Chinese Authorities Force Uyghur Muslims to Practice Tai Chi and Assimilate
  • Fri, 08/26/2016
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26 August 2016

Local authorities in a county in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region have forced Muslim Uyghur government workers, including all teachers and farmers, as well as the unemployed to participate in a mass event where they had to dress in traditional Chinese garb and perform tai chi, RFA’s Uyghur Service has learned.

Uyghurs from the 25 towns in Yarkand (in Chinese, Shache) county of Kashgar were compelled to participate in a so-called “10 Thousand People” national anthem and tai chi event on 18 August at 12 Mukam Square in Yarkand, local sources said.

Tai chi is a centuries-old form of Chinese martial art that promotes serenity and inner peace through a series of slow, flowing body motions.

Many of the men and women, who had to dress in white and pink Chinese tunics and trousers for the event, came from the towns of Awatbazar, Beshkent, and Misha Yarkand, they said.

The purpose of the forced performance was to “foster the Chinese nation’s valuable traditions and spread patriotic education” among the residents of Yarkand county, according to Tianshannet, a regional government news website.

“The Sing the National Anthem and Perform Tai Chi event is held to raise the Yarkand people’s patriotic sentiments,” said Wang Yongji, Yarkand’s communist party chief, according to the report.

“We published everything [about the event] on the website clearly,” said an official from Yarkand county’s propaganda office, who declined to give his name. “I cannot tell you anything more about this.”

Others interviewed by RFA were also reluctant to discuss the event.

“People who do not have jobs and government workers participated together in this event,” said a young Uyghur woman from Yarkand country who declined to give her name. “Private business owners were not called in.”

It must be noted that as a communist country, most people are dependent on the government or on farming for their livelihood. The private sector is small.

The event lasted about four or five days and had about 20,000 participants, she said.

“I can tell you this much,” she said. “It might not be good to talk much about it. Please ask other people.”

Ilshat Hasan, president of the Washington-based Uyghur American Association, criticized the event as another attempt by China to weaken Uyghur ethnic and cultural identity and force Han Chinese identity on the predominantly Muslim ethnic minority.

“This Sing the National Anthem and Perform Tai Chi event is another indication of China’s push to assimilate Uyghurs into Chinese culture and terminate their ethnic identity,” he told RFA. “Tai chi is typical of Chinese culture. It has no connection to Uyghur culture whatsoever.

“In this event Uyghurs were dressed as traditional Chinese, indicating that China is getting more extreme in their push to assimilate Uyghurs,” he said.

In April 2015, Chinese authorities forced Uyghur imams in Kashgar to dance in the town’s main square and female teachers had to pledge not to teach Islam to children, according to a report in Pakistan’s Express Tribune.

The imams were also forced to tell children that prayer was harmful for the soul and to chant slogans in support of the state over religion and declare that “our income comes from the Chinese Communist Party, not from Allah,” the report said.

Xinjiang has been an autonomous region of China since 1955, though Beijing continues to crack down on its Uyghur inhabitants to prevent what it calls the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism there.

Authorities have fenced off entire neighborhoods in Xinjiang to conduct security checks, Uyghur sources say.

Construction of the barriers began after deadly ethnic riots ripped through the regional capital Urumqi in July 2009, and fences are now being built across the region, a neighborhood committee worker in Urumqi’s Tengritagh district told RFA’s Uyghur Service.

“Every neighborhood has a fence now,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“They have check systems at the gate, but some neighborhoods are stricter and require people to swipe ID cards before they enter,” he said. “Our own neighborhood is more secure, so we have fewer checks.”

“Yes, we have fences in every neighborhood,” a Han Chinese office worker in the Ili River neighborhood of Ili (in Chinese, Yili) prefecture’s Ghulja City told RFA.

“We check the IDs of everyone who enters the area,” he said. “It has been like this for a while now. There is nothing wrong with it.”

“It’s only for security,” he said.

Yang, a security officer in Urumqi’s Gherbiysay neighborhood, said, “We check suspicious persons more carefully.”

“Basically, we check the Uyghurs,” he said.

“It’s for security, and [our orders are] very strict. We worry that incidents might happen.”

Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of heavy-handed rule in Xinjiang, including violent police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.

But experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from Uyghur separatists, and that domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012.

Sources:

Irade Ablet and Roseanne Gerin, "Authorities Force Uyghurs in Xinjiang’s Yarkand County to Perform Tai Chi in Public" Radio Free Asia 26 August 2016

Gulchehra Hoja and Richard Finney,"Uyghurs 'Fenced In' to Neighborhoods in China's Xinjiang Region" Radio Free Asia 19 August 2016