Fewer mosques in China’s western region than at any time since the Cultural Revolution, says thinktank

A Chinese flag flies over a local mosque recently closed by authorities as an ethnic Uyghur woman sells bread at her bakery on June 28, 2017 in the old town of Kashgar.
A Chinese flag flies over a mosque closed by authorities in the old town of Kashgar. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Thousands of mosques in Xinjiang have been damaged or destroyed in just three years, leaving fewer in the region than at any time since the Cultural Revolution, according to a report on Chinese oppression of Muslim minorities.

The revelations are contained in an expansive data project by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), which used satellite imagery and on-the-ground reporting to map the extensive and continuing construction of detention camps and destruction of cultural and religious sites in the north-western region.

Nanyuan Street mosque – 2017 and 2018


The thinktank said Chinese government claims that there were more than 24,000 mosques in Xinjiang and that it was committed to protecting and respecting religious beliefs were not supported by the findings, and estimated that fewer than 15,000 mosques remained standing – with more than half of those damaged to some extent.

“This is the lowest number since the Cultural Revolution, when fewer than 3,000 mosques remained,” the report said.

Since 2017, an estimated 30% of mosques had been demolished, and another 30% damaged in some way, including the removal of architectural features such as minarets or domes, the report said. While the majority of sites remained as empty lots, others were turned into roads and car parks or converted for agricultural use, the report said.

Ordem Mazar – Satellite images from 2013 and 2019