China Destroyed Muslim Culture In This Ancient City — Then Turned It Into Disneyland

Abduweli Ayup, a resident of Kashgar, hasn’t been able to return to his hometown since 2015. The Chinese government has canceled his passport. He occasionally watches YouTube videos of Kashgar, but it doesn’t bring him any solace. Ayup compares it to eating bad food – it may satisfy momentarily, but later leaves you feeling unsettled. While watching a video with a BuzzFeed News reporter, Ayup points out a giant sculpture of a traditional stringed instrument near the city gates, noting that it is merely a tourist attraction.

Kashgar is now filled with photogenic additions meant to entice tourists. You’ll find giant teapots, murals showcasing maps of Xinjiang, and slogans like “Xinjiang Impressions” where tourists gather to take pictures. The metalwork market has a new entrance with a large sign featuring silhouetted figures hammering iron. There are even camel rides available for visitors.

In the videos Ayup has seen, he noticed people dancing in traditional Uyghur dress, styles that were popular over a century ago. However, these images are only seen on Chinese state television and at the country’s annual parliamentary session. Ayup remarks that no one actually wears such clothing anymore, unless it’s for show.

Tourism is thriving in Xinjiang, with the region experiencing a 20% increase in visitors last year, despite the global decline due to the pandemic. The Chinese government has launched an English-language campaign and organized events to promote Xinjiang as a peaceful, prosperous, and culturally rich destination. This is also presented as an economic opportunity for the local people.

However, the situation is quite different for Kashgar’s mosques. Many smaller neighborhood mosques are abandoned, with damaged doors that are padlocked. Others have been completely demolished or repurposed as cafés and public restrooms. The Id Kah mosque has seen a decline in worshippers over the past five years, with only around 800 attendees during Friday prayers, compared to 4,000-5,000 in 2011.

Mamat Juma, the mosque’s imam, acknowledged this decline in an interview. He downplayed the significance of religion in Uyghur culture and expressed concern about the decreasing number of believers. However, he emphasized that forcing people to pray at the mosque is not the solution.

Additional reporting by Irene Benedicto

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Written by Western Reader

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