A Special Issue: Muslims in China
After China cracked down on religion during the Cultural Revolution, its Muslim minorities had to maintain a low profile, and relations with most Muslim nations cooled. In the early 1980’s, however, China again reached out to the world. Some Arab countries responded; during his visit to the United States in February, King Fahd said Saudi Arabia’s athletes would compete in the 1986 Asian and African Games in China, and countries like Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates established economic and political ties. Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports from China suggested that Islam had survived, and was flourishing, so Aramco World asked permission to send in a team to observe and inter- view Chinese Muslims.
For nine months, it was uncertain what China would say, but finally, on July 8, 1984, Contributing Editor John Lawton, photographer Nik Wheeler — sacrificing an assignment at the Olympics — and Nevim Lawton, John’s Turkish speaking wife, translator and Girl-Friday, set off on a 5,250 kilometer trip within China (3,225 miles) — including one flight that brought them a third of the way back to Europe and a three day train trip across the Gobi Desert.
The team — possibly the first to ever tackle this subject since the Cultural Revolution — got total support from the All-China Journalists Association, the group that arranged their tour. Wheeler said he was perfectly free to shoot whatever he wanted, and the Lawtons were able to interview Turkic speaking Uighur and Kazakh Muslims without any official interference.
"Whatever the problems in the past," said Lawton, "Muslims — and reporters — now seem to have a measure of freedom." — The Editors