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China is removing religious and cultural references from place names in Xinjiang, rights groups say

China is removing religious and cultural references from place names in Xinjiang, rights groups say
China is removing religious and cultural references from place names in Xinjiang, rights groups say


Chinese authorities in Xinjiang have systematically changed the names of hundreds of villages in an attempt to erase Uighur culture, according to a report released by Human Rights Watch.

Reportdone in collaboration with Norway-based organization Uyghur Hjelp and published on Wednesday, compared the names of 25,000 Xinjiang villages as listed by China's National Bureau of Statistics between 2009 and 2023.

While most name changes “seem mundane,” about 630 villages in Xinjiang have been renamed to remove references to Islam or Uyghur culture and history, according to the report.

Words like “dutar”, a traditional Uyghur stringed instrument, or “mazar”, a shrine, have been removed from village names and replaced with words such as “happiness”, “unity” and “harmony” general terms that are often found. in the policy documents of the Communist Party.

ABC News has contacted the Chinese embassy in Australia for comment on the report.

Most of the village's name changes occurred between 2017 and 2019, at the height of the government crackdown in Xinjiang, according to the report.

A car drives through a desert where a sign which reads

Xinjiang is a large region in western China, home to about 11 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities.(AP: Andy Wong)

James Leibold, a La Trobe University expert on China's ethnic politics, said the changes were a direct response to Chinese President Xi Jinping's call for the “sinicization” of religions at the 2016 Central Religious Work Conference.

“This prompted CCP officials to 'fix' not only the names of the places highlighted in the HRW report, but also mosques, cemeteries, shrines and other parts of the sacred landscape in the Uyghur homeland and other parts of China,” it said. he.

“This process of cultural erasure was also part of a broader crackdown on religious extremism and perceived terrorism that resulted in the extrajudicial imprisonment of an estimated one million Uyghurs and other minorities in re-education camps across Xinjiang.”

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