Policy directives ordering ethnic Uyghur shopkeepers in China’s Xinjiang region to stock alcohol and cigarettes are failing in their intended effect, with consumers refusing to buy the products and openly mocking the government’s apparent bid to undermine local Islamic custom, sources say.
Now in force for the last six months in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture’s Kargilik (Yecheng) county, the policy has not led to an increase in alcohol consumption among the population, a local businessman and former government employee told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“In fact, I would say the number of people drinking has gone down,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The few people in the towns around here who habitually drink still buy their alcohol from shops run by Han Chinese, as they always have,” he said.
“This ridiculous policy has failed very clearly,” he said.
Chinese authorities’ efforts to promote the sale in Uyghur shops of alcohol and cigarettes were first reported in neighboring Hotan (Hetian) prefecture in May, with a public notice stating that the order had been handed down “from the top echelons of [the ruling Chinese Communist Party].”
“We have a campaign to weaken religion here, and this is part of that campaign,” one local official, Adil Sulayman, told RFA in an earlier report.
'I had no choice'
In the Islamic faith, the Quran refers to the use of alcohol as a “sin,” while many Muslims discourage the smoking of cigarettes as a self-destructive practice.
“I worried a lot about the public’s reaction to my selling alcohol in my store,” Kasimahun Hashim, a shopkeeper in Kargilik county’s Saybagh township, recently told RFA.
“But now I feel relaxed, because I see that the people’s anger over this is all being directed toward the [government].”
“As a religious man, I felt it would be impossible to keep alcohol in my store,” another shopkeeper, Memtimin Qari, said, adding, “But I had no choice.”
Though government officials then brought two crates of distilled liquor, a crate of beer, and boxes of cigarettes to his store with orders to prominently display them, “So far, I have only sold two packets of cigarettes, and no alcohol at all,” Qari said.
“The other stores in our township have not sold any either,” he said.
Government orders forcing Uyghur shopkeepers to stock alcohol are not aimed at forcing anyone to drink, though, Hoyla village security chief Tursun Turaq told RFA.
“We just put in on the shelves so that people who want to drink may have the opportunity,” he said.
“Some religious extremists tell people, ‘don’t drink,’ and this pulls young people into their way of seeing things.”
“That is why the government issued these orders: to strengthen stability in the region,” he said.
Xinjiang, which is home to millions of Turkic-speaking Uyghurs, has seen an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012, and which China has blamed on terrorists and Islamic insurgents seeking to establish an independent state.
But 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.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Richard Finney.