Sinicization: China’s Imperialist Weapon

“The sinicization of religion must be upheld to promote ethnic solidarity and religious harmony,” a senior Chinese official said, from the troubled western region of Xinjiang, which is home to a large Muslim Population.

Sinicization is the process through which non-Chinese societies are forced to come under the influence of Chinese culture and societal norms. They are influenced in areas such as their language and written dialect, diet, education, lifestyle, philosophy, politics, law, religion, culture and so on. It is a form of cultural imperialism imposed upon people without their will. It’s a process of acculturation or assimilation of Chinese culture imposed by China on neighbouring East-Asian Countries as well as the minority religion in China. Sinicization has been practiced in Japan, Vietnam, and Tibet to name a few places. This practice has been in place since the 8th and 9th century of Tang dynasty, and has been carried forward to the 21st century.

Its validity is now being questioned after the evolution of societies into more secular and liberal versions of themselves across the globe.

The Chinese government has faced a lot of flak for imposing its culture on the ethnically different and diverse population, a procedure which has gotten worse with time. For instance, when it was carried out in Vietnam, the Vietnamese had the freedom of choice, and chose the parts of Chinese culture they wished to adopt. Today, terror is being unleashed upon the Uighur Muslims: they are forcefully put in camps and eventually converted. The Chinese government calls them ‘re-education camps’ where the Uighur Muslims are protected from extremism. International organisations have raised concerns over these human-rights violation, but to no avail.

Its proponents argue that sinicization has led to a cross-cultural exchange and mutual adaptation of cultures. Japan is a case in point– it is the only country to have voluntarily adapted to Chinese culture, since it was never conquered by China. Here, the point to be highlighted again is the ability to make a choice. Japan made a choice and the consequences are perfectly in place according to its wilful decision.

On the flip side, it has led to the disappearance of some of the most significant cultures of the world. For instance, after the sinicization of Tibet, Tibetan culture was drastically eroded, leading to the loss of a unique culture, religion, ethnicity, and stripped them of their identity, while creating cultural homogeneity.

This is not the first time the world has witnessed this– many traditional societies were against the ‘McDonaldization’ phenomenon of the USA that took over the world, as they saw the spread of new attire and food as an invasion, which could replace and threaten traditional attire and culture.

Homogeneity of culture is seen as the result of the soft power of highly influential nations, which is why it has been strongly condemned by most of the societies and contested by the most powerful countries in the world.

Here, it becomes important to understand the difference between exchange and assimilation. In cross-cultural exchange, people from different cultures share their culture and traditions, informing each other of their practices. Their similarity and dissimilarities are drawn which enables easy understanding of cultures. Here, one’s culture remains intact, and a mere exchange of knowledge and adaption of better skills takes place. In assimilation, one’s culture comes under threat. There is a replacement of traditions and values which distinguish societies, thus stripping people of their identity.

Sinicization is clearly a form of assimilation, and this forceful imposition of culture is nothing but a violation of basic human rights.

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