The Uyghur genocide is in keeping with communism’s history of religious suppression

Charlie Paice

August 7, 2020

The persecution of Uyghur Muslims by the Chinese Communist party for the past number of years has been sickening. The reports of over a million interned in camps, forced sterilisation and organ harvesting, among many other evil policies to eradicate the Uyghur people, makes harrowing reading. The fall in Uyghur population growth since 2014 by 84 per cent, according to the party’s own statistics, as well as coerced intermarriage with Han Chinese, strongly suggests a concerted effort to erase the Uyghur as a distinct group.

Sadly, however, this is not the first time that the communist party of China has used its power to oppress minorities and those of religious faith. 

During the late 1950s, particularly the years both before and after the 1959 uprising, Tibetans suffered widespread religious persecution. A report written by the International Commission of Jurists, submitted to the UN, describes acts of genocide had been committed against the Tibetans as a religious group. Along with widespread killings, monasteries were also bombarded

Things would only get worse, however. The cultural revolution, starting in 1968, aimed to destroy the “four olds” – customs, culture, habits and ideas. Tibetan Buddhists were forced at gunpoint to physically dismantle their own monasteries. Meanwhile, churches, mosques and cemeteries were looted, damaged, destroyed or converted. Christians were driven from their homes and forced to wear tall hats with details of their “crimes” while Hui Muslim resistance was met with the massacre of 1,800 civilians, including 300 children. 

After 1979, things returned somewhat to what they were like before 1968. But, for example, the majority of Christians who do not subscribe to the state-controlled churches face continued persecution while 5,500 churches were destroyed in China last year alone, with the situation predicted to get much worse. 

And then there has been renewed persecution against Muslims throughout the 2010s. The communist administration claims that it is motivated by an intention to combat religious extremism. But the true reason is that Islam is seen as an “ideological illness” which rivals the CCP’s own Marxist-Leninism.

It is also notable that although Uyghurs seem to have suffered greater persecution than Hui Muslims, who speak Chinese and are often seen as more sinicized, the latter still undergo persecution with many also being sent to the camps. This demonstrates how it is not simply the Uyghur language and culture that Beijing feels threatened by, but again any deviation from Marxist-Leninist atheism. This is seen with the ban on officials and even ex-officials from belief in religion. 

Officially, like North Korea, China claims to guarantee freedom of religion in its 1982 constitution. However, it is evident that it still stands in a long-established communist tradition of religious persecution. 

There are many non-communist countries around the globe and throughout history that have suppressed freedom of faith to varying degrees, with the ongoing Rohingya Muslim genocide in Myanmar being a stark reminder of this. However, communist ideology and the subsequent nature of communist rule means that communism is by its very nature anti-religious and will back it up with religious persecution.

Marxist-Leninism incorporates the rejection of religion and requiring state atheism, the direct promotion of atheism by the state. The “opium of the people” is seen to serve the purpose of reducing people’s immediate suffering and thus preventing the people from seeing class structures and bringing about socialism. As a result, communist governments have long been determined to suppress it. 

In addition to this, the totalitarian nature of communist rule means that the religious believer has an allegiance to something above the state. This results in paranoia that religion will inevitably result in disobedience, as seen with China’s constant eagerness to tie up Islam with terrorism and separatism.

The consequences of these two factors have resulted in unspeakable tragedy across the globe. 

Between 12 and 20 million Christians were martyred in the USSR. This accompanied a closure of almost 98 per cent of the mosques in the six Muslim republics. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims perished under their deportation to different socialist republics under Stalin. Jewish synagogues, along with other religious places of worship, were mostly forcibly abandoned or converted into “museums of atheism” while those remaining were staffed with puppet loyalists or KGB agents. The experience in eastern Europe was much the same.

The Khmer Rouge regime, thanks to Pol Pot’s schooling from Mao, committed genocide that included hundreds of thousands of Cham Muslims, Christians and Buddhists in the killing fields of Cambodia. When neighbouring Vietnam reunified in 1975, the government claimed there would be freedom of religion. But 75 per cent of Vietnamese fleeing the country were Christians, while the South Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha had its leadership imprisoned and its property seized. 

These are just a handful of examples of how communism across the globe has resulted in unimaginable misery and persecution of religious believers, including of other religions not mentioned. 

Communism is evil. Its insatiable desire to eradicate freedom of thought, association, enterprise and religion has delivered untold suffering despite its relatively short existence. Past events in China, USSR, the Eastern Bloc, Cambodia, Vietnam and many other communist countries may seem like history for us here in the UK now, but the current plight of the Uyghur people reminds us that it still continues right in front of our eyes and little has and is being done to stop it. 


Written by Charlie Paice

Charlie Paice is a political commentator. He was formerly a research associate at the Adam Smith Institute.


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