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Despite Bans, China's Uyghurs Wear their Identity with Pride

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.

Viral image

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 viral photo circulated online on March 5. Photo from Uighurbiz.net.

The viral photo circulated online on March 5. Photo from Uighurbiz.net.

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.

Sign on Urumqi city's Kashgar Library front door" Dear readers wearing the hijab or the veil are prohibited from entering the building.

Sign on Urumqi city's Kashgar Library front door: Readers wearing the hijab or the veil are prohibited from entering the building. Photo from uighurbiz.net

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:

我觉得戴花帽是每个Uyghur的梦想,因为那代表着我们的民族,象征着我们的文化。看到上高中初中的很多男生女生戴花帽我很高兴很自豪很舒服,因为戴着花帽的他们一个比一个帅,漂亮,多抢眼。我戴花帽并不是装也不是学别人,我只是在尊重我们民族的文化和特色,我爱花帽,我为uygur 和新疆代言。

Zuo Kara puts on her Taqiyah.

Zuo Kara puts on her Taqiyah.

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:

苏昱:我是汉人,但我支持你们!天朝对你们所做的,无异于蒙元满清对我们汉人所做的,完全就是反人类暴行!

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.

浪迹98:你真的很漂亮,由內而外的美麗.我覺得你說的很對,維吾爾族的文明是很燦爛的.不要像漢人一樣把什麼都丟棄掉

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.

高墩营艺术节:好看!支持!这是人家的服饰文化和习俗,宪法明文规定”各民族都有保持和改革本民族风俗习惯的自由",任何个人和组织不得干涉!

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:

公开倡导维吾尔族权益的学者伊力哈木·土赫提(Ilham Tohti)表示,“这(花帽事件)不是一个孤立的事件!限制维吾尔人的传统,习惯,穿着打扮意在弱化民族性,使维吾尔人逐步失去文化特性。事件再次提醒我们,保护民族文化及民族性(Identity)是摆在维吾尔民族面前最紧迫的问题。”
伊力哈木·土赫提还强调称,“有些事可以忍受比如身体疼痛,贫穷等等。但作为一个人的尊严被剥夺–最基本的人权被这样被糟蹋不应该忍受!作为一个民族的成员应该保护本民族的各项权益!再说,新疆当局的很多做法已经严重违反中国自己的法律,法规和宪法!”

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:

新疆当局在处理“花帽事件”时一如既往的使用了“境外势力”这一“灵丹妙药”。至此,绝大多数维吾尔人已不敢再对“花帽事件”发表看法并陷入了沉默,因为对此发表任何看法都会被当做“分裂分子”来处理。
但是,“花帽事件”并不会因为新疆当局的“辟谣”以及与“境外势力”联系在一起而结束。新疆当局长期以来限制和不尊重维吾尔文化,这一问题已经越来越严重,并持续引发维吾尔人的不满。

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.

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