|A Kazakh man hangs a decoration on his
door for Chinese Lunar New Year.
(Yili, Xinjiang—Feb. 22, 2018) During celebrations for the Chinese Lunar New Year, minority groups of predominantly Muslim backgrounds in China’s western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region are being forced to take part in traditional Chinese methods of celebration, despite conflicts with the Islamic faith.
The Chinese Lunar New Year, also known in China as the Spring Festival, is one of the most important celebrations of the year, when families travel to be together, put up decorations for luck, and eat large meals with noodles, dumplings, and other dishes.
However, authorities in Xinjiang have made it clear to the minority citizens in the area that celebrations are not optional for them.
Members of the Kazakh and Uyghur ethnic groups, two of the 56 ethnicities recognized by the Chinese government and both predominantly Muslim, were visited by government agents and commanded to hang decorations and eat dumplings with their Han Chinese neighbors. Han Chinese are the majority ethnic group in China, which makes up 92% of all Chinese citizens.
Officials told Kazakhs and Uyghurs that they should eat dumplings and set off firecrackers with their Han Chinese neighbors without questioning. Muslim Uyghurs and Kazakhs usually have dietary restrictions because of the religious observation of halal, which forbids the consumption of pork and has strict requirements on the preparation of other meats as well.
“We were forced to eat dumplings made by Han Chinese people, eat collectively together, and were not allowed to ask if it was halal,” an anonymous Kazakh man said. “If a person asked and refused to eat, they would be taken on the spot, by the public security staff supervising the event.”
Should they refuse to eat, they would be taken to a “political training center” for re-education.
Ahan, a Kazakh citizen who lives in Jimunai County, said that authorities also told Kazakhs to take the initiative and visit their Han neighbors.
“You have to visit the Han Chinese,” Ahan says the officers told him, “and congratulate the Han Chinese on the Spring Festival. You have to eat with them, even if they prepare pork or donkey meat. Kazakhs are required to eat it. The person who refuses to eat will be caught and sent to the political training schools.”
Another Kazakh resident said that local officials also visited the Uyghur and Kazakh families in the area and told them to spend at least 50 yuan, or a little less than $10 USD, and buy Chinese couplet decorations. Couplets, which are paired poetic phrases written on two scrolls of red paper, are traditional decorations for Chinese New Year, which hang on either side of doorways to bring good luck in the year to come.
“Forcing every Kazakh and Uyghur family to spend 50 yuan on Chinese couplets and hang them on their door frames for Spring Festival, we Muslims have never followed such a custom, not even during the Cultural Revolution,” the resident said.
Dili Shati, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress headquartered in Germany, said that these religious and national assimilation measures taken by the Chinese authorities will lead to intensified conflicts between officials and locals and further destabilize the situation in Xinjiang. “China took extreme measures to compel Uyghurs to abandon their beliefs and traditional life while using administrative and coercive measures to force locals into accepting the Han Chinese cultural tradition. This offensive policy of China will only stimulate opposition between the two sides.”
ChinaAid reports on abuses conducted against Kazakh and Uyghur people in order to promote religious freedom, human rights, and rule of law.