The Spatial Cleansing of Xinjiang: Mazar Desecration in Context

Rian Thum, “The Spatial Cleansing of Xinjiang: Mazar Desecration in ContextMade in China Journal, 24 August 2020.


Rian Thum explores the destruction of mazars, a religious and historical landmark, throughout Xinjiang. Mazars are physical locations that take the form of community centers, cultural and historical archives, and most commonly graveyards. These sites are very holy and closely connected to God as many individuals make pilgrimages to these locations every year. As part of the ongoing strategy to assimilate and suppress the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, sites like these are being demolished at an astounding rate. In this piece, Thum outlines the importance and prominence of mazars and the ramifications of desecration.


Sometime between 10 and 17 March 2018, on a high sand dune 75 kilometres from the town of Niya, a beloved historical monument disappeared (Kuo 2019). For at least 450 years the site had drawn pilgrims from across the expanse of Altishahr, the southern half of what is now known variously as Eastern Turkistan or Xinjiang (Dūghlāt 1996 [1543], 190). Pilgrims came to be in the presence of Imam Je’firi Sadiq—a founding father and hero who had died there a thousand years earlier, while bringing Islam to their homeland. At his tomb they wept, prayed, and gained blessings from contact with the physical structure.

Keywords: Cultural Destruction, Religious Persecution, Re-Education