Local authorities in a county in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region have forced Muslim Uyghur farmers, government workers, teachers, and 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 (Kashi) prefecture performed in a so-called “10 Thousand People” national anthem and tai chi event on Aug. 18 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 at once in this event,” said a young Uyghur woman from Yarkand country who declined to give her name. “Private business owners were not called in.”
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.”
‘Push to assimilate’
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.
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.
Reported by Irade for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.