Uyghur officials in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are regularly visited by Han Chinese “relatives,” who force them to forgo the dietary restrictions of their Muslim faith during weeklong stays, including prohibitions on the consumption of pork and alcohol, according to sources.
RFA’s Uyghur Service spoke with a township and a village secretary of China’s ruling Communist Party in Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture over the weekend who related, on condition of anonymity, their experiences while hosting Chinese minders at their homes on multiple occasions since 2016.
Both said that when the minders, or “relatives,” stay with their families to teach them the Han Chinese language and extol the virtues of Beijing’s policies in the region—often for around one week—they bring alcohol and meat that includes pork, and expect family members to consume them, against the principles of “halal” that govern what Muslims can eat and drink.
The practice of embedding “relatives” in the homes of Uyghurs, which RFA has reported on previously, is seen as part of a bid by authorities to assimilate them into Chinese culture and ensure their loyalty to the central government above all else, including religion.
Those who do not follow the teachings and customs of their minders risk being sent to the XUAR’s vast network of internment camps, where authorities have held an estimated 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.
The township party secretary RFA spoke with said that “relatives regularly … bring gifts, alcohol, fruits and meat” when they are sent to the homes of Uyghurs, including officials.
“I haven’t noticed whether pork is included in the meat,” he added about the meals they share, suggesting that the reporter visit the region to speak with local families for additional information.
The village party secretary told RFA that whatever “relatives” bring is cooked and eaten together with the families they stay with, and that asking about whether the food is halal or haram—forbidden according to Islamic dietary restrictions—is frowned upon.
“Initially, I had a relative named Han Yuejin … [who] came in November or December of 2016,” he said, adding that Han would stay for a week at unspecified intervals.
“[Since March 2018] I have a different relative named Ma Zhenjin, who attends a medical university … The new relative comes every two weeks to a month, and stays with us for six or seven days. Every time he comes, he teaches us the national language … about how powerful the country has become, and how the government is determined to eradicate poverty by 2020.”
According to the village secretary, Ma “admonishes us” over the family’s adherence to Islam, and drinks alcohol and smokes cigarettes—which is also frowned upon in Islam—while expecting members of the household to do the same.
“When they come, we deep fry vegetables [in animal fat] and make dumplings [with minced meat filling] together,” he said.
“If they bring meat, they don’t tell us what kind of meat it is, so we just eat it together. We don’t ask if it’s pork or not. In 2016, we were yelled at about this, so we no longer differentiate whether [the food] is halal or haram.”
The secretary said that Ma and his family “cook together and eat together for seven or eight days,” and that they have no control over what is consumed during that time.
“We are not so insane as to tell them that we are Muslim, so we cannot eat the things they eat,” he said.
“They are human beings, just as we are. They eat what we cook, we eat what they cook. If they bring pork we eat it.”
Pork and alcohol
In February, sources told RFA that Chinese authorities in the XUAR were delivering pork to Muslim households during the Lunar New Year holiday, and forcing some Muslims to drink alcohol, eat pork, and display emblems of traditional Chinese culture.
Residents of Ili Kazakh (Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture said officials had invited them to celebratory dinners marking the Lunar New Year at which pork was served, then threatening to send them to an internment camp if they refused to take part.
Photos sent to RFA also showed an official from Ili’s Yining city visiting Muslim households and distributing raw pork, in the name of helping the less well-off on the eve of the Year of the Pig.
Pork and alcohol are forbidden by Islam, and the celebration of Chinese festivals has roots in polytheistic folk religion, which includes Buddhist iconography. Muslims honoring such festivals risk committing the unforgivable sin of espousing more than one god.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.