This essay is part of the series “All About China”—a journey into the history and diverse culture of China through essays that shed light on the lasting imprint of China’s past encounters with the Islamic world as well as an exploration of the increasingly vibrant and complex dynamics of contemporary Sino-Middle Eastern relations. Read more ...


On November 23 of last year, Zhongmu Wang (, a popular Web portal, which since 2003 functioned as a self-described “online network of Muslims sharing Islam,” posted a letter addressed to Chinese President Xi Jinping that read:

You are not responsible for all of the crimes of the totalitarian system, but as the totalitarian system’s head and its commander-in-chief of repression you must take responsibility for the blood and tears that now flow … In the next spring of China’s new Jasmine Revolution who will drive your tanks to crush us, the new generation of students after 1989?[1]

“We are currently securing the system. Please check back later to see if the website is functional.”





The next day, visitors to the website found the message: “We are currently securing the system. Please check back later to see if the website is functional.”[2]

This recent measure, ostensibly aimed at “securing the system,” is taking place against the backdrop of Beijing’s ambitious efforts to rejuvenate commerce along the ancient Silk Road. Yet, while moving forward on plans to develop more robust economic relations with Central Asia and the Middle East,[3] China appears to be clamping down with renewed vigor on Muslim minorities’ modes of expression.

In incorporating Muslim minorities into the nation-state, Chinese policymakers have faced two sets of challenges: The first involves balancing ethno-religious diversity and national integration; and the second entails fostering enhanced connectivity to the outside world while at the same time consolidating CCP-state control over the public sphere. This essay examines the Chinese government's recent and current struggles to address these challenges.

China’s Muslims: Religion, Ethnicity, and the State

Chinese Muslims are a religious minority in an atheist state and a multiethnic society that, over the past three decades, has experienced profound economic, social and cultural changes. In service of the twin goals of achieving national integration and bolstering regime legitimacy, Chinese authorities have devoted considerable time and effort in grappling with the challenges posed by national ethno-religious minorities.[4]

Islam, which was introduced into China during the Tang dynasty (618-907) and reached its apogee during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368), is an officially sanctioned religion. Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution nominally ensures freedom of religious belief and “normal religious activity” for Chinese Muslims.[5] The “Reform and Opening” policy of Deng Xiaoping, which began in 1978, ushered in a period of cultural and religious vitality.[6] Nevertheless, the CCP-state has continued to view religions, including Islam, with considerable suspicion.

The Muslim community in China is not monolithic.[7] However, due to the fact that two groups — the Hui and the Uyghurs — comprise over 90 percent of the country’s estimated 23.3 million Muslims[8] and are also among the largest of the country’s 55 officially designated ethnic minorities (shǎoshù mínzú), their relationships with Chinese society and the state are the most consequential.

Hui are essentially a Chinese people who practice Islam in that they are racially and linguistically virtually indistinguishable from the Han majority due to centuries of interaction and, importantly, to the political-legal status they have long enjoyed as political subjects under “regular governance.”[9] Hui, numbering about 10.58 million,[10] are widely dispersed across the country in both urban and rural areas, though with heavy concentrations in north-central China, particularly in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. Aspects of the Hui people’s culture, which largely centers on Islam, set them apart from the Han. Yet, despite the “social distance” between them and the Han majority, the Hui are an example of a religious minority group that has rather successfully accommodated orthodox Islamic tenets to local cultural practices.[11]

Unlike the Hui, the country’s roughly ten million Uyghurs,[12] a Turkic-speaking people who primarily reside in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR),[13] have not fully integrated into “the great socialist family.” It is important to note that Uyghur identity has been constructed on an ethno-religious basis.[14] For most Uyghurs, Islam — an intrinsic part of their culture and tradition[15] — has served as a communitarian refuge from, and as a bastion of resistance against Han acculturation.

The relationships that the Hui and the Uyghurs have with the CCP-State differ markedly from one another. The fact that the Uyghurs have not assimilated into mainstream Chinese society has made it difficult for the Chinese authorities to exert complete social control over them, which is no small matter given Xinjiang’s strategic importance and turbulent history. The Uyghurs, who have contested Han domination for almost 300 years, staged uprisings that twice during the 20th century yielded short-lived periods of independence (1933-1934 and 1940-1949).[16] These circumstances have predisposed Beijing to apply far more restrictive policies toward the Uyghurs than to the Hui, or for that matter to any other ethnic or religious minority, with the exception of Tibetan Buddhists. Meanwhile, for the Uyghurs, the practice of Islam has become a symbolic means of confronting the Chinese state.[17]

The Resurgence of Islam in the Post-Mao Reform Era

As previously mentioned, the reform era in China has been marked by a religious revival in both faith and practice — a function of the ending of Mao’s prohibition of religion, the waning appeal of official ideology, and the psychological need for spiritual comfort in the face of commercialization and social dislocation.[18] The resurgence of Islam has been part of this general trend.

The so-called “Islamic renaissance” in China has taken many forms. The relaxation of travel restrictions has facilitated contact with individuals, institutions and practices across the Muslim world. Scholarships made available by Muslim countries, notably Saudi Arabia, have enabled Chinese Muslims to pursue studies abroad.[19] In 2015, 14,500 Chinese pilgrims from 27 provinces and regions traveled to Mecca for the hajj.[20]

Islam has also become more ‘visible’ in China. There has been a surge in the construction of mosques, maktabs and madrasas, which together form the backbone that binds members of the community together. As of two years ago, there were as many as 39,000 registered mosques in China.[21] Many cities have more than one. Beijing alone has more than five dozen.

Islam is thriving in academia as well. Dozens of independent Islamic colleges have sprung up, though only one is officially sanctioned. Muslim professors and scholars teach and conduct research on Islam in various universities. The Muslim periodical press is also flourishing. Since the early 2000s, so too have Islamic websites.[22]

Managing China’s Muslim Minorities

The Chinese authorities have sought to manage relations with the country’s Muslim minorities through a combination of regulation, co-option, branding, and repression.


The above-mentioned examples of the flowering of Islam notwithstanding, it is important to emphasize that the overarching objective of China’s state policy on religion is to regulate the scope and content of religious activities in order to ensure that religious groups do not become forces for social instability and political subversion. Accordingly, the relaxation of restrictions on religion in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution were aimed not simply to redress the damage done during it but to maintain a strong influence over how the study and practice of Islam are organized and conducted.

The China Islamic Association (CIA) is the chief state organ charged with supervising the practice of Islam. The CIA’s authority over religious affairs is wide ranging. It is responsible for, among other things, vetting ahong (imams)[23] and for their education and training; overseeing the content of, including the drafting and distribution of sermons; leading overseas pilgrimages; and coordinating the curriculum for state-run madrasas.[24] In the words of one scholar, the China Islamic Association “... monopolizes the space for civil society between the state and Muslim communities.”[25]

The ‘space’ for Chinese Muslims to organize and conduct religious affairs is far more constricted than might appear to be the case. The state apparatus limits the size and restricts the number of mosques. Although some Muslims reportedly worship outside the state system — for obvious reasons it is impossible to ascertain how many — it is difficult for them to do so. Curbs on foreign study and/or travel can, and have recently been reimposed (in Xinjiang) through restrictions on the issuance of passports. “Democratic management committees,” which form part of every town’s administration, control the lives of the faithful, and are led only by candidates approved by the state authorities. There are compulsory instructional displays listing banned activities in all Muslim places of worship.[26] Uyghur-language websites, shut down following the 2009 riots in Urumqi, have been heavily censored since reopening ten months later.[27]

Finally, it is worth noting that while Party-State policies designed to regulate the practice of Islam since 2001 have focused on Xinjiang, measures such as the creation of the Educational Administration Guidance Committee under the China Islamic Association, “which has sought to nurture an indigenized Islam in China that adheres to the party line,” nonetheless have impacted Muslims elsewhere in the country.[28]


At the same time, however, the Chinese government has sought to co-opt Islamic institutions[29] and to court Muslim communities in order to ensure their loyalty. This approach includes the building and repairing of a large number of mosques across the country[30] but extends much further. The state has focused some of its efforts, for example, on appropriating the authority of the ahong, who play a “central role in the mosque community.” The recruitment and grooming of ahong involves activities designed to “instill ‘patriotic education,’” and to position them as “spokespeople of party policy and socialist law.”[31]

In applying its co-option strategy, Beijing has tended to favor those communities that display political loyalty and cultural adaptation.[32] Although the authorities have sought to woo Uyghur elites,[33] overall it is the Hui who have been the principal beneficiaries of Beijing’s patronage of Muslim Chinese and of the protection of religious and ethnic rights accorded to them.[34] Hui mosques are exempt from property taxes. Mosque renovations are commonly paid for with state funds, as is the training of new imams.

It is important to mention that Beijing’s efforts to co-opt Chinese Muslims has a secondary target audience, namely those Muslim countries with which China’s economic relations have grown markedly in recent years. In an era when China’s treatment of minorities has come under increasingly close scrutiny, Beijing wants the world, and the Islamic world in particular, to know that it respects and honors Muslims. Accordingly, official media outlets portray Islam as thriving in China.[35] Beijing has also spent lavishly to construct opulent cultural tourism destinations for affluent Arabs, such as the Hui Cultural Theme Park in Ningxia;[36] and has drawn up an ambitious list of projects designed to raise China’s profile as a country that is respectful of Islam and welcoming to Muslims.[37]


The images of Chinese Muslims held, or at least propagated by the Chinese government and its official media, generally cast the Hui in the role of a loyal model citizenry and the Uyghurs as a “suspect community.”[38] State authorities often depict protests by Uyghurs not as the legitimate expression of grievances but as a movement against China. Particularly since 2001, violent incidents typically have been represented as the handiwork of “extremists” and “terrorists,” have emphasized the links between the perpetrators and “hostile external forces,” and have framed the complex interethnic tensions that have been building in Xinjiang for years as an existential threat to China’s national security.[39] By tending to conflate the practice of Islam with Uyghur separatist movements, the dominant official discourse has contributed to the stereotyping of Uyghurs as foreign-inspired terrorist ‘sympathizers’ who constitute a clear and present danger to domestic stability, security and national integrity.[40]

Yet, although Beijing’s concerns about the terrorist threat are justified and deserve to be taken seriously,[41] many Chinese official documents that deal with violent incidents contain contradictory reporting or biased findings.[42] Writing in 2006, one prominent scholar argued that the Chinese government “consistently and probably deliberately inflated and exaggerated the role of religious extremism in Xinjiang and its involvement in terrorism.”[43] According to a number of others, the cultural stereotyping of Uyghurs has precipitated counter-stereotyping within the Uyghur community.[44] Thus, the mistaken image or purposeful misrepresentation of the Uyghurs as potentially dangerous, and even religiously fanatical fifth columnists, has had the pernicious effect of sustaining prejudices and inflaming interethnic tension, albeit indirectly.


The contradictions and dilemmas that characterize the relationship between the Party-State and Muslim minorities on the one hand, and interethnic relations on the other, are most sharply pronounced in the case of the Xinjiang Uyghurs. Over the past two decades, Chinese authorities have applied a “carrots-and-sticks” approach that combines efforts to bring economic development to the region and thereby improve the livelihoods of Uyghurs, with various coercive measures aimed at quelling unrest and promoting national unity (i.e., Uyghur Sinicization). 

Through the Great Western Development campaign initiated by Premier Zhu Rongji in 1999, Beijing has made substantial investments designed to promote security and socioeconomic development in Xinjiang.[45] However, the results have been decidedly mixed, especially regarding the policies’ impact on the Uyghur population. Importantly, Uyghurs do not necessarily perceive the policy outcomes as having benefitted them.[46] On the contrary, many regard Beijing’s development policies as having favored the increasingly large Han population of Xinjiang and as part of a broader effort to dilute their culture and ravage their homeland.[47]

Accompanying, and to some extent undermining, the (limited) progress made in “winning hearts and minds” through socio-economic development projects have been periodic “strike hard campaigns”[48] against the “three evils” of “separatism, religious extremism, and terrorism.” Several key events have contributed to the ‘securitization’ of the external and domestic policies related to the XUAR and specifically to its Uyghur residents: the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence of the Central Asian republics; the 9/11 terrorist attacks and U.S. launching of the Global War on Terror (GWOT); the 2009 riots in Urumqi; and the March 1, 2014 Kunming Railway attack.

The removal of the Soviet threat presented Beijing with a strategic opportunity to ‘engage the periphery.’ At the same time, however, China’s central government was confronted with the challenge of managing the transnational forces unleashed by this momentous geopolitical development. Faced with the rise of Uyghur nationalism and spasms of unrest in the early 1990s,[49] the Chinese leadership progressively tightened its grip on Xinjiang. In the aftermath of 9/11, tolerance of minorities further declined. The central authorities interpreted, or at any rate tended to portray, protests and isolated attacks as foreign-instigated and as motivated chiefly by separatist ambitions.[50] The post-9/11 “war on terror” created a permissive international environment for the use of an array of coercive tools to ensure domestic security and stability, which Beijing appeared to leverage in order to justify forcibly quelling unrest.[51]

Security measures were again tightened in 2008. Following a wave of attacks in Xinjiang, individual local governments that administer areas in the western part of the region placed limits of their own on religious practices as part of the broader security crackdown.[52] In September of that year, Ismail Tiliwaldi, the vice-chair of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, while visiting Kashgar, called upon local officials to “strengthen stability work” by implementing preventative measures.[53] However, even with the rhetorical emphasis placed on stability “above all else” and the enhanced security measures that accompanied them, violent unrest was not averted. In fact, heavy-handed tactics by police and paramilitary troops during the July 2009 riots in Urumqi[54] might have exacerbated it.

The suddenness, scale, and interethnic character of the violence in Urumqi — occurring a little over a year after widespread unrest in Tibet[55] — elicited a number of policy responses. The unrest in Xinjiang was initially met with a wave of mass arrests. It also resulted in a political reshuffle in the XUAR,[56] coupled with an economic incentives package for the region designed to “leapfrog development.”[57] However, following the disturbances in Urumqi, Chinese authorities launched yet another year-long “strike hard and rectify” campaign, featuring a major influx of additional armed police into the region, along with large-scale sweeps and targeted raids by security forces.[58]

As part of these intensified security measures, Chinese authorities continued to exert tight control over Muslim religious activities.[59] Mosques and religious schools in Xinjiang increasingly came to be regarded and treated by the authorities as hotbeds of anti-regime sentiment and loci of purported “illegal religious activities.” In the wake of the Urumqi riots, there followed several successive years of dramatic increases in both the XUAR regional[60] and national[61] domestic security budgets in the name of “stability maintenance.” The unrest seems to have profoundly altered elite threat perceptions, resulting in the growing militarization of policing and “social management” policies not just in Xinjiang but nationwide.”[62]

The March 1, 2014 mass casualty knife attack at the Kunming Railway Station in Yunnan Province[63] represented a marked shift in the target set and geography of Uyghur militant violence.[64] The next month, during Xi Jinping’s first presidential trip to Xinjiang, a blast occurred at a railway station in Urumqi.[65] These events immediately set in motion a fresh wave of repressive policy responses: the official declaration on May 23 of a “people’s war on terrorism” in the XUAR,[66] and later that year the promulgation of sweeping new regulations governing religious affairs in the province,[67] whereby “any religious practice that is not explicitly legal is illegal.”[68] The new measures include a campaign of censoring and shutting down websites believed to threaten stability.[69] They also treat all religious activities that are not explicitly legal as illegal.[70] Meanwhile, local officials in Xinjiang instituted new rules that, while not openly singling out Uyghurs, are nonetheless discriminatory.[71] And while President Xi acknowledged that achieving long-term stability in the region requires “walls made of copper and steel” and “nets spread from the earth to the sky” as well as the protection of lawful religious activities and good governance,[72] it is not clear that such a balanced, nuanced approach to the region was indeed implemented.[73]

A “Year of Ethnic Unity Progress”?[74]

Last June, China issued a White Paper claiming “unprecedented” levels of religious freedom in Xinjiang, adding that “no citizen suffers discrimination or unfair treatment for believing in, or not believing in, any religion.”[75] The report followed a national conference on religions convened in April in Beijing and attended by the entire CCP Politburo Standing Committee at which President Xi pledged to fully implement the central authorities’ policy of religious freedom; manage religious affairs in line with law; retain the principle of religious independence and self-administration; and help religions adapt to the socialist society.[76]

But other passages from the White Paper and from President Xi’s address conveyed a different emphasis and tone. In his speech, Xi urged religious institutions to “resolutely guard against overseas infiltrations” and adhere to moderate theologies that “merge religious doctrines with Chinese culture.”[77] At the China Islamic Association’s 10th National Congress in Beijing this past November, Wang Zuoan, the head of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, warned that extremism was seeping into eastern and central China. Urging the Muslim clergy to “stand in the front line in the fight to curb religious extremism,” Wang emphasized that “converting the mindset” of people was critical to countering violence and terrorism.[78]

Furthermore, as previously indicated, the realities on the ground in Xinjiang seem sharply at odds with the White Paper’s self-laudatory report on the state of religious freedom and are far from fulfilling the promises contained in President Xi’s conference address. Meanwhile, there are indications that a “troubling wave of Islamophobia” might be cresting.[79] Anti-Muslim sentiment appears to be spreading across China’s social media landscape, where accounts of violent incidents have been given religious coloration, and have then gone viral.[80] Censors at Weibo reportedly have been deleting accounts of known Hui Muslims.[81] Anti-Muslim hostility by Chinese netizens found on social media — though the extent to which such sentiment is widely shared is difficult to gauge — nonetheless introduces potential new challenges for Chinese authorities in their efforts to deal with ethno-religious issues and in their pursuit of the broader objective of a “harmonious society.”


It is undeniable that in recent years China has experienced an alarming number of violent incidents. Hundreds of people have been killed in Xinjiang, as have dozens more in a spate of high-profile attacks outside the province. To be sure, in a number of instances, the assailants have been Uyghur Muslims. Furthermore, it is incontestable that some Uyghur militant groups embrace an extremist Islamic ideology that espouses violent jihad.[82] There is also strong evidence that Uyghur militants have affiliated with global jihadi networks such as Al Qaeda and, more recently, with the Islamic State (ISIS).[83]

Islamic radicalization and fear of it are, unfortunately, facts of life. What is also an unfortunate fact of life is that China has a terrorism problem — and that this problem has gone global. On the one hand, this disturbing development appears to have vindicated long-held and widely propagated official Chinese narratives about the nature and gravity of the threats the country faces. Yet on the other, it does little to explain the complex mix of destabilizing factors[84] that are responsible for the violence and unrest that China has experienced in recent years, and that could very well persist.

Chinese slogans and public mobilization campaigns are often colorful, imaginative, and evocative. They can also be, as follows, cruelly ironic: Overcoming the “three evil forces” requires promoting the “four identities” — identification with the motherland, the Chinese nation’s identity, the identity of the Chinese culture, and the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics — and the “three inseparables” — which refer to the Han nationality as inseparable from the ethnic minorities, ethnic minorities as inseparable from the Han nationality, and ethnic minorities as inseparable from each other.[85]

As stated at the outset, balancing ethno-religious diversity with national integration has been a continuous challenge for Chinese policymakers, as has connecting the country to the outside world while at the same time consolidating CCP-state control over the public sphere. It is clear that in managing relations with China’s Muslims, and particularly with Muslim Uyghurs, the CCP-state has yet to find the right policy mix to strike these balances.

[1] “Muslim voice silenced after call to Xi,” The Standard (Hong Kong), December 15, 2016, accessed December 17, 2016,

[2] “China Shutters Muslim Website After Protest Letter to President,” Radio Free Asia, December 14, 2016, accessed December 17, 2016,

[3] Of particular relevance here are the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPAC) initiatives.

[4] Chinese authorities have always regarded religious observance to be a potential threat to the state. Therefore, religious freedom has always been limited. Religious affairs have been under the overall control of the United Front Work Department of the CCP Central Committee.

[5] The term “normal religious activities” is intentionally ambiguous. It allows the Chinese state the freedom to regulate religious institutions and activities.

[6] The official post-Cultural Revolution policy regarding religion, promulgated in 1982, is encapsulated in Document 19. See, “The Basic Viewpoint and Policy on the Religious Question during Our Country’s Socialist Period,”….

[7] See James Frankel, “From Monolith to Mosaic: A Decade of Twenty-First Century Studies of Muslims and Islam in China,” Religious Studies Review 37, 4 (2011): 249-258.

[8] “The Future of the Global Muslim Population,” Pew Research Center, January 27, 2011, accessed December 20, 2016,….

[9] On the latter point, see Haiyun Ma, “Success of China’s Hui Muslims: Assimilation or Hyphenation?,” Middle East Institute, November 10, 2016, accessed December 28, 2016, See also Matthew Teague, “The Other Tibet,” National Geographic (December 2009): 30-55.

[10] National Bureau of Statistics of China, China’s Statistical Yearbook 2015, “Geographic Distribution and Population of Minorities,” accessed December 21, 2016,

[11] Dru C. Gladney, “Islam in China: Accommodation or Separatism?”, The China Quarterly, 174 (2003): 452, 464. See also James Frankel, “‘Apoliticization’: One Facet of Chinese Islam,” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 28, 3 (2008): 431; and James Frankel, “Benevolence for Obedience: Policies on Muslims in Late Imperial and Modern China,” ASIANetwork Exchange 6, 2 (2009): 26. Regarding the rival pressures to cling to Islamic self-identity and to assimilate, see Osman Chuah, “Muslims in China: The Social and Economic Situation of the Hui Chinese,” Journal of Muslim Affairs 24, 1 (2004): 155-162.

[12] National Bureau of Statistics of China, China’s Statistical Yearbook 2015, “Geographic Distribution and Population of Minorities,” accessed December 21, 2016,

[13] Xinjiang is a large but sparsely populated area of western China that borders eight countries, including the former Soviet Central Asian republics, Mongolia, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan.

[14] However, there is great “internal diversity” within the Uyghur population; some, for example, are more “secularized” than others. See James D. Frankel, “Chinese Islam,” in Randall L. Nadeau, Ed., The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Chinese Religions (New York: Blackwell Publishing, Ltd., 2012) 245-250. 

[15] On this point, see Donald S. Sutton and Xaiofei Kang, “Recasting Religion and Ethnicity: Tourism and Socialism in Northern Sichuan, 1992-2005,” in Thomas D. DuBois, Ed., Casting Faiths: Imperialism and the Transformation of Religion in East and Southeast Asia (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); A. Dwyer, “‘The Xinjiang Conflict: Uyghur Identity, Language and Political Discourse,” East-West Center. Policy Studies 11 (2005); and Justin Jon Rudelson, Oasis Identities: Uyghur Nationalism along China’s Silk Road (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997) 45. 

[16] See, for example, A.D.W. Forbes, Warlords and Muslims in Chinese Central Asia: A Political History of Republic Sinkiang, 1911-1949 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

[17] Rudelson, Oasis Identities: Uyghur Nationalism along China’s Silk Road, 47.

[18] Hongyi Harry Lai, “The Religious Revival in China,” Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies 18 (2003): 40-65.

[19] Jackie Armijo, “Muslim Education in China: Chinese Madrasas and Linkages to Islamic Schools Abroad,” in Farish A. Noor, Yoginder Sikand, and Martin van Bruinessen, Eds., The Madrasa in Asia: Political Activism and Transnational Linkages (Leiden: Amsterdam University Press, 2008) 169-190.

[20] Cui Jia, “Efforts made to increase number of hajj pilgrims,” China Daily, July 7, 2016, accessed December 18, 2016 (via LexisNexis).

[21] Guo Chengzhen and Han Jiushan, “Strengthen and Promote the Standardized Management of Mosques,” CPPCC News, December 18, 2014, accessed December 22, 2016,

[22] Wai-Yip Ho, Islam and China’s Hong Kong: Ethnic identity, Muslim networks, and the new Silk Road (New York: Routledge, 2013) 85-87.

[23] For a brief discussion of the role(s) of ahong, see Alexander Stewart, Chinese Muslims and the Global Ummah: Islamic Revival and Ethnic Identity among the Hui of Qinghai Province (New York: Routledge, 2017) 75-78.

[24] Ali Unal, “Xinjiang Islamic Institute seeks expanded number of students,” Daily Sabah, September 26, 2016, accessed December 30, 2016 (via LexisNexis).

[25] Matthew S. Erie, “Defining Shariʿa in China: State, Ahong, and the Postsecular Turn,” Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review 12 (September 2014): 100, accessed December 30, 2016,….

[26] Igor Rotar and Magda Hornemann, “CHINA: Xinjiang - What you can’t do in a mosque,” Forum 18, September 28, 2016, accessed December 30, 2016,

[27] Jeremy Page and Ned Levin, “Web Preaches Jihad to China’s Muslim Uighurs,” The Wall Street Journal, June 24, 2014, accessed December 21, 2016,….

[28] Matthew S. Erie, “Defining Shariʿa in China: State, Ahong, and the Postsecular Turn,” 92, 101-107. For a more extensive discussion of the compatibility of Islamic law and state law, based on fieldwork in Linxia, see Matthew S. Erie, China and Islam: The Prophet, the Party and Law (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016). 

[29] Justin Rudelson, Oasis Identities: Uyghur Nationalism Along China’s Silk Road (New York: Columbia University, 1997) 99, 129.

[30] Edmund Waite, “The emergence of Muslim reformism in contemporary Xinjiang: implications for the Uyghurs’ positioning between a central Asian and Chinese context,” in Ildikó Bellér-Hann, M. Cristina Cesàro, and Joanne Smith Finley, Eds., Situating the Uyghurs between China and Central Asia (London: Routledge, 2007) 167; Mu Chunshan, “Anti-Muslim Sentiment Is Taking Over China’s Social Media Scene,” The Diplomat, September 13, 2016, accessed December 17, 2016,….

[31] Matthew S. Erie, “Defining Shariʿa in China: State, Ahong, and the Postsecular Turn,” 93-94, 100-101.

[32] Alice Su, “Meet China;s State-Approved Muslims,” Foreign Policy, November 2, 2016, accessed December 17, 2016, “….

[33] Gardner Bovingdon, The Uyghurs: Strangers in their Own Land (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010) 93.

[34] James D. Frankel, “Chinese–Islamic Connections: An Historical and Contemporary Overview,” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 4 (2016): 569-583.

[35] “Xinjiang’s mosques have grown ten-fold,” Xinhua, March 3, 2015, accessed December 2016,

[36] Kyle Haddad-Fonda, “China’s Massive, Garish Theme Park for the Muslim World,” Foreign Policy, May 11, 2016, accessed December 17, 2016,…; and Will Worley, “China is building a theme park to promote an acceptable version of Islam,” The Independent, May 13, 2016, accessed December 17, 2016,

[37] Yan Cong, “Life in the Hui Culture Park,” China File, May 5, 2016, accessed December 22, 2016,….

[38] Paddy Hillyard, Suspect Community: People’s Experiences of the Prevention of Terrorism Acts in Britain (London, UK: Pluto Press, 1993).

[39] Patrik Meyer, “China’s De-Extremization on Uygurs in Xinjiang,” New America (June 2016) 7, accessed December 30, 2016,; and Thomas Cliff, “The Partnership of Stability in Xinjiang: State-Society Interactions Following the July 2009 Unrest,” China Journal 68 (2012): 80.

[40] See, for example, Liang Zheng, “Media and Minkaohan Uyghurs: Representation, reaction and resistance.” Ph.D. dissertation. University of Colorado at Boulder. 2011. Accessed December 21, 2016, See also Barry Neild, “Kunming rail station attack: China horrified as mass stabbings leave dozens dead,” The Guardian, March 2, 2016, accessed December 17, 2016,….

[41] For a good discussion of the terrorist threat from Xinjiang and China’s evolving counterterrorism policy, see Philip B.K. Potter, Strategic Studies Quarterly (Winter 2013): 70-92, accessed December 21, 2016, See also Guy Burton, “China and the Jihadi Threat,” Middle East Institute, August 9, 2016, accessed December 21, 2016,; and Mathieu Duchatel, “Terror Overseas: Understanding China’s Evolving Counterterror Strategy,” European Council on Foreign Relations, October 2016, accessed December 21, 2016, For accounts of Uyghur-language jihadi content spreading on the Internet, though appearing to turn up first on foreign websites and specifically associated with the propaganda activity of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), see Jeremy Page and Ned Levin, “Web Preaches Jihad to China’s Muslim Uighurs,” The Wall Street Journal, June 24, 2014, accessed December 21, 2016,; and Uran Botobekov, “China’s Nightmare: Xinjiang Jihadists Go Global,” The Diplomat, August 17, 2016, accessed December 21, 2016,…;

[42] James A. Millward, “Violent Separatism in Xinjiang: A Critical Assessment,” Policy Studies 6, East–West Center, Washington, D.C., 2004.

[43] See, for example, Yitzhak Shichor, “Fact and Fiction: A Chinese Documentary on Eastern Turkestan Terrorism,” China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly 4, 2 (2006): 89-108; and Sean Roberts, “Imaginary Terrorism? The Global War on Terror and the Narrative of the Uyghur Terrorist Threat,” Ponars Eurasia, March 2012, accessed December 23, 2016,

[44] See, for example, Ildiko Beller-Hann, “Temperamental Neighbours: Uighur-Han relations in Xinjiang, Northwest China,” in G. Schlee, Ed., Imagined Difference: Hatred and the construction of identity (Münster: LIT Verlag, 2002): 57-81; and M. Cristina Cesaro, “Consuming Identities: Food and Resistance among the Uyghur in Contemporary Xinjiang,” Inner Asia 2, 2 (2000): 225-238; and Joanne Smith Finley, The Art of Symbolic Resistance: Uyghur Identities and Uyghur-Han Relations in Contemporary Xinjiang (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

[45] For a discussion of Xinjiang’s “vital and strategic role in China’s economic security,” see Altay Atli, “Role Of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region In Economic Security Of China – Analysis,” Eurasia Review, January 23, 2016, accessed December 30, 2016,….

[46] Wei Shan and Gang Chen, “The Urumqi Riots and China’s Ethnic Policy in Xinjiang,” East Asian Policy 1, 3 (2009): 14-22, accessed December 21, 2016, See also Wei Shan and Cuifen Wang, “China’s New Policy in Xinjiang and its Challenges,” East Asian Policy 2, 3 (2010): 58-66, accessed December 21, 2016,….

[47] See, for example, Michael Dillon, “Uighur resentment at Beijing’s rule,” BBC News, July 6, 2009, accessed December 21, 2016,; “Circling he wagons,” The Economist, May 25, 2103, accessed December 21, 2016,; Michael Martina, “In China’s Xinjiang, economic divide seen fueling ethnic unrest,” Reuters, May 6, 2014, accessed December 21, 2016,; and Dexter Roberts, “China Tries to Bring Growth to Its Restless Xinjiang Region,” Bloomberg, December 14, 2014, accessed December 21, 2016,….

[48] Rémi Castets, “The Uyghurs in Xinjiang – The Malaise Grows,” China Perspectives 49 (2006), accessed December 28, 2016,

[49] These developments included the Baren Township Riot in April 1990, widespread disturbances in summer 1993, and the Khotan riots in 1995. See Brent Hierman, “The Pacification of Xinjiang: Uighur Protest and the Chinese State, 1988-2002,” Problems of Post-Communism 54, 3 (2007): 48-62; and Elizabeth Van Wie Davis, “Uyghur Muslim Ethnic Separatism in Xinjiang, China,” Asian Affairs 35, 1 (2008): 15-29.

[50] Elizabeth Van Wie Davis, “Uyghur Muslim Ethnic Separatism in Xinjiang, China,” Asian Affairs: An American Review 35,1 (2008): 16-17; and Jennifer Ang, “Sinicizing the Uyghurs,” Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice 28 (2016): 404.

[51] See Gaye Christoffersen, “Islam and Ethnic Minorities in Central Asia:  The Uyghurs” in Islam, Oil, and Geopolitics edited by Elizabeth Van Wie Davis & Rouben Azizian (Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006).

[52] Edward Wong, “Local governments in western China impose Ramadan rules,” The New York Times, September 8, 2008, accessed December 23, 2016,….

[53] U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, “Xinjiang authorities continue security measures, propaganda campaign,”December 20, 2008, accessed December 21, 2016,

[54] “Anger in Xinjiang,” Radio Free Asia, July 5, 2009, accessed December 21, 2016, See also “Xinjiang Unrest Timeline,” Radio Free Asia (covering the period May 2008 to July 2012), accessed December 21, 2016,

[55] See, for example, Robert Barnett, “The Tibet Protests of Spring 2008: Conflict between the Nation and the State,” China Perspectives 3 (2009), accessed December 28, 2016,

[56] In September, Urumqi Party Secretary Li Zhi was dismissed. Seven months later, Wang Lequan, the CCP’s top official in the region and a ‘hardliner’ who had served in that capacity for 15 years, was replaced.

[57] Shan Wei and Weng Cuifen, “China’s New Policy in Xinjiang and its Challenges,” East Asian Policy 2, 3 (2010): 61, 63.

[58] James Pomfret, “China needs new policies after Xinjiang: official,” Reuters, July 30, 2009, accessed December 23, 2016,; Tania Branigan, “China launches ‘strike hard’ campaign in Xinjiang,” The Guardian, November 3, 2009, accessed December 23, 2016,; and Kathrin Hille, “Xinjiang widens ‘crackdown’ on Uighurs,” Financial Times, July 19, 2009, accessed December 23, 2016,

[59] See “Anger in Xinjiang,” Radio Free Asia, July 5, 2009, accessed December 21, 2016, See also “Xinjiang Unrest Timeline,” Radio Free Asia (covering the period May 2008 to July 2012), accessed December 21, 2016,; and U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, “Restrictions on Religion Continue in Xinjiang,” June 25, 2010, accessed December 21, 2016,….

[60] Cui Jia, “Xinjiang security funding increased by 90 percent,” China Daily, January 13, 2010, accessed December 21, 2016,; and Cui Jia and Gao Bo, “Xinjiang doubles terror fight budget,” China Daily, January 17, 2014, accessed December 21, 2016,

[61] Willy Lam, “Beijing’s Wei-wen Imperative Steals the Thunder at the NPC,” China Brief 11, 4 (2011), accessed December 21, 2016,…; Michael Martina, “China withholds full domestic-security spending figure,” Reuters, March 4, 2014, accessed December 21, 2014,; and “China to Boost Security Spending as Xi Fights Dissent, Terrorism,” Bloomberg News, March 5, 2015, accessed December 21, 2016,….


[62] Julia Famularo, “How Xinjiang Has Transormed China’s Counterterrorism Policies,” The National Interest, August 26, 2015, accessed December 21, 2016,

[63] Andrew Jacobs and Chris Buckley, “China Blames Xinjiang Separatists for Stabbing Rampage at Train Station,” The New York Times, March 3, 2016, accessed December 23, 2016,

[64] “China’s Uighur Militants Make a Strategic Shift,” Stratfor, March 2, 2014, accessed December 23, 2016,….

[65] “Explosion occurs at Xinjiang railway station,” China Daily, April 30, 2016, accessed December 2016,

[66] Zhang Dan, “Xinjiang’s Party chief wages ‘people’s war’ against terrorism,” Xinhua, May 26, 2014, accessed December 23, 2016,; Zhang Yiqian and Yang Jingjie, “Anti-terror plans go national,” Global Times, May 26, 2014, accessed December 23, 2014,; and Didi Kirsten Tatlow, “China Said to Deploy Drones After Unrest in Xinjiang,” The New York Times, August 14, 2014, accessed December 23, 2016,….

[67] Cui Jia, “Rule of Law Is ‘Key to Xinjiang Terror Fight,’” China Daily, November 26, 2014,; Bo Xiang, “Top Political Advisor Stresses Rule of Law in Managing Religious Affairs,” Xinhuanet, January 31, 2015,

[68] Patrik Meyer, “China’s De-Extremization on Uygurs in Xinjiang,” 9.

[69] Julia Famularo, “Chinese Religious Regulations in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region: A Veiled Threat to Turkic Muslims?” Project 2049 Institute, April 8, 2015, accessed December 19, 2016,; and Gao Bo and Cao Yin, “Xinjiang Enforces New Website Rules,” China Daily, January 9, 2015, accessed December 21, 2016,

[70] Patrik Meyer, “China’s De-Extremization on Uyghurs in Xinjiang,” 8.

[71] See, for example, Adam Withnall, “Chinese city bans people with Islamic clothing and ‘big beards’ from using buses,” The Independent, August 4, 2014, accessed December 28, 2016, “Xinjiang legislature approves burqa ban,” Xinhua, January 10, 2015, accessed December 28, 2016,

[72] Quoted in “Xi urges anti-terrorism ‘nets’ for Xinjiang,” Xinhua, May 29, 2014, accessed December 23, 2016,

[73] Calum MacLeod, “Eighteen killed in shoot-out after Beijing bans Ramadan,” The Times (London), June 25, 2015 (accessed via LexisNexis).

[74] Last March, Chinese authorities declared the “Year of Ethnic Unity Progress.”

[75] “Full Text: Freedom of Religious Belief in Xinjiang,” China Daily, June 2, 2016, accessed December 28, 2016,

[76] “China Focus: Xi calls for improved religious work,” Xinhua, April 23, 2016, accessed December 16, 2016,

[77] Ibid.

[78] Quoted in Xu Wei, “Clergy urged to lead battle against extremism spread,” China Daily, November 28, 2016, accessed December 19, 2016,….

[79] James Leibold, “Creeping Islamophobia: China’s Hui Muslims in the Firing Line,” China Brief 16, 10 (June 20, 2016), accessed December 19, 2016,….

[80] Mu Chunshan, “Anti-Muslim Sentiment Is Taking Over China’s Social Media Scene,” The Diplomat, September 13, 2016, accessed December 17, 2016,…

[81] Wei Ling Yeung, “Is China Moving to Restrict Religious Freedom for the Hui Muslims?” China Change, May 13, 2016, accessed December 17, 2016,….

[82] The most notable example is the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), formerly known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). See, for example, J. Todd Reed and Diana Raschke, The ETIM: China’s Islamic Militants and the Global Terrorist Threat (New York: Praeger Publishers, 2010) 50-53.

[83] See, for example, Michael Clarke, “China’s Terrorist Problem Goes Global,” The Diplomat, September 7, 2016, accessed January 5, 2017,


[84] Regarding the multiple sources of instability in Xinjiang, see Gardner Bovingdon, The Uyghurs, Strangers in Their Own Land (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010).

[85] See “Hu Jintao zai Zhongyang minzu gongzuo huiyi shang de jianghua” [Hu Jintao’s Speech at the Central Nationalities Working Committee], Xinhua News Agency, May 27, 2005, accessed December 22, 2016,


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