Uighur Muslims vs. China’s Persecution

While those in the United States may be well accustomed to the idea of religious freedom, people in other countries don’t have the luxury of those similar benefits. China is one such country where religious persecution is a daily occurrence, and recently more serious crimes against those who practice another religion have been accused of happening in China. The Uighurs, who are Muslims that live in the province of Xinjiang, have made accusations that the Chinese government is throwing their people into prison camps, and in general attacking their way of life. Many have fled to Istanbul for refuge. Gulbahar Jalilova, a previous prisoner of one such prison camp, states during an interview, “I never imagined this could happen in the 21st century: innocent people subjected to cuffs on their hands, shackles, and black hoods over their heads” (Schifrin & Sagalyn 2019).



But why is China able to succeed in persecuting a whole group of people? Of course Uighurs themselves have taken issue with it, but as for the rest of China’s population, there doesn’t seem to be much outcry from them. This appears to be a result of conformity. Conformity is when one follows a certain set of rules or norms deemed appropriate by their society. Although unrelated to the specific situation at hand in China, the Asch study mentioned in Myers (2018) offers insight as to the nature of the conformity that could be occurring. In the study, participants went along with the group in order to gain acceptance and avoid rejection, as well as believing others were more correct than they were. Thusly, the people of China who are not Uighurs could be conforming to what the government says in order to stay in favor, and potentially avoid similar punishments as suffered by the Uighurs. As for another potential reason, the population could believe that the government is correct in their persecution, perhaps due to information they have accumulated and the majority may not know. A government is typically meant to be looked at with trust, so many might not question it.

Another potential factor that could result in the continued persecution is the concept of obedience. Obedience is a willingness to follow orders. Myers (2018) states several factors that lead to obedience that could be reflective of China’s population: emotional distance, legitimacy of authority, and diffusion of responsibility. For emotional distance, if those in China are not acquainted with any Uighurs or even reside near them, their persecution might not mean much to them, as they have no emotional involvement with these people. Additionally, the authority of the Chinese government is extremely legitimate – and could even be described as somewhat tyrannical – and so many people might either be unwilling or too afraid to object to the government’s views. A legitimate authority generally does increase obedience, whether they are benevolent or not (Myers 2018). Finally, the diffusion of responsibility among the Chinese population could make them feel as though they are not solely responsible for protecting Uighurs, as someone might have already done so, when in reality, it doesn’t appear that many have.

It’s clear that action needs to be taken in order to protect these people that are being unjustly persecuted. As for if it will come from China itself is uncertain, and so perhaps it’s time for other countries to take a stand instead.

Liz Fontanilles


Works Cited

Editors, F. P. (2019, October 26). For Uighur Muslims in China, Life Keeps Getting Harder. Retrieved from https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/10/26/uighur-concentration-camps-surveillance-spies-china-control/.

Myers, D. G., Twenge, J.M. (2018). Exploring Social Psychology (Eighth Ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Schifrin, N., & Sagalyn, D. (2019, October 4). China calls it re-education, but Uighur Muslims say it’s ‘unbearable brutality’. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/china-calls-it-re-education-but-uyghur-muslims-say-its-unbearable-brutality.

(n.d.). Retrieved from https://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/glossary/obedience-to-authority.