Bulldozing Culture: China’s Systematic Destruction of Uyghur Heritage Reveals Genocidal Intent

Magnus Fiskesjö, “Bulldozing Culture: China’s Systematic Destruction of Uyghur Heritage Reveals Genocidal IntentCultural Property News, 23 June 2021.


This article by Magnus Fiskesjö, a former director of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, Sweden, centres on China’s systematic assault on Uyghur heritage sites, which is explicitly listed by the United Nations as an example of an act of genocide. Instances of recent cultural erasure include the destruction of Uyghur holy pilgrimage sites called mazars, historical mosques, and cemeteries dating back centuries. They were bulldozed to pave way for development projects catering to the region’s growing tourist industry, including hotels and parking lots. The campaign of cultural destruction also has been targeting cultural assets that do not take up real estate space, such as Uyghur art, music, and even ethnic interior home design. The article concludes with a discussion on past UN and UNESCO attempts at inspecting and protecting heritage sites in Xinjiang.


The powerful testimonies presented at the Uyghur Tribunal in London on June 4-7, 2021, included discussion of China’s systematic destruction of Uyghur heritage. Newcastle anthropologist Jo Smith Finley spoke of an “identity castration”: the suffocation and destruction of all aspects of Uyghur living culture — including its material foundations.

This assault on heritage reveals the genocidal intent behind the Chinese campaign, and this was a key consideration when the British Parliament recently decided to condemn China’s actions as a genocide. This goes with other aspects such as the mass separation of families and the mass sterilizations, which are listed explicitly in the U.N. Genocide Convention (Article 2) as five basic examples of genocidal actions — and which have already clinched the case that what is happening is indeed a genocide.

As part of its multi-faceted campaign of terror, the Chinese regime is systematically bulldozing the material foundations of the history and identity of the Uyghurs and the other Xinjiang peoples — but, because cultural erasure (or, “cultural genocide”) isn’t included in the Convention, they have not often been discussed together with the other aspects. They should be.

Keywords: Cultural destruction, Heritage Sites, Religious Persecution