways to ‘sinicize’ religion, guide each religion in adapting to the social system, social morals, and social culture, and ensure that the ‘sinicization’ of religion is achieved both in external image and in internal substance,” Wang Yang, a member of the Central Politburo Standing Committee of the CCP and chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said in April while surveying religious work in Zhengzhou and other areas of Henan.
According to a local Muslim, on April 19, the local Religious Affairs Bureau organized representatives from religious communities to analyze Wang Yang’s assessment of religious work in Henan. At a training session, a Bureau’s officials said that Beida Mosque’s minaret is a Saudi-style structure that doesn’t conform to the requirements for “sinicization,” and it needs to be altered. “Who of you has the reason to disobey?” the official asked the attendees. “In China, nothing is beyond the government’s jurisdiction. The CCP is a ceiling made of reinforced concrete. Try breaking it.”
The official added that the mosque’s alterations were only the beginning of this work. “It’s not just a gust of wind that will pass through quickly,” he said. “On the territory of China, no religious personnel or places are beyond the law. It has to be this way – it’s a symbol of sovereignty.”
As Bitter Winter reported, a new central government regulation, passed in December 2017, includes a “five-year (2018–22) outline on the ‘sinicization’ of Islam.” Under this decree, Islamic symbols are being purged from mosques and Muslim culture eradicated throughout the country.
From June to July, Islamic symbols were dismantled from seven mosques in Zhengzhou’s Erqi district alone, including Huayuan Street Mosque, Lüzheng Mosque, and Wuyingli Mosque.
The government’s forced demolitions sparked resentment among local Hui residents, but they didn’t dare to protest the demolitions. They could only express their feelings in a WeChat group, writing comments like this: “Mosques are places for teaching people to accumulate merit and do good deeds. Our ethnic culture and beautiful appearance of domes have been passed down for thousands of years; who could it have offended? How come it is not allowed?”
“It is such beautiful architecture, but some officials of the district and city government dislike it and said that it’s Arabic-style architecture and must be converted to a Chinese style, which is a waste of workforce and money,” another message on WeChat reads. “Does spending the country’s money like this make you patriotic? Does the existence of such architecture mean that we’re not patriotic?”
Another Muslim commented online: “The government really has nothing better to do. Even if the mosque’s architecture is Arabic-style, so what? What’s wrong with Islam [in China] being the same as in Islamic countries? It’s part of freedom of belief. The government’s actions have hurt the feelings of all Muslims. This is ethnic discrimination. We can’t let this go unchecked. We must unite and communicate with the government. We want democracy, not hegemony.”
The Muslims’ voices of opposition quickly provoked panic in the provincial government. Officials from local Religious Affairs Bureau questioned around to find the real identities of people behind the usernames online. Soon afterward, the authorities blocked the WeChat group.
“This is Xi Jinping’s policy. It’s no use getting angry, and we can’t win in a fight. If we fight, we’re breaking the law,” a Hui resident told Bitter Winter. He thinks that the government is trying to provoke Muslims to show their anger so that they could have a reason to shut down their mosque. “Their ultimate goal is to wipe out Islam from China,” the resident added with anger.
Another resident commented that the government is afraid of all forms of solidarity. “In their view, any unity, anything that brings the masses together is a threat, and the CCP will tear it apart,” the man said. “A lot of times, we’re in a weak position and can only passively obey. Even so, as a Muslim, I won’t give up hope in my faith, nor will I give up my future pursuits.”