Xinjiang, Where Even Buildings Tell Tragic Stories of Muslims

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Bitter Winter visited two residential communities in Shihezi city that bear traces of the CCP’s brutal suppression of ethnic Huis.

by Xiang Yi

Shihezi city in Xinjiang
Shihezi city in Xinjiang.

Hui Muslims, for whom Chinese is their mother tongue and who live in various parts of China, had been treated by the CCP for long as the “good” Muslims who have integrated into the country’s official system. But the situation is changing: With the newly adopted legislation, promising to “sinicize” all Muslims outside Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in five years, Hui Muslims also started feeling the heavy hand of CCP’s persecution. Those living in Xinjiang are not spared as well.

Shihezi, a sub-prefecture-level city, built for the development of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps in the early 1950s, is situated in the northern part of the region. Though mostly populated by Han Chinese, the city also bears many traces of the brutal suppression of ethnic Muslims. Even houses where people live have become the silent witnesses of the CCP’s anti-Islamic campaign.

What the fire hides

Two walls in Yiyuan Residential Community in Shihezi’s 142nd Regiment have blackened marks. Many residents know that they have been left by a fire that two children had started, but not many know the whole story. A community resident recounted it to Bitter Winter.

In August 2018, as part of the “home-stay” program – a government campaign that sends Han Chinese Party cadres, employees of state institutions and government-run organizations to live with Muslim families to indoctrinate them – two teachers from the regiment’s Xin’an Secondary School were assigned to live with a family of two Hui Muslim brothers (aged 14 and 16) who studied at their school and resided in the same community.

Since the assigned officials spend every day with Muslim families, “living, eating, working, and learning together,” they are acting as on-site spies for the state, able to observe the lives of families in close proximity every single day. Above all, they are assigned to investigating their religious beliefs and attitudes toward the CCP regime. Once “problematic persons” are discovered, they are arrested and usually detained in transformation through education camps.

The two teachers noticed the boys’ parents praying at home one day and reported them to the police. Unsurprisingly, soon, the parents were sent to a camp for “re-education.” Some say, for 15 years, though it’s hard to confirm.

The two boys were left to fend for themselves. Alone, unable to control their anger, two weeks after the arrest, the boys set on fire one of the teachers’ bike, which was parked on the first floor of the residential building. Later that day, they also started a fire in the building where the other teacher lived. The police came for the boys at night and took them away in handcuffs. No one has heard anything about the family since.

“Only a few ethnic Huis in the regiment are not in the camps. They have been suppressed so badly,” the man finished his story.

Running away from terror

In a nearby community, some single-story cottages look abandoned. Their doors are left ajar, snow piling up inside. Residents explained to Bitter Winter that ethnic Huis from Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, who relocated to Xinjiang for work, used to live there. In 2018, over 30 households left in a hurry, not even attempting to sell their houses.

“The government was very harsh on those Muslims,” recalled a resident. “They forbade women to wear veils, and every Hui was required to report to the police station each morning. On Mondays, the Huis had to attend the national flag-raising ceremony and sing the national anthem. Those who didn’t know how to sing would be punished: singled out to learn and sing the anthem on their own, fined 200 RMB (about $ 28), or forced to work one day without pay. Officials gave the Huis some articles praising the Chinese Communist Party, forcing them to read aloud.”

The CCP’s tight control measures have forced the Huis, who remain in the 142nd Regiment, to be very cautious, especially stay away from religion. “Some residents were arrested for studying the Quran on WeChat groups five years ago,” another resident told Bitter Winter. “Others were detained in camps just for having read something that the CCP has banned. They are still not allowed to return home. Police officers in Xinjiang are entitled to check people’s cellphones at random.”

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