The religious beliefs of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) are defined by Han Chinese culture and customs, with the PRC’s national assimilation policy entailing the eradication all minority religions. China’s religious persecutions of its Buddhists, Christians, Tibetans, and Turkic Muslim citizens violate the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights Act, which mandates religious liberty, among other human rights. Moreover, through a Christian lens, China’s persecution of these religious and ethno-religious groups is a violation of the imago dei; that humans are made in the image of God and thus require humane treatment. China’s persecution of Christians dates back to the Taiping rebellion, which began in 1850 in conjunction with the collapse of the Qing Dynasty, Chinese subjugation by Western powers, and the rise of a millenarian Christian state. According to the Heritage Foundation, Chinese Christians are sent to reeducation camps to erase their religious beliefs, culture, and customs.
While information is limited about the Chinese interment of Christians, the documented human rights atrocities against the Turkic Muslims or Uyghurs are evidence of China’s policies against minority religious groups. Since 2017, over one million Uyghurs in China, including Kazakhs and Uzbeks, have been imprisoned while approximately 2 million languish in internment camps. The remaining 11 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in China living outside the camps are under constant surveillance. A 2022 UN assessment of the Uyghurs’ conditions reconfirmed the physical, virtual and psychological oppression they face. To understand what Christians may experience now or in the future, an analysis of the Uyghurs should be conducted through the seven dimensions of the human security paradigm.
According to the 1994 UN Human Security Paradigm, human security includes freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom from indignity. It consists of seven types of security: political, economic, personal, community, health, food, and environmental. According to these criteria, China is absolutely committing cultural genocide against the Uyghurs in order to destroy their historical identity and roots.
There are three kinds of internment policies: physical, psychological, and virtual. Police files obtained by the BBC in 2022 discovered armed guards have a shoot-to-kill policy for anyone trying to escape the internment camps. The physical policies begin with charging Uyghurs with criminal activities or pre-criminal offenses and detaining them in prison. The criminal charges are based on the state’s past religious, cultural, scholarly, social, and online activities deemed extremist, separatist, or terrorist. Finally, the physical policies include mass detention, torture, and forced disappearance.
Psychologically, the policy towards Uyghurs is political indoctrination, forcing the Han Chinese version of beliefs, culture, and history on them. The indoctrination facilities are called “vocational schools, reeducation schools, [or] hospitals for the ideological ill.” Furthermore, Islam is debased and viewed as evil to justify the “Sinicization” of communities driven by Chinese nationalism and Islamophobia.
The virtual process is a surveillance state to track the non-imprisoned population’s behavior, association, and communications, resulting in the Uyghurs Xinjiang region becoming an open-air prison. Police check the residents, systematically scanning their identification cards, taking photographs, and fingerprinting as well as using facial recognition to track their movements. All information is consolidated into the Integrated Joint Operations Platforms database, which uses artificial intelligence to generate a list of suspicious people targeted by the Chinese security apparatus.
Uyghurs’ economic security is diminished due to their unequal inclusion in the development of their homeland. As a result, Uyghur communities experience high levels of unemployment, increased poverty, and further socioeconomic marginalization. Residents in several areas of the XUAR have experienced food insecurity, with families eating one meal daily. People resist asking local officials for food, fearing exploitation. In prisons and internment camps, Uyghurs live in crowded and unsanitary conditions without proper medical treatment, enduring psychological and physical torture. Xinjiang residents between 12 and 65 are subjected to mandatory medical examinations where biometric data is collected.
Xinjiang is mostly desert and is considered precarious ecologically. Greenpeace’s 2008 survey revealed the region has six of China’s ten most polluted cities. China’s rapid development created air and water pollution. As a result, Uyghurs’ environmental security has been violated, forcing them to suffer illnesses and death from environmental degradation, pollution and resource depletion.
The Uyghur region of Xinjiang has maintained distinctive linguistic, cultural, and ethnic differences. The Uyghurs’ language is Turkic and they practice a type of Sunni Islam. Since the 1990s, the CCP has campaigned against Islam, claiming it promotes self-determination and thus necessitates arresting religious leaders, secular artists, and writers. As a result, many restrictions exist on Islamic spiritual practices and norms. For example, China’s bilingual education policy replaced the Uyghur language with Mandarin Chinese in the education system to erase their Turkic roots. In addition, children whose parents are in internment camps are sent to state-run orphanages to break their family bonds and ties.
China has been accused of committing genocide by the US, the UK, Canada, and the Netherlands. The accusations include forcible mass sterilizations of Uyghur women and intrauterine device insertions in women to repress population growth. As a result, the rate of Uyghur population growth dropped by 84 percent between 2015-2018 in two primarily Uyghur districts. In addition, the Uyghurs’ personal security is violated by forced population suppression and family separations.
The Chinese state is violating the seven dimensions of the UN Human Security protections for Uyghurs. First, the Chinese assimilation policies to erase Uyghurs’ cultural, historical, and religious beliefs are deliberate and inhumane. Second, China is conducting widespread and systemic cultural genocide, including imprisonment and denial of liberty, violating international law. Third, the Chinese state views any non-Han Chinese religion as a threat to its power. As a result, over 14 million people have lost the three freedoms of human security: peace, development, and human rights, for their collective Turkic Muslim heritage.
Finally, with over 100 million Chinese Christians, Radio Free Asia reports that Christian leaders are being arrested, churches demolished, and Christians detained in secretive mobile brainwashing facilities. Since democracy and Christianity are synonymous with the West to many in China, the Chinese Communist Party may view this intersection as a threat to its authoritarian rule. If China’s continued violations of human rights against Uyghurs and other minorities under the pretext of national security goes unanswered, it may lead to a similar cultural genocide against Christians.