Two of the largest of China’s fifty-six recognized ethnic minority populations, the Hui and the Uyghur, both largely practice Islam and have both occupied their respective corners of China for centuries. This might lead one to believe that these two groups live similar lives. However, the manner in which the Chinese government treats them could not be more divergent.
The Hui are ethnically distinct from the majority Han, but are quite similar in terms of outward appearance such that it is uncommon to be able to recognize the difference between the two at first glance. Only the white religious garb of the Hui offers any way to distinguish the ethnic groups. The Hui have a large presence in their “home province” (of sorts) in Ningxia, however they also enjoy a presence spread across most of the nation, particularly in the form of concentrated populations in most major Chinese cities. Their ethnic bond with the Han, as well as their relative assimilation into Chinese culture and society, mean that the Hui are essentially allowed free reign to practice their faith. Time off for religious holidays and acceptance of women who wear the veil is widespread. Some practice of sharia law is even permitted, with civil courts stepping in only to resolve those disputes which Islamic law fails to reconcile.
Within the borders of the same country, the story of the Uyghur is very different. Descendants of a mixture of several Central Asian ethnic groups, and speakers of a Turkic language, the Uyghur have long struggled to carry favor from the government in Beijing. In the allegedly independent province of Xinjiang, Uyghur are punished or prohibited from the same practices of their faith that the Hui are encouraged to enjoy. Veils are largely outlawed, open worship is discouraged or even prohibited, and those who speak out against the status quo are quickly labeled “separatists” by provincial authorities.
The reason for this distinction is simple: the Uyghur have consistently resisted government oversight and authority, while the Hui have been largely integrated. It is true that there is a significant Uyghur separatist movement, and that many of its extreme elements have turned to violence to express their outrage. And with each new terror attack, and subsequent government crackdown on Uyghur religious expression, the resentment grows between the two factions. Chinese repression is helping to fuel a vicious cycle wherein each policy they implement in order to punish the Uyghur for the extremist elements in their society pours more fuel on the fire of separatist extremism, and Uyghur extremists do their part to further draw the ire of Beijing by continuing to slaughter innocents in the name of their cause.
While the Hui enjoy tolerant attitudes and occupy many influential positions in Chinese society, strife and violence in Xinjiang continue without cessation. The Chinese government’s strong-arm policies aimed at the Uygur have yet to bear fruition in terms of reduced violence and increased compliance from the people of Xinjiang. Perhaps it is time the government considered a new policy more in line with the treatment of the Hui.
http://tyglobalist.org/in-the-magazine/theme/rift-the-uyghurs-and-the-hui/ (Image Source)