Los Angeles Times

Chinese government steers minorities toward a secular future

LINXIA, China — The morning ritual began as dozens of men filed quietly into mosques in traditional white skullcaps, nodding to one other in the chill of an autumn twilight.

But there was no call to prayer. Another less spiritual message flashed silently in red characters on a screen across from one of the mosques: "STRENGTHEN ETHNIC UNITY, MAINTAIN SOCIAL STABILITY." Surveillance cameras swiveled at the sign's two sides. The men passed beneath them to praise Allah.

The rising sun revealed that the domes and minarets on the city's three grand mosques, each home to a different Islamic sect of the Hui people, a Chinese Muslim minority, had been snapped apart and scooped away. Bamboo scaffolding had been put up for renovations that would further strip the mosques of their identities.

Here in the minority heartland of northwestern China's Gansu province, a social engineering initiative that offers improved livelihoods while demanding a shift from religious to political devotion is underway. It lies at the intersection of two nationwide campaigns: the "Sinicization of religion" to erase foreign influence and bring religion under state control, and the eradication of poverty through mass resettlement, job training, and sending cadres into villages to teach the Communist

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