Uighurs, a religiously and ethnically distinct Chinese Muslim community who are largely Sunni Muslims, share more in common with their Central Asian neighbors, ethnically and culturally, than their Chinese rulers. They speak a different language, possess different physical characteristics, and maintain their own distinct way of life and traditions. Eight million Uighurs are found in Xinjiang, which sits in remote northwestern China. Despite similarities to a well-known beleaguered Chinese community, Tibetan Buddhists, the Uighurs' plight has received very little media attention. Indeed, when their story has been told, it has been linked, however tenuously, to the specter of international Islamic terrorism. This article explores American news coverage of the Uighurs before and after 9/11. By looking at how and why this happened, the article illuminates American press practices regarding the coverage both of religion in China and of Islam.
Early Chinese writers rose above particular descriptions of spirits and sacrifices to a meta-discourse about the nature of spirits and the meaning of sacrifices. That is, they themselves mused about the broader meaning of religious phenomena. They recognized diverse ideas about spirits (e.g. whether they possessed agency); they theorized on dependency relationships between spirits and humans (e.g. the nature of reciprocity); they identified secular justifications behind religious discourses (e.g. the orthopraxy of affirming community or sanctioning ethics); they justified religious pluralism (e.g. by recognizing one’s own tradition as the trunk tradition and others as merely branch traditions); and they even permitted personal religious diversity (e.g. the same person could explain away immortals in one setting and yet glorify them in another). Because they themselves theorized about the nature of religious phenomena, we should become cognizant of those theories before projecting our own understandings of religion onto their spirits and sacrifices.