V. Xinjiang Ethnic Cultures Are Part of Chinese Culture
The Chinese nation has a civilization that dates back more than 5,000 years. Over these five millennia, all ethnic groups of China have created a long history and a splendid culture. The prosperity of the Qin, Han and Tang dynasties and during the reign of the Kangxi and Qianlong emperors of the Qing Dynasty was achieved by all the ethnic groups together. Ethnic and cultural diversity is a salient feature of the Chinese nation and also an important driving force for China's national development.
Since ancient times, due to geographic variations and the unbalanced development of different regions, Chinese culture has grown diverse between the south and the north and between the east and the west. As early as the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods, basic regional cultures with their own distinctive features had already formed. From the Qin and Han dynasties, on through all the dynasties that followed, across the vast territory of China, cultures of all ethnic groups engaged in constant exchange and integration through migration, convergence, wars, marriage, and trade, and finally formed a splendid overall Chinese culture.
More than 2,000 years ago and beyond, Xinjiang was a gateway for China's civilization to open to the West and an important base for cultural exchange and communication between the East and the West. The region experienced a wealth of cultural diversity and coexistence. Long periods of exchange and integration between the culture of the Central Plains and those of the Western Regions drove not only the development of various ethnic cultures in Xinjiang, but also the diversified and integrated Chinese culture as a whole. From the very beginning, ethnic cultures in Xinjiang have reflected elements of Chinese culture, which has always been the emotional attachment and spiritual home for all ethnic groups in Xinjiang, as well as a dynamic source of development for the ethnic cultures in the region.
Economic and cultural exchange between the Central Plains and the Western Regions began in the pre-Qin period. In the Han Dynasty, the Chinese language became one of the official languages used in government documents of that region. Pipa (the four-stringed Chinese lute), the Qiang flute, and other musical instruments were introduced to the Central Plains from or via the region. Agricultural production techniques, the system of etiquette, books in Chinese, and music and dances of the Central Plains spread widely in the region. Later, the Uighur Kingdom of Gaochang adopted the calendar of the Tang Dynasty, and this practice continued until the latter half of the 10th century. "The governor's generals are skilled in the songs of ethnic minorities, and local chiefs are able to speak Chinese." This verse by the Tang poet Cen Shen reflects the equal status of Chinese and other ethnic languages commonly used at that time. It also demonstrates the cultural prosperity of that period.
Late in the Song Dynasty, Buddhist arts were still flourishing in the south of the Tianshan Mountains and a large number of relics remain till today. In the Western Liao period (1124-1218), the Khitan people, who destroyed the Kara-Khanid Khanate, controlled the Xinjiang region and Central Asia and realized regional unification, extensively inheriting and adopting the laws and regulations and etiquette of the Central Plains. In the Yuan Dynasty, large numbers of Uighurs and people of other ethnic groups migrated into the inland areas. They settled there and learned and used the Chinese language. Some of them even sat for the imperial examinations and were recruited as officials at various levels. From these groups emerged statesmen, writers, artists, historians, agronomists, translators and specialists of other types, who vigorously promoted the development of ethnic cultures in Xinjiang.
During the Ming and Qing dynasties, under the influence of Islamic culture, ethnic cultures in Xinjiang developed slowly in integration and conflict with cultures from outside the region. In modern China, under the influence of the Revolution of 1911, the October Revolution in Russia, the May 4th Movement, and the New Democratic Revolution, ethnic cultures in Xinjiang began to modernize, and the Chinese national and cultural identity of all ethnic groups in the region reached a new height. After the founding of the PRC in 1949, ethnic cultures in Xinjiang entered a period of unprecedented prosperity and development. The historical record indicates that when multiple languages were used as official languages and when exchanges were frequent in Xinjiang, it witnessed a boom in ethnic cultures and social progress. Long years of experience shows that learning and using standard Chinese as a spoken and written language has helped Xinjiang's ethnic cultures to flourish.
The ethnic cultures in Xinjiang always have their roots in the fertile soil of Chinese civilization and make up an inseparable part of Chinese culture. Well before Islamic culture spread into Xinjiang, all ethnic cultures in the region, including the Uygur culture, had prospered in the fertile soil of China's civilization. It was not until the turn of the 9th and 10th centuries, when Islam spread into the region, that the Islamic culture of the Arab civilization – which dates back to the 7th century – began to exert an influence on ethnic cultures in Xinjiang.
Religion can exert an influence on culture in two ways: willing acceptance, and forced acceptance through cultural conflict or even religious wars. In the case of Xinjiang, Islam entered mainly through the latter. This caused serious damage to the cultures and arts of the various ethnic groups in Xinjiang created in earlier periods when Buddhism was popular in the region. As to the incoming Islamic culture, the ethnic cultures in Xinjiang both resisted and assimilated it in a selective manner, and adapted it to China's realities. This did not alter the fact that ethnic cultures in Xinjiang were ingrained with Chinese features, nor did it halt the flow of local cultures into Chinese civilization, or change the fact that they were part of Chinese culture. The epic Manas, which originated in the 9th and 10th centuries, became a literary masterpiece well-known in and outside China, thanks to performances and adaptation by Kirgiz singers. Around the 15th century, the epic Jangar of the Oirat Mongols gradually took shape in Xinjiang. These two epics, together with Life of King Gesar, are regarded as the three most renowned epics of China's ethnic minority groups. Uygur literature has given birth to a galaxy of excellent works, including KutadguBilig (Wisdom of Fortune and Joy), Atebetu'lHakayik (A Guide to Truth), A Comprehensive Dictionary of Turkic Languages, and Twelve Muqams, all of which are treasures of Chinese culture. They represent the enormous contribution that ethnic groups in Xinjiang have made to the formation and development of Chinese culture.
Having a stronger sense of identity with Chinese culture is essential to the prosperity and development of ethnic cultures in Xinjiang. Throughout history, whenever the central government exercised effective governance over Xinjiang and the society of the region was stable, exchanges and communication between ethnic cultures in Xinjiang and the culture of the Central Plains ran smoothly, and the economy and culture of Xinjiang flourished and grew prosperous. Whenever ethnic cultures in Xinjiang assimilated, integrated and accommodated the diverse culture of the Central Plains, including the concepts of benevolence, people-orientation, integrity, sound reasoning, harmony and unity, diversity and integration of Xinjiang ethnic cultures were more apparent, and these cultures could make more progress. For the ethnic cultures in Xinjiang to prosper and develop they must keep pace with the times, be open and inclusive, engage in exchange and integration with other ethnic cultures in China and mutual learning with other ethnic cultures throughout the world, and play their role in fostering a shared spiritual home for all China's ethnic groups.
VI. Multiple Religions Have Long Coexisted in Xinjiang
China has long been a multi-religious country. In addition to several major religions that are structured in accordance with strict religious norms, a variety of folk beliefs are also popular in China. Among these, Taoism and local folk beliefs are native to China, while all other religions were introduced from foreign countries. The history of Xinjiang shows that multiple religions have long coexisted there, with one or two predominant. The region's religious structure is characterized by blending and coexistence.
The formation and evolution of the coexistence of multiple religions in Xinjiang has been a long process: Prior to the 4th century BC, primitive religion was widespread in Xinjiang. Around the 1st century BC, Buddhism was introduced into Xinjiang. From the 4th to 10th centuries, Buddhism reached its peak, while Zoroastrianism proliferated throughout Xinjiang. During the late 16th century and early 17th century, Tibetan Buddhism thrived in northern Xinjiang. Around the 5th century, Taoism spread into Xinjiang, prevalent in Turpan and Hami areas. During the Qing Dynasty, it revived in most parts of Xinjiang. In the 6th century, Manichaeism and Nestorianism entered Xinjiang. From the 10th to 14th centuries, Nestorianism flourished as the Uighur and some other peoples converted to it.
In the late 9th century and early 10th century, the Kara-Khanid Khanate accepted Islam. It started a 40-year-long religious war in the mid-10th century against the Buddhist Kingdom of Khotan, and conquered it in the early 11th century and imposed Islam there, putting an end to the thousand-year history of Buddhism in that region. With the expansion of Islam, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, and Nestorianism declined. In the mid-14th century, the rulers of the Eastern Chagatai Khanate (1348-1509) spread Islam to the northern edge of the Tarim Basin, the Turpan Basin and Hami through war and duress. By the early 16th century, many religions had coexisted in Xinjiang, with Islam predominant, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, and Nestorianism gone, and Buddhism and Taoism surviving. The coexistence has continued to this day in the region. In the early 17th century, the Oirat Mongols accepted Tibetan Buddhism. Beginning in the 18th century, Protestantism, Catholicism, and the Eastern Orthodox Church reached Xinjiang.
Xinjiang now has multiple religions, including Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Protestantism, Catholicism, and the Eastern Orthodox Church. It has 24,800 venues for religious activities, including mosques, churches, Buddhist and Taoist temples, with 29,300 religious staff. Among these, there are 24,400 mosques, 59 Buddhist temples, 1 Taoist temple, 227 Protestant churches (or meeting grounds), 26 Catholic churches (or meeting grounds), and 3 Orthodox churches (or meeting grounds).
China, along with most other countries, upholds separation of religion from government. No religious organization is allowed to interfere in political and government affairs. No individual or organization is allowed to use religion to interfere in administration, judicial affairs, education, marriage and birth control, to hinder social order, work order and life order, to oppose the Communist Party of China and China's socialist system, or to undermine ethnic solidarity and national unity.
Xinjiang fully respects and protects freedom of religious belief as stipulated in the Constitution of the PRC. Xinjiang respects citizens' freedom to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion. Xinjiang shows zero tolerance to any action that creates disputes between believers and non-believers, between believers of different religions, and between believers of different sects of a religion. Xinjiang always upholds equality for all religions, showing neither favoritism towards nor discrimination against any religion and allowing no religion to be superior to any other religion. Xinjiang always upholds equality for all individuals before the law. Believers and non-believers enjoy equal rights and obligations, and all law violators, whatever their social background, ethnicity, and religious belief, will be punished in accordance with the law.
To survive and develop, religions must adapt to their social environment. The history of religions in China shows that only by adapting themselves to the Chinese context can they be accommodated within Chinese society. The 70-year history of the PRC also shows that only by adapting to socialist society can religions in China develop soundly. We must uphold the principle of independence and self-management of China's religious affairs, and prevent all religious tendency that seeks to divest itself of all Chinese elements. We must develop and encourage secular, modern and civilized ways of life, and abandon backward and outdated conventions and customs. We must carry forward religious practices adapted to Chinese society, inspire various religions in China with core socialist values and Chinese culture, foster the fusion of religious doctrines with Chinese culture, and lead these religions, including Islam, onto the Chinese path of development.
VII. Islam Is Neither an Indigenous Nor the Sole Belief System of the Uygurs
Primitive religion and Shamanism were practiced by the ancestors of the Uygurs before Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Manichaeism, Nestorianism and Islam were introduced into the region. During the period spanning the Tang and Song dynasties, Buddhism was the predominant religion practiced by the nobility and the common people in the Uighur Kingdom of Gaochang and the Kingdom of Khotan. Many Uighurs converted to Nestorianism during the Yuan Dynasty. Today in Xinjiang, a significant number of people do not follow any religion, and many Uygurs follow religions other than Islam.
The introduction of Islam into Xinjiang was related to the emergence of the Arab Empire and the eastward expansion of Islam. The Uighur conversion to Islam was not a voluntary choice made by the common people, but a result of religious wars and imposition by the ruling class, though this fact does not undermine our respect for the Muslims' right to their beliefs. Islam is neither an indigenous nor the sole belief system of the Uygur people.
In the process of accepting Islam, the ancestors of the Uygurs and Kazaks integrated it with local faiths and traditions, while absorbing the cultures of other ethnic groups in the region and from inland areas. Some of their religious concepts, rituals and customs remained as they evolved. Through interaction with these elements, Islam in Xinjiang gradually developed distinct local and ethnic features. For example, orthodox Islam does not allow the worship of anyone or anything other than Allah. However, the Uygurs and some other ethnic groups still venerate mazars, which are mausoleums or shrines, typically of saints or notable religious leaders. Mazar worship is a prominent example of the localization of Islam in Xinjiang. The practice of erecting long poles around the mazars, hung with streamers and sheepskin, is a result of influence from multiple religions including Shamanism and Buddhism. As another example, the Baytulla Mosque in Yining and the Shaanxi Mosque in Urumqi, both first built in Emperor Qianlong's reign (1736-1795) during the Qing Dynasty, are characterized by beam-column construction which was common in inland areas. This embodies a form of localization of Islam.
It should be noted that since the late 1970s and early 1980s, and in particular since the end of the Cold War, the surge in religious extremism around the world has caused a rise in religious extremism in Xinjiang. This has resulted in an increasing number of incidents of terror and violence that pose a serious danger to social stability and to the lives and property of people in the region. Under the guise of religion, religious extremism trumpets theocracy, religious supremacism, actions against "pagans", and "holy wars". It instigates terror and violence and incites hostility between different ethnic groups, running counter to the teachings concerning patriotism, peace, solidarity, the golden mean, tolerance, and good works advocated by Islam and many other religions. Religious extremism, which constitutes the ideological base of ethnic separatism and terrorism, is by nature anti-human, anti-society, anti-civilization, and anti-religion. It is a betrayal of religion and should never be confused with religious matters, or be glossed over or excused through religious rhetoric. Drawing lessons from international experiences and in view of reality of the region, Xinjiang has taken resolute action to fight terrorism and extremism in accordance with the law, effectively clamp down on terrorism and violence and the spread of religious terrorism. Through these efforts Xinjiang has responded to the public's expectation of security for all ethnic groups, protected the basic human rights, and maintained social harmony and stability in the region. Xinjiang's fight against terrorism and extremism is a battle for justice and civilization against evil and barbaric forces. As such it deserves support, respect and understanding. Some countries, organizations and individuals that apply double standards to terrorism and human rights have issued unjustified criticism of Xinjiang's effort. This kind of criticism betrays the basic conscience and justice of humanity, and will be repudiated by all genuine champions of justiceand progress.
It is a matter of principle to correctly treat historical issues. The historical and dialectical materialist stance, viewpoint and methodology help us gain a clear understanding of our country and its history, ethnic groups, culture, and religious affairs. They help us to properly understand and treat historical issues concerning Xinjiang. This is essential to maintaining the Chinese people's sense of cohesion and identity, the country's unity and long-term stability, and the security, stability and development of a wider region.
Xinjiang is enjoying sustained economic development, social stability, a better standard of living, unprecedented cultural prosperity, a harmonious coexistence of all religions, and solidarity among all ethnic groups. The region is experiencing its most auspicious period of development and prosperity. Hostile foreign forces and separatist, religious extremist and terrorist forces that have colluded to distort history and tamper with facts run counter to the trend of our times and will be cast aside by history and the people.
Xinjiang belongs to all ethnic groups in the region and the country. It is the common responsibility and aspiration of the Chinese people, including all those in Xinjiang, to carry forward our cultural heritage and build a shared spiritual home based on Chinese culture. Under the leadership of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China with Xi Jinping as the core, and with the support of the whole country and its people, all ethnic groups in Xinjiang are striving to achieve the Two Centenary Goals and the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation. Xinjiang will embrace an ever better future.