Religious Harmony in a Chinese Village

While a group of Muslims kneel to recite their prayers in a mosque, several hundred meters away stands a catholic church where a dozen villagers of the Han nationality are singing to the music from a pipe organ.

For people living in other regions of the world dominated by the Muslim culture, such a scene may be rare. For people in the Kalhot village of Xinjiang, it's normal.

The Chinese government officially preaches atheism, but the message does not affect the religious freedom of these average citizens in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Currently, over 1,000 people of 11 nationalities including the Uygur, Kazak, Hui, Mongolian and Han live in the remote village in the Ili River Valley.

Within a circumference of just one kilometer are a Buddhist temple, a lamasery, a Catholic church and seven mosques.

As the population of Hui ethnic nationality becomes a majority, Islamic culture maintains a dominant position over Buddhism whose followers are mostly villagers of the Han and Mongolian ethnic nationalities.

But no conflicts have been reported among them, and religious disputes are unknown here.

Dorjin, a farmer who has lived for more than 40 years around the local Jisheng temple, the largest lamasery in the north of the autonomous region, said, "Despite our gap in religious faith and lifestyle, we farmers have established a good rapport with one another.

"If someone is in need, others will rush to help,” he said. Last year, the youngest son of Dorjin got married. As many Muslim neighbors came to congratulate him, Dorjin asked several imams to help slay sheep and say prayers for his Islamic friends.

Like Dorjin, Puluwa is also a solid lamaist. Although he lives right opposite the catholic church and often has his dinner in the company of the sound of pipe organs, the 50-year-old farmer has never disliked Christianity.

They are all accustomed to their religious differences and willingly accept them, said Lu Liufu, a senior lama with the Jisheng Temple, who is an expert of the village's history.

He said the small village is actually the epitome of western China's religious harmony.

The Ili River Valley has been inhabited by a diversity of ethnic nationalities since ancient times and its history as a major transport hub toward West Asia and Europe has granted it easy access to Buddhism, Christianity and Islam.

Lu once left the village for ten years after his temple was destroyed during the havoc of the “cultural revolution” (1966-1976).

Now a new temple has been built with funds from the government and he can get a monthly subsidy of 300 yuan (US$36.3) from the local government for being a senior religious leader.

(eastday.com April 12, 2002)

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