Every year ethnic minorities clad in their traditional clothes are showcased during the national broadcast of the National People's Congress meetings and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, creating a facade of celebrated diversity in China.
However, that is far from the truth. This was recently demonstrated in Urumqi city within northwestern China in the Muslim majority region Xinjiang, where ethnic Uyghurs students are banned and punished for sporting their culture in some schools and some public institutions.
On March 5, 2013 a photo went viral showing a group of Uyghur students from Xinjiang Experimental School standing in the playground, with the caption: “these students are being punished for wearing the Taqiyah [Muslim prayer cap]”.
The next day, the Education Bureau issued a statement explaining that the students had not been punished and that the teachers were just persuading a dozen students to take off their Taqiyah during a sports class. The Xinjiang police went on to claim that the incident was a plot by outside forces.
However, images uploaded by netizens [zh] show that this is not an isolated incident. Some schools and libraries in Urumqi city have explicit bans prohibiting students wearing the Taqiyah and the veil from entering their premises.
To stand up for their cultural rights, some Uyghur youths uploaded photos of themselves wearing ethnic clothing. For example Zuo Kara (@佐克拉) uploaded [zh] this profile picture on March 6 and explained:
Wearing Taqiyah is every Uyghur's dream because it represents our ethnicity and symbolizes our culture. When I see high school and middle school boys and girls wear Taqiyah to school, I feel proud. They look more handsome and pretty in their Taqiyah. Here I wear my Taqiyah, not to imitate others. I just want to show respect for our ethnic culture and character. I love Taqiyah and I speak for Uyghur and Xinjiang.
Many show their support in the comment thread:
Rainer Su: I am Han Chinese but I support you. What the Kingdom (Chinese government) does to you is similar to what had been done to us by the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty and what the Manju Qing Dynasty did to the Han People. It is violence against humanity.
Liang Ji 98: You are beautiful, inside out. What you have said is so right. The civilization of Uyghur is so rich. Don't copy Han Chinese and give up your culture.
Gao Dunying Art Festival: Good looking! Support! This is your custom clothing and culture. According to the Constitution, every ethnic groups should enjoy their freedom to maintain and reform their own culture and tradition. No individual or organization can intervene into people's culture.
Uighurbiz.net published several reports and commentaries on the incident. Anostaf quoted Ilham Tohti's comment [zh] on March 7:
Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti who advocated for Uyghur's right said: “this is not a single incident. The restriction on Uyghur tradition, habit and clothing will erode Uyghur nationality and cultural identity. The incident reminds us again that the most urgent issue for Uyghur is to protect our ethnic culture and identity.
Ilham Tohti also stressed: “We can tolerate bodily pain and poverty. But we can't be deprived of our dignity. We should not tolerate our basic human right being stepped upon like this. Every member of our ethnic group should protect our rights. The Xinjiang government have violated China's own laws, regulations and constitution.”
On March 16 the website ran another commentary [zh] criticizing the Xinjiang authorities lack of culture respect in handling the Taqiyah incident:
Xinjiang authorities once again use “outside forces” to explain away the Taqiyah incident. Because of this, Uyghur people have to stop discussing this or else they would be labelled “separatists”.
However, the conflict will not end with the labeling of “rumor” and “outside forces”. For a long time, Xinjiang authorities have been showing little respect of Uyghur culture and the problem is getting more and more serious. Uyghur people are unhappy.
For some background on Uyghurs, China's Muslim minority read this.