Cablegate: Yunnan Imams On Religious Freedom, the Hajj, and Building

DE RUEHCN #0045/01 0570617
R 260617Z FEB 10




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) 10 CHENGDU 30; B) 10 CHENGDU 32; C) 07 CHENGDU 100

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1. (U) Summary: Southwest China's Yunnan Province has one of the
PRC's highest concentrations of Muslims, with over 640,000
Muslims in the province and 140,000 in the provincial capital of
Kunming. Muslims' religious freedom in Yunnan is increasing,
though unannounced visits by Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB)
officials remain common, Imams in Kunming and Shadian told us.
One Imam, standing in front of provincial officials, opined that
now may be the "best time" in history for China's Muslims due to
positive government policies. ConGenOffs observed on-going
construction of a colossal mosque in Shadian with a capacity of
20,000 -- larger than the town's Muslim population -- that will
become China's largest mosque when completed later this year.
End Summary.

I. Kunming Imam: Religious Freedom Increasing

2. (SBU) People's freedom to practice Islam in Yunnan is
increasing, the Imam of the 400-year old Suncheng Mosque in
Kunming, Zhang Caiwei, told Consul General on January 18. "More
people need religion. You can see from the number of believers
who come to the mosque." There are currently over 640,000
Muslims in Yunnan, Imam Zhang said, of which some 140,000 live
in Kunming. (Note and Comment: Although the Imam felt that more
people were turning up to the mosque on Fridays, he also told us
that only 0.5 percent of Muslims in Yunnan had converted to
Islam. The rest, he indicated, were Muslims who had passed
their faith from one generation to the next. This suggests that
Islam is growing in Yunnan at a far lower rate than Christianity
(ref A). At the same time, Muslims in Yunnan may be becoming
more active in practicing their religion. This would also be
consistent with the increasingly strong self-identification with
Islam that Tibetan Muslims recently described to us (ref B).
End Note and Comment.)

3. (SBU) Mosques in Kunming are managed by two
government-affiliated bodies, Zhang said. The first is the
Kunming Muslim Association, a government-controlled NGO that is
chiefly in charge of religious affairs at the mosques. The
second is the Kunming RAB, which is part of the city government,
and which is concerned with the mosque's "administrative"
matters. Kunming RAB officials also occasionally visit the
mosque to check on its activities, Zhang added. Zhang explained
that he was the second-ranking Imam at the mosque, and is also
the second-ranking of three members of the Mosque's own
Management Committee. His mosque's head Imam, and head of this
Management Committee, is also a Deputy in the Wuhua (a district
of Kunming) District People's Congress.

4. (SBU) There are 136 mosques in Kunming, including in the
surrounding rural districts under the city's municipal
government, Zhang said. Bigger mosques, including Suncheng,
generally have their own Islamic school. Zhang estimated that
there were as many as 100 such schools in Kunming alone. (Note:
For an in-depth discussion of Islamic education in China, see End Note.)

--------------------------------------------- -----------------
II. Shadian Imam: Leader of a Proud, Wealthy Islamic Community
--------------------------------------------- -----------------

5. (SBU) Shadian, which is just outside Mengzi, the capital of
Yunnan's Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture, has long been
a center for Islamic learning in Southwest China, and is home of
the first Chinese translation of the Qur'an. While driving into
Shadian, we noted gas station and store signs in Arabic and
Chinese, many Chinese women with colorful head scarfs, and a
large, multi-storied building that was a four-year Islamic
college with boarding facilities housing 300 students from
Yunnan and other provinces. The influence of Islam in the town
appears to be pervasive: over 95 percent of Shadian's population
of 15-20,000 are Hui Muslims. Shadian has 10 mosques; most also
have Islamic schools. During a lunch hosted by local FAO
officials, we were told that: local Muslims did not eat pork;
Shadian forbade liquor stores within city limits; and local
Communist Party members were allowed to practice Islam openly.

Building China's "Largest" Mosque; Photo Essay of Shadian
--------------------------------------------- ------------

6. (U) Beaming with pride, Imam Lin told Consul General on
January 19 that, upon its scheduled completion in August,
Shadian would have China's largest mosque in terms of physical
space. The huge structure will be big enough to hold 20,000
people -- more than all Muslims in Shadian combined. Total
investment was about RMB 130 million (USD 20 million), 10

CHENGDU 00000045 002.2 OF 003

percent provided by the local government, and the rest coming
from private donations from within China. Local Muslims are
well known for doing business and many are owners of mining
fields, "so they are rich enough," one official told us.

7. (SBU) Local officials hope the huge Mosque will promote
Islamic tourism and trade to Shadian, possibly even attracting
visitors from Southeast Asia and the Middle East. While the
city only recorded 100 international tourists last year, it
believes that most tourists will come from within China, and
plans to build an airport to encourage tourism. (Note: Honghe
Prefecture bills itself as the mining capital of China, and the
area's wealth is obvious. ConGen Chengdu's previous trip to
Shadian in 2007 is reported Ref C, and described a board in
front of the old mosque listing donations from mining companies.
End Note.)

8. (SBU) For a photo essay of the nearly completed mosque, and
other sites in Shadian with an Islamic flavor see chives/a_visit

Now "Best Time" in Chinese History for Muslims?
--------------------------------------------- --

9. (SBU) Standing within earshot of local and provincial PRC
officials who joined the "unofficial meeting," Lin, who spent 10
years living in Saudi Arabia studying Islam and Arabic, said now
is the best time in history for China's Muslims because the
Communist Party's religious policies are "so good."

10. (SBU) Lin said the leading members of his mosque's
management committee were first elected by mosque members before
being "recognized" by the Islamic Association and the local RAB.
This management committee is headed by Imam Ma Kaixian, who is
also Deputy Director of China's Islamic Association and Vice
Chairman of the Yunnan Chinese People's Political Consultative
Conference (CPPCC). Asked whether any proposed members had ever
been refused by the government, Lin said he was unaware of any
such cases.

Rising Incomes Mean More Muslims Trying to Visit Mecca
--------------------------------------------- ---------

11. (SBU) As incomes in China rise, more and more Muslims are
eager to make the Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca, Lin said, though
they must submit their applications one year in advance and must
cover all expense themselves. Each Imam offered a different
figure for the number of Chinese Muslims allowed to make the
Hajj each year, based on an agreement between the PRC and Saudi
Arabian governments, with Imam Zhang in Kunming saying it was
one person per 2000 Muslims, and Imam Lin in Shadian offering
the figure of one per 1000. 1400 Muslims from Yunnan are
generally allowed to go, Zhang said; in 2009, 118 of these were
from Kunming. Imam Lin said Shadian gets a special dispensation
and is allowed to send 200 people per year -- perhaps a
concession granted to Shadian as a predominately Muslim town
within an autonomous minority prefecture.

12. (SBU) Note and Comment: We understand that Saudi Arabia uses
0.1 percent of a country's Muslims as a guideline on how many
can visit Mecca for the Hajj in a given year -- a percentage in
line with Imam Lin's figure for Shadian, but which suggests that
Kunming Muslims face a quota only half as big as that allowed
theoretically by the Saudi Government. This suggests that, for
at least some parts of China, the PRC government continues to
allow fewer of China's Muslims to travel on the Hajj per year
than the actual number who should be allowed per agreement
between the Saudi and PRC governments. End Note and Comment.)

--------------------------------------------- ------------------
III. Background on Muslims in Yunnan: Protection Under Yuan,
Persecution Under Qing, and Killings During Cultural Revolution
--------------------------------------------- ------------------

13. (U) Yunnan has one of the highest concentrations of Muslims
in China, dating from Yuan Dynasty emperor Kublai Khan's
appointment of Sayyid Ajjal Shams al-Din Omar to be provincial
governor in 1274. Most of Yunnan's Muslims belong to the Hui
ethnic minority, descended from Western and Central Asia Muslims
who first migrated to China during the Tang Dynasty.

14. (SBU) Lin described misfortunes under the Qing Dynasty, when
Han-Hui tensions and perceived mistreatment by government
officials led to a series of uprisings and massacres during
which 700,000 of Yunnan's 800,000 Muslims were killed. The most
significant of the violent episodes, according to historical
sources, was the so-called Panthay Rebellion in the mid-1860s

CHENGDU 00000045 003.2 OF 003

that led to the brief establishment of an independent sultanate
in Dali lasting almost 20 years, as well as to the deaths of
perhaps as many as one million Muslims.

15. (U) Shadian was also site of the 1975 "Shadian Incident"
during the Cultural Revolution, when rising Han-Hui tensions
ultimately led to armed clashes and a crackdown by the People's
Liberation Army that left 866 of Shadian's Hui Muslims dead.

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