This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
A company backed by local Chinese government bodies in far-western Xinjiang has created a matchmaking app that aims to set up single Uyghur women with Han Chinese men, people with knowledge of the company said.
“Are there any singles who want to cross the region to marry our brothers from other ethnic groups and start a family?” asks a Uyghur woman in a recent video recorded on Douyin and posted on social media.
“In order to carry out ethnic unity on a large scale, our Xinjiang My Fiancée Cultural Dissemination LLC has set up this service specifically for our ladies who want to go to the mainland to be married,” she continues, urging interested women to leave a message or their phone number.
The app and other campaigns for inter-ethnic marriage are raising alarm among experts and activists who see them as deliberate attempts to assimilate the mostly Muslim Uyghurs — who have their own distinct language, culture, customs and food — into the dominant Han Chinese population.
The company was registered in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, in December 2019, although it is unclear when it launched the matchmaking app.
The app recently came to Radio Free Asia’s attention through social media posts and comments by Uyghurs noting an increase in professional services and online platforms encouraging Uyghur women to search for Chinese suitors.
They report seeing Chinese men expressing a desire on social to marry Uyghur women while others showed off the “beautiful Uyghur girls” they married.
Dearth of men
There is a dearth of eligible Uyghur men because authorities have detained so many of them in camps or prison for years, creating a need to replace them with Han Chinese, said Adrian Zenz, director of China Studies at the U.S.-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
The app is another example of China’s attempts to decrease or dilute the Muslim population in Xinjiang, said Zenz, who has spent years documenting China’s human rights abuses against Uyghurs.
“The population optimization measures that I published in 2021 are aimed at diluting the Uyghur ethnic population, optimizing the population structure, reducing the concentration of the Uyghur ethnic population, and ending the dominance of the Uyghur ethnic group,” Zenz told RFA, referring to a previous report he wrote.
When RFA called the hotline number on the Xinjiang My Fiancée ad, an employee who answered the phone said the company launched this service with support from the “security bureau,” a likely reference to the National Security Bureau, and the Urumqi Civil Affairs Bureau.
“Individuals who wish to marry and start a new life in inner Chinese provinces have approached us,” said the employee, who asked not to be identified. “Many Uyghur girls are entering into marriages with Han Chinese individuals.”
For a 15-yuan fee (US$2), the company will provide customers information about the women, including their name, age, height, weight and a short bio, she said.
“Our primary purpose is to facilitate marriages between Uyghur girls and individuals from the inner provinces of China,” she said. “We understand our mission, and it is unrelated to anything else.”
“You can trust in our reliability, as we receive support from the security bureau and Urumqi Civil Affairs Bureau,” she said.
“We are all Uyghurs working here,” she said.
The employee refused to provide contact information about the company’s director or about its investors.
When RFA contacted the Marriage Management Department at Urumqi’s Civil Affairs Bureau to inquire about the relationship between the company and Chinese state agencies, a Chinese official denied any connection.
“The matchmaking company is not under the management of the Civil Affairs Bureau,” the employee said. “They are not within our jurisdiction. They are making false claims.”
When RFA contacted Urumqi’s Market Supervision Bureau to ask how it ensures the legitimacy and reliability of matchmaking companies, a Chinese official said any such firm can establish a business as long as it holds a business license issued by his bureau.
The official said the bureau’s responsibility is limited to issuing business licenses and that it does not oversee any company’s operations nor regulate the fees they can charge.
RFA then asked if such companies receive support and encouragement from government agencies such as the Civil Affairs Bureau, and whether this means they are promoting the government’s policies in Xinjiang, where authorities have detained an estimated 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities and taken other steps to ban the practice of Islam in an attempt to prevent “religious extremism.”
“Yes, that’s correct,” the official said. “Any company operates in this manner. However, government support does not guarantee that these entities will not break the law.”
Uyghur-Han intermarriage has been increasing since 2018 due to state promotion of intermarriage, including some cases of forced marriage, according to a November 2022 report by the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project.
Beijing is carrying out a campaign of forcefully assimilating Uyghurs into Han Chinese society by means of mixed marriages, says the report, titled “Forced Marriage of Uyghur Women: State Policies for Interethnic Marriages in East Turkestan,” which is what Uyghurs call their homeland.
“Government policies incentivizing and coercing intermarriage and other gender based-abuse only further the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity being committed in East Turkestan,” the report says.