Xinjiang Cancels National Day Holiday Ahead of Party Congress

Employees are ordered back to work to promote ‘stability’ in the region.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang speaks during a reception on the eve of China's National Day in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Sept. 30, 2017.

All government entities in northwest China’s Xinjiang region were ordered to remain open during the country’s annual “Golden Week” holiday, officials said, as part of a ‘stability’ drive ahead of a sensitive ruling Communist Party congress session scheduled for next week.

The Xinjiang government under region chief Chen Quanguo issued an urgent announcement cancelling the Oct. 1-8 National Day holiday—a first for the region—at the start of last week for all government offices, universities, and state-owned corporations. The notice ordered employees to work through the period and, in some cases, during the weekend.

While the Oct. 2 announcement was never reported in any official media, it was widely disseminated on social media and confirmed the following day in a report by the South China Morning Post, which also noted that airlines operating in the region were issuing refunds or date changes to government employees who had booked tickets in advance of the holiday.

In addition to being summoned back to work, some employees were even ordered to attend “ideology classes,” the report said.

No reason was given for the cancellation, although one official source told RFA’s Uyghur Service it was made to ensure “stability” in the region—where Muslim ethnic Uyghurs complain of pervasive ethnic discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule—ahead of the 19th Communist Party Congress in Beijing set for Oct. 18.

The National Day holiday proceeded uninterrupted throughout the rest of China last week.

A nightshift employee at a hospital in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi confirmed that all staff had been on call during the eight-day holiday, but said he was unable to comment on the motive behind the order.

“Our hospital staff has been working as normal,” said the employee, who spoke to RFA under condition of anonymity.

He referred further questions about the holiday cancellation to the hospital’s public relations department, adding that “I only deal with evening issues” at the facility.

A staff member from a county-level government office, who asked to remain unnamed, told RFA that no employees in any of the townships and villages under his administration were given breaks during the holiday.

“We didn’t have time off during Golden Week … No organization had a holiday,” he said.

An official from a different county-level office, who also spoke to RFA anonymously, confirmed that the holiday cancellation was mandated by the Xinjiang regional government to promote “stability.”

“We received an order [from higher-level authorities] and we were given no time off,” he said.

“We don’t know exactly why … [but] it’s about stability.”

Party congress

The cancellation of the National Day holiday, which celebrates the formation of the People’s Republic of China by Mao Zedong on Oct. 1, 1949, comes amid a call by Chen Quanguo to stamp out “large, medium or small-scale” incidents in Xinjiang ahead of the country’s five-yearly Party congress and start to President Xi Jinping’s second term in office.

Since Chen was appointed to run the region in August last year, he has initiated several harsh policies targeting the religious freedom of Uyghurs, and observers say the party chief expects his actions will earn him membership in the Politburo’s elite standing committee as the party reshuffles its leadership next week.

Wang Qing, a U.S.-based Chinese intellectual who lived in Xinjiang for many years, told RFA that while Chen may be serving his own ambitions by instituting tough measures in the region, such policies could never be implemented without Xi’s approval.

“At the moment Xi Jinping is struggling to maintain his authority, so he is pushing people like Chen Quanguo to find a solution [to stability issues in Xinjiang],” he said.

“But the solution he has found goes entirely against the tide of history,” he added, condemning measures that include the confiscation of Qurans and other religious items in Xinjiang, and a ban on Uyghurs from hotels nationwide, as examples of the communist party’s “anti-progress and backwards mentality.”

Wang noted that while Chen’s policies directly restrict the freedom of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, they also indirectly affect the lives of the Han Chinese who live there, provoking tensions between the two ethnic groups.

“I believe that the Han Chinese also disagree with the ongoing policies, because when you live in that kind of environment, you feel the animosity of the Uyghur people directed against you,” he said.

“When you look into their eyes, see their body language or hear them speak, you will fully understand it … The Chinese people cannot live freely without concern for what might happen and the reality is that the Chinese government created this animosity and hatred.”

China regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns in Xinjiang, including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.

While China blames some Uyghurs for "terrorist" attacks, experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from the Uyghurs and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.

In a brief issued at the end of last month, the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation said that despite its short-term successes, Chen’s policing strategy risks damaging Xinjiang’s economy, stoking ethnic tensions, and alienating the local Han Chinese population.

“Chen Quanguo may have succeeded in squashing Uyghur resistance for now, but the human and economist costs might prove unsustainable in the long run,” the think tank warned.

Reported by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.