Attitudes toward Religion in China

From Under the Heel of the Dragon: Islam, Racism, Crime, and the Uighur in China, by Blaine Kaltman (Ohio U. Press, 2007), p. 127:

The single most important tie that binds the Uighur to one another and forms the foundation on which the Uighur have developed their sense of national identity and shared consciousness is their belief in Islam. All of the Uighur I interviewed, regardless of their individual religious practices, adamantly and proudly maintained that they were Muslim. Even those Uighur who admitted that they drank alcohol, didn’t fast during Ramadan, and never attended services at a mosque, nonetheless maintained that in their hearts they were religious. This profession of faith in Islam was the one universal characteristic shared by all of the Uighur I met during the course of this study.

The Chinese constitution contains a guarantee of freedom of religion for ethnic minorities. However, the Chinese Communist Party, aware of the role that the Catholic Church played in undermining Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, is suspicious of organized religious activity. Prior studies have reported that Uighur religious activities have been widely suppressed and criminalized; however, during the course of my research, I observed no evidence of the criminalization of Uighur religious activities. While the Chinese government requires all Islamic organizations and places of worship to register with the Religious Affairs Bureau, services in the mosques that I observed (all of which were officially registered) occurred without any noticeable governmental interference.

Uighur were generally reluctant to speak about religion, usually saying that it was a private matter. However, while only a few of them were openly critical of the government’s policies concerning religion, many of them were uncomfortable with the way religion was viewed by the Han. Uighur feel that Han look down on them, as one explained, “because they are too ignorant to understand the benefits of religion.” According to another, “The people of China—the Han—are taught that religious belief is ignorance. And now, more than before, that Muslims are terrorists. Being a minority, being religious, especially Muslim, doesn’t improve your situation in China. It only makes things more difficult.”

The mandarins of Western societies seem to share those same Han attitudes toward religious belief and religious people.


Filed under China, religion

5 responses to “Attitudes toward Religion in China

  1. The mandarin classes in Western societies seem to share those same Han attitudes toward religious belief and religious people.

    Greetings from a regular lurker at Far Outliers. If you’ve got time, I’d be curious to hear an expansion on this thought. Although I’ve got practically zero classroom experience, Mandarin-as-a-foreign-language pedagogy holds great interest for me. Much of what I’m familiar with is done badly, but religion would be an entirely new dimension.

  2. Sorry. I was trying to be too clever. ‘Mandarin classes’ was meant to refer to Western educated elites, not to Mandarin language classrooms. I’ve changed the wording slightly to help clarify.

  3. funny. now that I reread the original and know your intent, it seems like my interpretation was pretty outlandish. Communication’s always tough. thanks

  4. Confused: is this a particular issue with Han, or do the Uighur merely frame religious intolerance this way?

  5. A bit of both I suspect. Uighur may be displacing their frustration about Chinese government policies onto the ethnic group that dominates that government (and everything else). It would be interesting to compare how Han members of the Falun Gong frame their concerns about religious oppression in China, not in ethnic terms, I suspect.

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