Reviews

Introducing his article by stating that religious policy is dependent upon political climate, Hong-Kong Associate Professor, Lap-Yan Kuan tries to determine what is and what should be a religious policy in the Xinjiang region dominated by ‘ethno-religious nationals’ ― i.e., non-ethnic Chinese. The Chinese authorities have to deal in Xinjiang with a clash between national and religious identity, in other words between China’s interests as a nation-state and Xinjiang natives (Uighurs) with their ethno-religious identity. China’s policy towards religions has been so far a policy of control. Religious groups like the Tibetan, the Muslims and even Christians loyal to the Vatican are perceived as challenges to China’s sovereignty. In response, the People’s Republic has been trying to attract their loyalties, first by asserting the unity of the Chinese nation for thousands of years, second through the promotion of a more favourable policy towards the so-called now ‘ethnic communities’ (in place of ‘minority nationalities’). The author also describes a clash of identities, due to a steady immigration of Hans in Xinjiang. In analysing growing protests since 1996 (denounced by China, especially since 9/11, as ‘Islamic terrorism’, in order to better justify repression), the author asserts that any critique of government or party policies towards ethno-religious groups turns to be considered prejudicial to the nation’s unity. His overview of ethno-religious policy in Xinjiang shows that the 2001 regulations are more restrictive than those adopted in 1994. Conversely and in order to provide some elements of incentive, some privileges were being given to the China Islamic Association. Kung L.-Y. questions the Association’s role, wondering whether it does not use conflicts between different religious groups for assessing its control. For Beijing, patriotic education implies a sinicisation of education beginning by primary school. So doing, however, it enhances the role of religion in the preservation of Uighur culture and identity, and mechanically encourages further politicisation of Islam in Xinjiang. In conclusion, China’s religious policy in the region seems hardly able to create a long-term stability ― which in the author’s view could come only from a self-administration relying on ‘market forces’ and the gradual evolution of China’s political institutions. Part of the interest of this study comes from its author’s mixture of theoretical approaches of nationalism combined with the overview of the concrete policies and regulations through Chinese primary sources. One original view developed by Kung L.-Y. is that Mao had respect for religion, being conscious that it cannot be immediately suppressed, and that repression under his regime was not his wish. While explaining policies and perspectives from a Chinese viewpoint, his article also briefly mentions the Uighur side’s visions. Rich and well documented, it provides the vision of a Chinese democrat who deplores brutal repression in Xinjiang, trying in the last few lines to draw a more benevolent policy towards ethno-religious minorities in China.

Leila Chebbi-Cherif, National Foundation for Political Science, Paris
CER: II-7.5-686