A Chinese court in Xinjiang province, in the city of Kashgar, recently sentenced a man to six years in prison for “provoking trouble”, allegedly for wearing a beard. His wife was convicted of the same crime for wearing a veil and burqa that hid her face.
A number of local governments in Xinjiang have prohibited so-called “abnormal appearances” in public, including face veils, hijabs, burqas, long beards, and outfits bearing the crescent moon and stars. The ban was launched last year under a campaign called “Project Beauty” to promote what the state says are secular aesthetics over extremist religious thoughts. The campaign includes the establishment of village-based “beauty stations”, house calls by officials, a system of rewards and penalties, and a re-education and career-training program, among other things.
The man imprisoned in Kashgar is a 38-year-old member of China's Uyghur community, the country's second largest Muslim ethnic group, after the Hui. He started growing his beard in 2010, and has maintained it despite several warnings from the beauty-project authorities. The Kashgar court criticized him for disobeying law and intentionally “picking fights and provoking trouble”. Several others have been prosecuted for their clothes since the beginning of this year, according to a report from China Youth Daily on March 29.
Soon after news of the Kashgar trial started circulating online, however, it disappeared from the Chinese Internet. On March 30, the reporter responsible for breaking the story issued a public apology for “unprofessionalism”, but left no indication of what part of her story was inaccurate.
The microblogging service Weibo has deleted many comments about the case. Some express anxiety about the prosecution's arbitrary use of the law on “provoking trouble”.
Shifeike, a regular commentator on current affairs, warned that China's “stability-control measures” will get worse in the future. His Weibo post was deleted, but it was recovered by Free Weibo, a project that backs up the network's censored discussions:
Shifeike2014: (1) Pay attention to two key terms concerning beard control: “The beauty project” and “picking fights and provoking troubles”. (2) The court case indicates the adverse situation in Xinjiang. (3) It is hard to live near the volcano and the rumor about changing the leaderships there does not come from nowhere. (4) The future can only be worse.
The anti-corruption campaign under the Chinese President Xi Jinping has brought down many top officials in both the local and central government, including the former police chief Zhou Yongkang and state security deputy Ma Jian. It is believed that big changes in Xinjiang's local leadership are also coming.
As many Han Chinese now fear a major terrorist attack, some are in favor of the heightened prosecutions. “A Yumi” (＠啊Yumi) reposted a conversation she came across in Weibo:
@还是一碗泡面:政府总算开始干点正事了 //@李子暘:文化不是平等的，有高低优劣之分。只要有力量，就应理直气壮地消灭落后文化。 //@刘新征:保卫世俗政权，保卫女性尊严，捍卫基本的普世价值，穿“黑袍”并不是传统文化，也不是着装自由，因为一旦穿上，她就没有脱下的自由。
@”Still a cup noodle”: The government is doing something positive this time//@Li Ziyang: Culture cannot be equal. There are advanced and backward cultures. If there is the power [to do so], backward cultures should be eliminated in a straightforward manner. //@Liu Xinjeng: Protect the secular state, protect woman's dignity, defend universal value. Wearing a burqa is not traditional culture and it's not [a woman's] freedom to choose [her] clothes. Once they start to wear such clothes, they don't have the freedom to take it off.
Freedom and security are usually depicted as a trade off, when confronting terrorism. But does the Chinese government really believe it will strengthen security by imposing a dress code on a religious group?