Chapter 9 Northwest China 西北地区

In: Atlas of Religion in China: Social and Geographical Contexts
Authors:
Fenggang Yang
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J. E. E. Pettit
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MAP 134
MAP 134

Subregional map of Northwest China.

27. Shaanxi 陕西

Land area: 205,600 km2

Population: 37,327,379

Capital: Xi’an 西安

Topography

Shaanxi is the gateway into China’s northwest and was the political center of China many times throughout history. The province’s largest city, Xi’an, was China’s capital city for 13 dynasties, over a combined total of more than 1,100 years. Shaanxi has 10 prefectures, including 30 urban districts, 5 county-level cities, and 72 counties. Much of Shaanxi is covered in highlands and mountains, but there are also significant plains and basins in the valleys along the Yellow River and the Wei River 渭河, which runs through the Guanzhong Plain 关中平原, a large alluvial plain that has been the most fertile and densely populated area in China since ancient times (Map 135). The climate varies greatly. The northern part of Shaanxi has cold and dry winters and very hot summers while the south typically has more rainfall.

MAP 135

Demography

The total population grew from 35,365,072 to 37,327,379 between 2000 and 2010, a slight 6 percent increase. Only 22 percent of the province’s residents were registered as urban residents in 2000; by 2010, the figure had risen to 26 percent, still significantly below the national average. The number of immigrants from other provinces increased substantially over the same period from 614,945 to 974,362, a rise of 58 percent, but immigrants still made up less than 3 percent of the entire population of the province.

During 2000–2010, the average family size shrank, the proportion of elderly people increased, and the imbalance in the sex ratio decreased. The average family size fell from 3.6 persons in 2000 to 3.2 a decade later. The percentage of one-generation households increased in almost all counties, especially those in Yulin 榆林 prefecture (Maps 136–137). People with an age more than 60 years old made up 10 percent of the total population in 2000 and 13 percent in 2010, while in some southern areas they comprised more than 16 percent of the total population.

MAP 136
MAP 136

Shaanxi: One-generation households in 2000.

MAP 137
MAP 137

One-generation households in 2010.

As in other provinces, higher education became more accessible and have benefited more people in Shaanxi. The percentage of college graduates increased from 4 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2010. In 2000, no county had a proportion of degree holders greater than 5 percent of the total population. In comparison, between 5 and 10 percent of the residents in many counties had completed college by 2010. Especially in the three central cities, Xi’an, Yan’an 延安, and Yulin, the proportions were higher.

Key Religious Facts

The religious landscape of Shaanxi shows a high concentration of multiple religions in the central prefectures of Xi’an, Xianyang 咸阳, and Baoji 宝鸡, including Protestant and Catholic churches, Buddhist and Daoist temples, and some mosques (Map 138 and Figure 35). Other areas where these religions are concentrated are central Hanzhong 汉中 in the south, and south-central Yulin in the north. There are also a good number of Protestant churches in parts of Weinan 渭南 and eastern Yan’an. The Islamic mosque in Xi’an is famous for its grand architecture in traditional Chinese style (Photo 31).

MAP 138
MAP 138

Shaanxi: Religious sites.

FIGURE 35
FIGURE 35
FIGURE 35

Shaanxi: Distribution of religious sites by prefecture.

PHOTO 31
PHOTO 31

Offerings on Eid al-Adha (Huajuexiang Mosque in Xi’an).

Credit: Xin Cui.

As early as 635 CE, Nestorian Christians reached Xi’an. Catholics and Protestants have long been present in many areas, especially in Guanzhong Plain where the population density is very high. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of house churches in Shaanxi. Meanwhile, there have also been a number of highly publicized raids. For instance, in 2011, members of two house churches in Ma’an Village 马鞍 were taken into custody when police raided their Sunday worship service. The local police chief and two other officers burst into a home where the group had assembled and arrested several Christians, although 10 were released the same evening.1 Police also confiscated all the Bibles and other books and publications in the home.2

The Daoist association in Shaanxi has been part of the global ecological movement. Taibaishan Tiejia Daoist Ecology Temple 太白山铁甲生态道观, which was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, was rebuilt in 2005. In 2006, the first Daoist ecology workshop was held at Tiejia Temple.3 The workshop marked the inception of a Daoist association’s plan to become an important base for raising environmental awareness all over the country. The two-day event combined discussions on Daoism’s traditional teachings about ecology with practical suggestions for how to tackle specific problems faced by Daoists today, such as the ecological issues threatening the quality of ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine.

Both before and after the establishment of the PRC, Shaanxi under Communist rule was subject to Communist anti-superstition campaigns. However, traditional folk beliefs and practices were never eradicated, even though they were severely disrupted for a brief time during the Cultural Revolution.4 After the Cultural Revolution, the revival of temple festivals began as early as 1978. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Shaanxi people rebuilt and renovated their temples, while many old shamans, mediums, and yinyang masters resumed their practice and many new ones appeared.

28. Gansu 甘肃

Land area: 454,300 km2

Population: 25,575,254

Capital: Lanzhou 兰州

Topography

Gansu, a northwestern province, has 14 prefectures, including 17 urban districts, 4 county level cities, and 65 counties. Gansu is a multiethnic province, with ethnic minorities making up nearly 10 percent of its total population, including Hui, Tibetan, Dongxiang 东乡, Bao’an 保安, Salar 撒拉, and Mongol people. The Hui comprises one-half of Gansu’s ethnic minority population and most of them reside in its capital city, Lanzhou.

Located on the ancient Silk Road, the trade routes that linked China, Central Asia, and Europe, and at the juncture of the Loess Plateau, the Inner Mongolia Plateau, and the Tibetan Plateau, Gansu has complicated and diverse landforms (Map 139). Mountains and plateaus dominate this province, with most areas having an elevation above 1,000 meters. In the south, the Qilian Mountains 祁连山 pass through the province and generally rise over 4,000 meters above sea level. To the north of the Qilian Mountains is the famous Hexi Corridor 河西走廊, a unique landform made up of smooth terrain, oases, and the Gobi Desert. Rivers passing through Gansu include the Wei River 渭河 and the Jing River 泾河, and the middle and upper reaches of the Yellow River and the Yangtze River.

Gansu is characterized by a dry climate with plenty of sunshine. The temperature varies greatly from day to night and averages between 0°C and 14°C annually. Agriculture is the foundation of Gansu’s economic development. Only about 10 percent of its total land area is cultivated, with cotton, maize, melons, millet, and wheat as the main agricultural products. Gansu is also rich in natural resources, including mineral deposits, forests, and wind and solar power.

Demography

The size of the population in Gansu remained relatively stable from 2000 to 2010, with more than 25 million people. The proportion of immigrants in the total population was less than 2 percent. The proportion of people who obtained urban residency rose from 19 percent in 2000 to 25 percent a decade later, much lower than the national average. The large surplus in the rural labor force and the huge rural-urban disparity in income are the major factors driving rural residents to seek work in cities.5 An analysis of the mean center of population shows that people keep moving toward the southeast, where the provincial capital and other major cities are located.6

A significant demographic change in Gansu is the aging of its population. The percentage of people aged 60 or above was 9 percent in 2000, and rose to 12 percent 10 years later (Maps 140–141). In 2000, the percentage of elderly people in southern counties was between 8 and 12 percent, and below 8 percent in most of the middle and north counties. In contrast, in 2010, only a couple of counties had a proportion of elderly residents lower than 8 percent, while in the south the figure topped 16 percent.

MAP 140
MAP 140

Gansu: Elderly population in 2000.

MAP 141
MAP 141

Gansu: Elderly population in 2010.

Key Religious Facts

The religious landscape of Gansu shows a high concentration of Islamic mosques in Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture 临夏回族自治州, northeast of Tianshui Prefecture 天水市, and in northern Pingliang Prefecture 平凉市; a high concentration of Buddhist temples in Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture 甘南藏族自治州 and Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture; and a moderate concentration of Protestant churches in southern Longnan Prefecture 陇南市, and of Daoist temples in Linxia (Map 142 and Figure 36). Indeed, Linxia, Tianshui, and Pingliang have high degrees of religious diversity. Catholic churches are scattered in the southeastern prefectures.

MAP 142
FIGURE 36
FIGURE 36
FIGURE 36

Gansu: Distribution of religious sites by prefecture.

Religion in Gansu has been diverse for many centuries. Among the religious legacies in Gansu, the Mogao Caves 莫高窟 carved into the cliffs above the Daquan River 大泉河 are perhaps best known to the world. With over one thousand years of history, the Mogao Caves comprise the “largest, most richly endowed, and longest used treasure house of Buddhist art in the world.”7 The caves were first constructed in 366 CE and represent the great achievement of Buddhist art from the fourth to the fourteenth century. What makes the Mogao Caves artistically unique is the amalgamation of Han Chinese tradition and styles adopted from the ancient Indian, Gandharan, Turkish, and Tibetan peoples, as well as other Chinese ethnic minorities.8

As a nexus of connections between people of various ethnicities, Gansu is also a place prone to discord. Due to the conflict between the exiled Dalai Lama and the Communist Party after the 1959 Tibetan uprising, there exist two systems for selecting Tibetan Buddhist leaders. Following the death of the previous Panchen Lama, two candidates of the next Panchen Lama were picked, one sanctioned by the state and the other by the Dalai Lama. Labrang Monastery 拉卜楞寺, one of the most famous monasteries of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism and the most important monastery town outside the Tibet Autonomous Region, is often the center of conflicts between the state and the diasporic Tibetan monks. In October 2012, a Tibetan man burned himself to death at Labrang, marking the sixth protest by self-immolation in less than a month. Dhondup, the deceased, was in his late 50s and set himself on fire while other Tibetans were offering prayers at Labrang.9 It was the fifty-seventh self-immolation protest since the wave of burnings began in February 2009.10

In recent years, the government has begun to invest in Confucius temples, and each year various celebrations are held across the country. In 2005, Wuwei Confucius Temple 武威孔庙 of Gansu was the exclusive venue in Northwest China for a globally coordinated ritual that paid respect to Confucius. Outside China, Confucius temples in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Singapore, the United States, and Germany participated in this ritual, reflecting the state’s emphasis on a homogeneous international Confucian/Chinese society. In 2006, the offering ritual to Confucius was one of the first nominees for the Chinese government’s list of intangible cultural heritage sites.11

Islam has been a major religion in Gansu since the medieval era. Lanzhou, the capital and the largest city in Gansu province, illustrates the prominence of Islam in Gansu. One of the oldest mosques in Lanzhou, Xinguan Mosque 新关清真寺 was initially constructed during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), and later during the Republican era became an innovative institution for experimenting with modern-style education. In recent years, the mosque had an imam trained in Saudi Arabia. Although he was known as the “modern imam” for bringing in new ideas to connect the Muslim community with the modern world, including preaching in Mandarin instead of Arabic, his teaching indicated the spread of Salafism among Chinese Muslims.12

29. Qinghai 青海

Land area: 721,000 km2

Population: 5,626,723

Capital: Xining 西宁

Topography

Qinghai forms the northeastern frontier of the Tibetan plateau with an area of 721,000 square kilometers and 5.6 million residents, Qinghai is the fourth-largest province in China in terms of land area, but the second-smallest in terms of population. There are 8 prefectures, including 6 urban districts, three county-level cities, and 34 counties. Most cities and counties of the province are located in the relatively low-lying areas of the northeastern quarter of the province (Map 143). The average elevation throughout the province is 3,000 meters. The immense Qaidam Basin 柴达木盆地 dominates the northwest of Qinghai. The Qilian Mountains 祁连山 and Kunlun Mountains 昆仑山 are the major mountains in this province. The Yellow River originates in the middle of Qinghai, and the province is home to the largest lake in China, Lake Qinghai 青海湖. Qinghai has very little rainfall and plenty of sunshine. Average temperatures range between −5°C and 8°C.

MAP 143

With a GDP of only around $37 billion, Qinghai is one of China’s least-developed provinces. Agriculture in Qinghai is small-scale and limited, but the province has developed a burgeoning livestock industry for beef and lamb production. In 2006, the construction of the highest railway in the world, the Qinghai–Tibet railway, was completed. This railway brings a significant advance in economic development for the local people. The Tibetan tourism industry also benefits Qinghai. An increasing number of shops and restaurants are being built in the province and flocks of tourists come to share Tibetan culture.

Demography

The population in Qinghai is highly concentrated in the eastern prefectures. The major cities, including the provincial capital Xining, are located in the northeastern part of the province. The total population of Qinghai was 4,822,963 in 2000 and increased by 16.7 percent to 5,626,723 a decade later. The percentage of people immigrating from other provinces rose substantially from 3.8 percent in 2000 to 5.7 percent in 2010 (Maps 144–145). There has also been a substantial effort to foster immigration in the northwestern reaches of the province.13 In the meantime, in order to improve the grassland ecosystem and the socioeconomic status of local people, the local government has launched a program to encourage pastoral Tibetan communities to settle in urban areas.14

MAP 144
MAP 144

Qinghai: Immigration in 2000.

MAP 145
MAP 145

Qinghai: Immigration in 2010.

Higher education expanded substantially. The number of people with at least a college education was 156,434 in 2000 and rose to 484,794 a decade later, a 210 percent increase. However, the rise in education level was limited to the eastern part. Also, the average family size decreased from 4 persons in 2000 to 3.5 in 2010. Qinghai’s urban residents only constituted 26 percent of the total population in 2000 and 28 percent in 2010. In Qinghai, the elderly population remained relatively small over the decade, as persons aged 60 or higher comprised only 8 percent of the population in 2000 and 9 percent in 2010.

Key Religious Facts

Although Qinghai’s ethnic culture is predominantly Tibetan, the province is also home to a great diversity of peoples, including Han, Hui, Tu 土, Mongols, and Salars. There is a high concentration of mosques in Haidong 海东, Xining, and some parts of the Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture 海北藏族自治州. There are also a few Protestant and Catholic churches in Xining and Haidong (Map 146 and Figure 37). Perhaps the province’s most famous religious site is the Ta’er Temple 塔尔寺 (Kunbum Monastery) to the west of Xining City, which was founded in 1583 by the third Dalai Lama, Sonam-gyatso (Suonanjiacuo 索南嘉措, 1543–1588). The temple is also where Tsongkhapa (Zongkaba 宗喀巴, 1357–1419), the founder of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, was born. Legend has it that drops of blood from Tsongkhapa’s umbilical cord fell on the ground, from which grew the “tree of merit” that still stands in the monastery. Kumbum, one of the six most important monasteries of the Gelug school, consists of four monastic colleges that give courses not only on religion, but also medicine and astrology. It currently has 400 monks, which is a significant reduction from the 3,000 who resided there prior to 1949.15

MAP 146
MAP 146

Qinghai: Religious sites.

FIGURE 37
FIGURE 37
FIGURE 37

Qinghai: Distribution of religious sites by prefecture.

PHOTO 32
PHOTO 32

Thousands of lamas and followers pray before a Buddhist thangka painting at the Rongwo Monastery (Longwu si 隆务 寺), Tongren County, Qinghai.

Credit: Weijian Deng.

Hui Muslims have been the main ethnic group in many areas since the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). Nearly one million Muslims live in Qinghai, where they comprise one-fifth of the province’s total population. In September 2015, a bank with “Muslim characteristics” was opened in Xining to provide customized services for Muslims. Before opening, the bank invited an imam from the city’s Dongguan Mosque 东关清真大寺 to offer supervision with regard to Islamic doctrines, standards of behavior, and the use of Arabic translations. The imam also inspected the hygiene of the bank and provided suggestions in other areas. Islamic banking should in theory be consistent with the principles of sharia (Islamic law), which prohibits charging interest or fees on loans of money. The bank thus offers small loans to Muslim customers at only 15 percent of the average interest rate. The bank also provides guarantee and mortgage services for Mecca pilgrims.16

Despite its location in northwestern inland China, Qinghai has a surprisingly long history of Christian presence. First contacts were already established as early as the Tang Dynasty (618–907) by Nestorian traders doing business along the Silk Road. In the Republican period, more than 500 missionaries served in Gansu and Qinghai. Xining in particular was the first place in Qinghai to establish a Catholic community. During the Cultural Revolution, many churches in Xining were destroyed. Heizui’er Church 黑嘴儿耶稣圣心教堂, the most recently revived Catholic church in Xining, is one witness to this history. The church was initially built in 1923 and was torn down during the Cultural Revolution; only one of its buildings was left intact. In the 1980s, this building was converted into the current church. In 2002, through negotiations with the Religious Affairs Bureau, the church was able to reacquire some other parts of the property. Initiated by Father Qin Guoliang 秦国良, the building project was completed in August 2005.17

30. Ningxia 宁夏

Land area: 66,400 km2

Population: 6,301,350

Capital: Yinchuan 银川

Topography

The Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region 宁夏回族自治区 is located in northwest China. It comprises five prefectures, including 9 urban districts, two county-level cities, and 11 counties. Ethnic minorities constitute 35.2 percent of the total population and most of them are Hui people. Ningxia is among the least-developed provinces in China and has the third smallest GDP. Natural resources and agricultural products such as wool and sugar are the foundation of the economy. Thanks to the nearby coal reserves, there is a well-developed chemical industry around the capital city of Yinchuan.

The topography of Ningxia slopes downward from the highlands in the south to the Yellow River valley in the north (Map 147). The borders of Ningxia are formed by the Liupan Mountains 六盘山 in the south and the Helan Mountains 贺兰山 in the north. The Yellow River enters Ningxia from Gansu and flows northeast into Inner Mongolia, forming a flood plain in the north of Ningxia. Four of the five major metropolitan centers in Ningxia, as well as the province’s agricultural and pastoral sectors, are located in the flood plain. Southern Ningxia, however, is covered with a thick layer of loess soil unsuited to agriculture and thus is less populated. Ningxia features a dry and extreme climate with hot summers and temperatures well below freezing in the winter.

MAP 147

Demography

Ningxia is relatively populous compared with the neighboring provinces of Qinghai and Gansu. The total population in Ningxia rose to 6,301,350 in 2010, a 15 percent increase from 2000. The proportion of immigrants from other provinces was small, comprising less than 6 percent of the total population. In fact, since the 1990s Ningxia has been supplying migrant workers to other provinces.18 People moved from Ningxia to the east coast of China for better economic prospects. There was very little change in the overall population distribution between 2000 and 2010, except for a noticeable increase in people residing in two large cities: Yinchuan and Wuzhong 吴忠. The percentage of people aged 60 and over increased slightly, while still remaining below the national average, and the overall percentage of persons between the ages of 15 and 34 decreased from 66.9 percent in 2000 to 55.2 percent in 2010.

There was some noticeable improvement in education between 2000 and 2010. The percentage of the population with a college degree or higher was 2.8 percent in 2000 and increased to 6.5 percent in 2010, even though this was still below the national average. Ningxia residents who had completed college were largely concentrated in Yinchuan. The changes in urbanization appear to be consistent with those in education. Meanwhile, the average family size shrank from 3.8 persons in 2000 to 3.2 in 2010, while in the same period the percentage of one-generation households increased dramatically from 14.7 to 29.7 percent (Maps 148–149).

MAP 148
MAP 148

Ningxia: One-generation Households in 2000.

MAP 149
MAP 149

Ningxia: One-generation Households in 2010.

Key Religious Facts

As Ningxia is the Hui Autonomous Region, Islam is the dominant religion (Photo 33), with some Buddhist temples in the north and a few Daoist sites in the south (Map 150 and Figure 38). There are a few Protestant churches in Zhongwei 中卫 in the west and Shizuishan 石嘴山 in the north. Muslims comprise roughly one-third of the province’s population, but 92 percent of religious sites are mosques. Ningxia has great religious and ethnic importance in spite of its small size. Various projects have showcased the region’s Islamic culture, including the China Hui Nationality Culture Garden and the World Muslim City, a multi-billion-dollar endeavor that was to include investment from other Muslim countries. In 2015, the China–Arab States Expo 中国-阿拉伯国家博览会 was held in Yinchuan, under the theme “Carry Forward the Silk Road Spirit, Deepen China–Arab States Cooperation.”19

PHOTO 33
PHOTO 33

Family members pay their respects at their ancestors’ tomb (Tongxin County, Ningxia).

Credit: Wei Feng.
MAP 150
MAP 150

Ningxia: Religious sites.

FIGURE 38
FIGURE 38
FIGURE 38

Ningxia: Distribution of religious sites by prefecture.

Meanwhile, tensions persist between the Muslim Hui people and Han people. In May 2016, the Ningxia Evening News 宁夏晚报 reported that all the school canteens in Ningxia would exclusively serve halal food, which generated heated discussions among netizens. Many people asked why the Han majority should be forced to compromise for the benefit of an ethnic minority. However, most online discussions were soon censored.20

Ningxia is on the ancient Silk Road, along which stand several important Buddhist grottos. In 2011, the Ningxia Xumishan Grottoes 宁夏须弥山石窟博物馆 opened to the public. The site includes 70 grottoes decorated with carvings, color paintings, frescoes, and inscriptions in Chinese and Tibetan carved during the medieval era on stone tablets. As early as 1982, the State Administration of Religious Affairs announced that the grottoes were an important cultural heritage site under state protection. In 2003, the Autonomous Region Tourism Administration designated the site a top-rated scenic spot.21 This reflects the provincial government’s aim to preserve and promote the historical religious grottos as a contemporary tourist site.22

While Islam is by far the most widely practiced religion in Ningxia, other religions thrive here as well. Protestant Christianity was introduced to Ningxia as early as 1879 and has grown in the Yellow River Valley in recent decades. The Xixia Church 西夏区基督教堂 in Yinchuan, founded in 1998, is the regional center of Christianity. In June 2016, the church began collecting funds to purchase a new three-story building that would allow it to host larger gatherings. At the same time, the church also donated large amounts to other churches and seminaries in the province and beyond to support Christian congregations and theological education.23

31. Xinjiang 新疆

Land area: 1,660,400 km2

Population: 21,815,815

Capital: Ürümqi 乌鲁木齐

Topography

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region 新疆维吾尔自治区 is on the northwestern border of China. Measuring 1.66 million square kilometers, Xinjiang is the largest province in China but one of the most sparsely populated regions. The province is home to various ethnic groups and an increasingly large Han population. Xinjiang has 14 prefectures, including 13 urban districts, 24 county-level cities, and 62 counties. Besides Uyghur and Han, the other ethnic minorities include Mongol, Kyrgyz 吉尔吉斯, Kazakhs 哈萨克, and Hui.

The northern and southern parts of Xinjiang are immense basins separated by the Tian Mountains 天山, which run through the center of the province (Map 151). Much of the Tarim Basin 塔里木盆地 in the south is comprised of the Taklamakan Desert 塔克拉玛干沙漠, which contains the lowest point in all of China, at 155 meters below sea level. The Dzungarian Basin 准噶尔盆地 in the north receives slightly more precipitation and is slightly cooler than the Tarim Basin. Much of the basin’s center is covered by the large Gurbantünggüt Desert 古尔班通古特沙漠. The hot summers and low levels of precipitation often mean that Xinjiang’s rivers either disappear in the desert or terminate in salt lakes. The only exception is the river traversing Xinjiang’s northernmost regions, the Irtysh River 额尔齐斯河, which flows via Kazakhstan and Russia to the Arctic Ocean.

MAP 151

Situated far from the sea, Xinjiang has both semi-arid or desert climates that are characterized by little rainfall and drastic temperature variations. The average temperature in the Tarim Basin is −7°C in January and 27°C in the summer. The hottest part of Xinjiang is the Turpan Depression, where the temperature averages 32°C and can reach 49°C. Irrigated agriculture has been practiced in Xinjiang for centuries. Traditionally, wheat is the main staple crop of the region, although maize and millet are now quite common. Xinjiang is also known for its several oases, which produce Hami melons, Turpan grapes, raisins, pears, and walnuts. Since the construction of the West–East Gas Pipeline in 2002, the oil and gas extraction industry in Aksu and Karamay has been booming. Today the oil and petrochemical sectors account for 60 percent of Xinjiang’s economy.

Demography

The population is concentrated in two areas, one in the central north and the other in the southwest. A number of important cities, including the provincial capital Ürümqi, Tulufan 吐鲁番, Hami 哈密, and Yining 伊宁, are located around the Tian Mountains in the center of Xinjiang. In the southwestern area, the populous cities of Hotan 和田 [Hetian], Kashgar 喀什, and Aksu 阿克苏 are built near the Hotan River 和田河 [Hetian River], the Kashigaer River 喀什噶尔河, and the Talimu River 塔里木河. The total population increased from 18,459,511 in 2000 to 21,815,815 in 2010, a rise of 18 percent. The number of people moving into Xinjiang from other provinces during the same period tripled to 1,791,642.

The percentage of urban residents was 30 percent in 2000 and grew to 40 percent over the following decade (Maps 152–153). In the meantime, the population remained young. People 60 years old or above made up 8 percent of the total population in 2000, and the proportion slightly increased to 10 percent in 2010. To develop local economies and maintain social stability, the government launched a series of projects including building infastructure and mining natural resources. These developmental measures have attracted a large number of Han Chinese seeking better economic prospects. However, the incoming migrant workers compete with residents for employment and resources, leading to tension between Han Chinese and local ethnic minorities.24 Northern Xinjiang has a higher level of ethnic diverisity, in part due to the increased number of Han migrant workers. Southern Xinjiang is more homogenous and most residents are Uighurs.

MAP 152
MAP 152

Xinjiang: Urbanization in 2000.

MAP 153
MAP 153

Xinjiang: Urbanization in 2010.

The two populous areas have different sociodemographic characteristics. The north-central area is more urbanized, educated, and older than the southwestern area. Most cities are located in the north-central area.25 In a few counties the percentage of urban residents reached far beyond 40 percent. The proportion of elderly people was more than 8 percent or even 12 percent in north-central counties, whereas it was below 8 percent in many southwestern counties. Most northern counties saw a significant increase in college graduates during this decade, while the percentage of college graduates did not change much in most southwestern counties. The central government has dedicated a large amount of funds to higher education in Xinjiang.26

Key Religious Facts

The dominant religion in Xinjiang is Islam. However, there is also a diversity of religions, especially reflected in the presence of Buddhist temples and Protestant churches (Map 154 and Figure 39). Indeed, it might come as a surprise to see a good number of Protestant churches spanning central Xinjiang from east to west. Many of these churches were planted by Christian evangelists from eastern China in the Back-to-Jerusalem Movement in the 1940s, which had a vision of bringing the gospel back to Jerusalem.

MAP 154
MAP 154

Xinjiang: Religious sites.

FIGURE 39
FIGURE 39
FIGURE 39

Xinjiang: Distribution of religious sites by prefecture.

A historically multiethnic region, Xinjiang has residents from 55 of China’s 56 ethnic groups, including relatively large populations of Uyghurs, Han, Kazakhs, Hui, Mongols, and Tajiks 塔吉克. Ethnic minorities account for more than 60 percent of Xinjiang’s total population.27 Due to its diverse ethnic makeup, Xinjiang has a diverse religious composition. Islam is practiced by Uyghurs, Hui, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks 乌兹别克, Tajiks, and Tatars 塔塔尔. Most of them are Sunni Muslims; the few Shi’i Muslims are mostly Tajiks. Historically, Xinjiang has been home to many Islamic sects, including Gedimu, Yihawani, and Sufism. Wahhabism and Salafi-jihadism have also been introduced to Xinjiang in recent decades and have gradually gained popularity.28 Xinjiang is also home to Buddhism (including Tibetan Buddhism), Protestantism, Daoism, Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, and folk religions. The followers of these religions include Han, Mongols, Xibo, Manchu, and Russians 俄罗斯.

While there has been a long history of ethnic and religious conflicts in Xinjiang among Han, Hui, and Uyghur groups, most of them did not attract much attention until July 5, 2009, when a protest against the government quickly escalated into mob attacks mainly targeting Han people. The bloody conflict resulted in nearly 200 deaths and more than 1,500 people injured, and many vehicles were burned and buildings destroyed.29 More than 1,500 people were arrested.30 Many more violent clashes between the Uyghurs and the Han people have occurred in the past several years, triggering the expression of anti-Uyghur and anti-Muslim sentiments on the Chinese internet. Chinese officials said they suspected jihadist ideology was taking hold among some Uyghurs. In December 2014, the Global Times, an official newspaper in China, reported that as many as 300 Chinese citizens had travelled to ISIS-controlled territories to be trained and to fight.31

In recent years, Protestant house churches have suffered frequent harassment from the government. Converts to Protestantism, especially from Uyghurs and Hui, have been persecuted and jailed. For instance, a Uyghur house church evangelist, Alimujiang Yimiti, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for spreading Christian beliefs in Kashgar.32

1

China Aid, “A House Church in Shaanxi Raided by Police.”

2

Aboluo, “The Baihe Church in Shanxi Was Persecuted.”

3

Arcworld, “Daoist Monks and Nuns to Manage Sacred Mountains.”

4

Chau, Miraculous Response; idem, “Popular Religion in Shaanbei.”

5

Ma and Lian, “Rural-urban Migration and Urbanization in Gansu Province, China.”

6

Fu et al., “GIS based Analysis on the Population Migration of Main Nationalities in Gansu Province.”

7

UNESCO, “Mogao Caves.”

8

Dunhuang Academy, 2015 Dunhuang Forum.

9

Radio Free Asia, “Burning at Labrang Monastery.”

10

Radio Free Asia, “Burning at Labrang Monastery.”

11

Xinhuanet, “The Confucius-veneration Ritual May Fail to be Handed Down to Future Generations.”

12

Kaiman, “In China, Rise of Salafism Fosters Suspicion and Division among Muslims.”

13

Fischer, “Population Invasion versus Urban Exclusion in the Tibetan Areas of Western China.”

14

Foggin, “Depopulating the Tibetan Grasslands.”

15

Barnett and Akiner, Resistance and Reform in Tibet; Norbu, “The 1959 Tibetan Rebellion.”

16

Jia, “China’s Islamic Bank.”

17

China Catholic, “New Church in Qinghai Province and Assumption of Our Lady Solemnly Celebrated in Xining Parish.”

18

D. G. Johnson, “Provincial Migration in China in the 1990s.”

19

See the official website of the China–Arab States Expo 中国–阿拉伯国家博览会, http://www.casetf.org/

20

BBC Chinese, “The Debate between a Halal Restaurant and Islamophobia.”

21

Zhou, “The Xumi Mountain Grottoes.”

22

Sofield and Li, “Tourism Development and Cultural Policies in China”; Sigley, “Cultural Heritage Tourism and the Ancient Tea Horse Road of Southwest China.”

23

Zhi, “Ningxia Xixia Church Will Purchase House for New Gathering.”

24

Shepard, “The Complex Impact of Urbanization in Xinjiang.”

25

R. Wang, “The Constraints on Urbanization in Xinjiang Province.”

26

Cao, “A Review of Support-Education Policies in Western Region.”

27

Xinjiang Government, “Distribution of Ethnic Groups.”

28

Kuo, “Revisiting the Salafi-jihadist Threat in Xinjiang.”

29

South China Morning Post, “Initial Probe Completed and Arrest Warrants to Be Issued Soon, Xinjiang Prosecutor Says.”

30

BBC, “Xinjiang Arrests ‘Now over 1,500.’”.

31

Qiu, “Some Chinese Muslims Who Were Smuggled Abroad Fought for ISIS.”

32

China Aid, “Alimujiang Yimiti.”

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