WILL THE HUI BE SILENTLY ERASED?——A groundbreaking report on the Chinese government’s campaign to eliminate Hui Muslim identity and the crisis of survival for the Hui and Islam in China

Comments Off on WILL THE HUI BE SILENTLY ERASED?——A groundbreaking report on the Chinese government’s campaign to eliminate Hui Muslim identity and the crisis of survival for the Hui and Islam in China
WILL THE HUI BE SILENTLY ERASED?——A groundbreaking report on the Chinese government’s campaign to eliminate Hui Muslim identity and the crisis of survival for the Hui and Islam in China

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders— March 22, 2023) The Hui are the second largest minority group in China, with a population of 11.4 million.1 Although this is greater than the population of Portugal, the Hui are an unfamiliar group to most outside of China. Yet over centuries, they have persisted in maintaining distinct communities and practices centered around Islam while residing throughout nearly every region of China. A few ethnically distinct Muslim groups in China are also classified as Hui by the Chinese government.

It is this distinct Hui identity that Chinese authorities have identified as a threat to be resolved through forcible assimilation. Hui have long navigated as minorities under the Chinese Communist Party’s governance model, and the period of social and market opening through the 2010s brought relatively greater freedom. Hui community members were able to openly participate in mosque communities, Arabic schools, and private worship, albeit under restrictions facilitated by Party liaisons. Meanwhile, Hui entrepreneurs were encouraged to develop business and tourism connections with the wider Muslim world as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

However, an essential tenet of Party governance is that any form of social organization within China that is independent of the Party and government system is a potential threat to the Party’s authority. From crackdowns on activists, Christian house churches, and even tech firms, China’s government and Communist Party top leader Xi Jinping has shown that he believes in much stricter Party control over society than his immediate predecessors. In addition, authorities’ actions against the Hui have also been influenced by Islamophobic rhetoric that has pervaded global counterterrorism discourse.

Chinese authorities have targeted the Hui through three main policy measures: (1) the counter-terrorism campaign in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR or Xinjiang), which has linked expressions of Hui Muslim identity to extremism and has landed more than 100,000 Hui in re-education centers; (2) a national “Sinicization” campaign to bring religious and ethnic groups under more direct control of the government and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and has led to wide-scale mosque closures and detentions of religious leaders; and (3) scattering minority communities through relocation via “poverty alleviation” programs. Those affected also include Muslim believers of other ethnic backgrounds, including ethnic Dongxiang, Baoan, Salar, Tajik, Mongolian, and Han, as well as those belonging to Turkic-speaking groups (Uyghur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Tatar).

The policies authorizing these campaigns are not transparent—official documents are classified and withheld even from the implementing authorities, but their effects are obvious. This report details how China’s Hui population in Xinjiang—numbering over a million—has been among the groups targeted by crimes against humanity in the government’s counter- terrorism campaign in the region. This is the same counter-terrorism campaign that has received widespread international coverage for targeting Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Turkic-speaking groups beginning in 2014 and escalating in 2017. As mentioned above, the campaign has resulted in the detentions of a plausible estimate of more than 100,000 Hui in re-education centers, in addition to pre-trial detentions and imprisonments.

Hui have also been subject to restrictions aimed at eliminating “signs of extremism” and intrusive surveillance of public and private life.

This report also covers violations of Hui cultural and religious rights throughout China. Through the government’s “Sinicization” campaign, authorities have tried to forcibly integrate religious groups into the government and Party system and to eliminate aspects of cultural expression that are seen by authorities as being incompatible with Han Chinese culture. This has led to mosque demolitions and closures and the removal of all signs of Islam and Arabic in Hui public life. Authorities have intimidated and detained lawyers taking up cases of Hui persecuted for exercising their cultural rights and censored publications and online content about Hui and Islam, while permitting officials to foment hate speech and campaigns attacking Hui communities on Chinese social media.

“Poverty alleviation” is another Chinese government policy with a significant impact on Hui social, cultural, and economic rights. Officials have implemented two major poverty alleviation programs among Hui communities that require relocation: “ecological migration” and domestic “labor transfers” to more economically developed regions within China. In designing these programs, authorities have failed to conduct consultations with the communities that would be seriously affected. Officials have stated that the goals of these policies include assimilation of minority groups. These policies have forced the integration of ethnic minority communities into Han Chinese-dominant cities, where Hui find their employment opportunities limited to unstable and low-paying wage work.

Finally, this report covers violations of Hui economic rights in the context of forced labor in Xinjiang and the threatened deprivation of social benefits. Hui throughout China have also faced discrimination in education, the job market and the workplace, and this discrimination has worsened because of the stigmatizing effect of the government campaigns marginalizing and criminalizing Hui religious and cultural practices.

Read the full report

Download a copy


Ramona Li, Senior Researcher and Advocate (Mandarin, English), +1 202 556 0667, ramonali [at] nchrd.org, @RamonaLiCHRD

Renee Xia, Director (Mandarin, English), +1 863 866 1012, reneexia [at] nchrd.org, @reneexiachrd

Back to Top