Buildings in traditional Islamic style and any signs with relevance to Muslim faith are disappearing from areas inhabited by China’s Hui Muslims.
by Ma Xiagu
A public square loses all Islamic characteristics
Dongguan village, located in Longnan city in the northwestern province of Gansu, is inhabited predominantly by Hui Muslims. The village’s Dongguan Muslim Square is a popular place for residents to relax.
Last October, Islamic-style buildings in the middle of the square were dismantled under orders by the government. Anything bearing Islamic symbols – including the signs in Arabic in the middle of the square and Islamic religious rules engraved on the perimeter wall – have been removed in the period of three days.
The name has been changed to Dongguan Square, and two Islamic-style buildings in the square have been “sinicized,” changing their appearance to Chinese-style pavilions. Islamic religious tenets that were originally displayed on the perimeter wall have been replaced with communist propaganda.
The dome-shaped buildings in Dongguan Muslim Square now look like Chinese-style pavilions:
“After seeing the square transformed, I couldn’t sleep for two nights. I’m scared thinking about what will happen to us Hui people in the future,” a villager commented on the makeover of the square.
On Minzu Road in Xifeng district of Gansu’s Qingyang city, numerous signboards in Arabic and ethnic Hui characteristics used to be displayed on the part of the road called Halal Food Street. They recently have been replaced with signs written uniformly in Chinese characters against a green background.
“Officials from the city’s United Front Work Department, Civil Affairs Bureau, and Religious Affairs Bureau, as well as Xijie Subdistrict Office came to the neighborhood to tell us that the local government is focusing on this street. Government officials brought people to replace the signs quickly,” said a shop assistant. “The Communist Party fears that if there are more of us who believe in Islam, we won’t obey the Communist Party and will subvert the state.”
A Hui street located in the Yuanjia village tourist attraction of Xianyang city, in the northwestern province of Shaanxi, also ran into misfortune. A subdistrict management official told Bitter Winter that apart from demanding the removal of Arabic lettering and religious symbols at the main entrance to the street, even shopping bags for customers are not allowed to bear the Arabic words for “halal.”
Hui people live in an atmosphere of intense fear
Last September, Islamic symbols were forcibly removed from the entrance to a mosque in Huating county, under the jurisdiction of Gansu’s Pingliang city. In the eyes of Hui residents, the removal of symbols means even more disastrous times ahead. “Looking at the current trend, perhaps the CCP will tear down all of the Hui people’s mosques in the future,” a local Muslim expressed a general feeling of residents in the area.
In July last year, the local government raised the national flag at the mosque; and before prayers, CCP’s policies are promoted. The Arabic language for worshiping is forbidden; everyone must pray in Chinese.
Some residents of Pingliang expressed to Bitter Winter their worries that the restrictions on and persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang, such as the requirement for women to remove their headscarves or prohibitions on fasting during Ramada, may soon be implemented in Gansu. One of the interviewed persons mentioned that he had heard stories from Xinjiang of mineral water and sunflower seeds or other snacks placed at the entrance to work units for Hui workers to consume during the periods of fasting. Those who don’t are punished.
Another resident added that every Hui household in Xinjiang is subjected to surveillance by personnel from of fanghuijug – an acronym for Visit the People, Benefit the People, and Get Together the Hearts of the People – government-established teams that visit the homes of the Muslim population of Xinjiang to gather data on them. “They say that this is ‘eating together, residing together, and living together with the Hui people.’ In reality, they’re monitoring everything that Hui people say and do,” the man said, referring to the so-called “stay-home” program implemented in Xinjiang.
Islam-related shop names replaced
Ethnic Hui residents in the northeastern province of Jilin are facing a hard time, too. Among the imposed restrictions is the requirement to change the names of the shops that they operate.
“Islamic Hot Pot City” is an old restaurant, opened more than 20 years ago in Yanji city. In March, the local government demanded to remove the three Chinese characters for “Islamic,” and the restaurant is now called “Huihuiying Hot Pot City.”
A signboard “Islamic [Yīsīlán] Dream Wedding Dresses and Photography” in Jilin city’s Chuanying district was replaced with “Yīlán Dream Wedding Dresses and Photography” by removing the second character of the Chinese word for “Islam.”
For the same reason, “Muslim [Mùsīlín] Barbecue” in Changchun city was changed to “Sīlín Barbecue,” removing the first character in the Chinese word for “Muslim.” Soon after, the two Chinese characters Sīlín were also prohibited. In the end, the owner had no choice but to change the signboard to read “Large Pieces of Meat Barbecue.”
A shop owner told Bitter Winter that the government prohibited him from having words like “Muslim,” “Islamic,” and “halal” in the name of his shop. “Islamabad [Yīsīlánbǎo] Restaurant” in Jilin city has been changed to Yīxiānglánbǎo because the government doesn’t allow names that bear particularly strong ethnic connotations.