The Middle Kingdom and Its War Against Religion: A Historical Perspective

By: Mehmet Tohti

March 16, 2020

Responding to: Regulating Religion in China

The Middle Kingdom and Its War Against Religion: A Historical Perspective

In 2013, Chinese professor Ai Yuejin spoke at Nankai University to military students and said the following: 

“Do you know what is the foundation for our nation to become stronger? It is not our national defense, not education, and not economy. It is the vast territory we own…During the past 200 years we have assimilated all of the ethnic minority groups in the peripheries of China into our race. The nature of our culture is to assimilate. We change and accept the good races into our own society and torture and eradicate the bad ones.”

This pretty much summarizes the long historic and modern-day practices of China and its expansionism by eradicating the foreign cultures (barbarians) for annexing their territories. 

From a historical perspective, today’s China is the legacy or result of Sino-barbarian “struggle” characterized as (華 Hua) for Chinese and (夷 yi) for barbarians. Elimination of “barbarians” has been the key for achieving “Grand Unity” under the heavens. The official name of the People’s Republic of China (中华人民共和国 Zhong Hua Ren Min Gong He Guo) reflects the continuation of that prehistoric legacy.

I have witnessed two full-scale eradication of all “foreign religions” in China by the deployment of all-in state powers. One was during cultural revolution period that I have lived through in my early childhood with vivid memories. Bold statements that were hostile to religion covered the walls, such as “Religion is opium and opium is poison” and “Smash the Four Olds (old ideas, old cultures, old customs, and old habits) with the hammer of proletariat dictatorship.” It was the period of Chairman Mao.

Now, the same old play books have been opened up again by Xi Jinping with unprecedented levels of brutality. 

Recent leakages by the New York Times, International Consortium of Investigative Journalism, and Qaraqax List provide details of persecution that shows how China is targeting Uighurs and their religious identity by destroying families and neighborhoods and shattering the social, cultural, and religious fabric of Uighur society and identity. 

Xi Jinping stated during the 2016 Conference on Religion that “Communist Party cadres must be unyielding Marxist atheists. We should guide and educate the religious circle and their followers.” 

That “guidance and education” by Xi Jinping resulted in the sophisticated high-tech surveillance; digital and human control of the entire Uighur population; internment of millions; separation of families and children; enforced indoctrination and social engineering; and the destruction of religious sanctuaries, religious teachings, and traditions by equating religion with mental disorder.

As Ai Yuejin concluded, millenniums-long Chinese history has never been a lenient ground for the coexistence of different races, cultures, or religions, as differences have always been seen as hostile to the survival of the Middle Kingdom. Without this historical perspective, we only focus on the appearance of symptoms on the surface and ignore the hidden intention of the Middle Kingdom. 

Anything not from Chinese cultures is from “foreign culture,” and anyone who is not Chinese is “barbarian” and therefore needs to be eliminated, unless fully assimilated. The current genocidal policy of targeting on Uighurs’ core identity of religion and ethnic character is not accidental. 

This map shows the East Turkistan (Xinjiang), the ancestral land of Uighurs, as a knot for Xi Jinping’s twenty-first century Marshall Plan that enables China to reach to Central Asia, Eurasia, and Europe by land. 

Make no mistake, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the guise, advertised as an infrastructure investment to foster global connections, for the realization of the Middle Kingdom’s dream as global boss replacing the existing world order. Elimination of Uighurs as a nation is a step for the removal of a key obstacle on that mission. 

East Turkistan, which China calls the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, shares land borders with eight independent states that China wants as vassal states to extend its dominance.

Uighurs’ desire of restoring their independent state and their resistance against assimilation with their distinct ethnic and religious identity is a hurdle for furthering the expansion of the Middle Kingdom beyond its border by land. 

Understanding Xi Jinping’s China is the key for addressing the issue and seeking solutions for it. 

Fractural policy adjustments for addressing certain symptoms of the existing problems is falling short of a final solution. The depth of the problem requires long-term, coherent strategy from our end, if we really realized our past ignorance and naivete as confessed by many. 

All-in state persecution of religions and believers mandates all-in state actions from us and ally states for the protection of religious freedom and the practice of all faiths. 

The United States is uniquely positioned as an enforcing power on China to deter, contain, and eventually change its current brutality of religious and cultural persecution. Verbal expression of concerns won’t be sufficient to address the scale and scope of persecution that religious minorities are subjected to when our market is still open for dumped Chinese goods and high-tech CCP-backed companies to harvest our wealth. Our pension funds and investments are still flooding to China as a result of corporate greed, disregarding the fact that every dollar will turn against us as Chinese strength. 

What is at stake is not merely the religious freedom of various ethnic groups, but rather the current world order, value system, and global institutions that we have built through century-old sacrifices. We have to stand up for those core values that make us who we are. 

This is the crucial crossroads of no return if we continue our failed policy or naïveté in dealing with the Middle Kingdom that was built on deception.

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