The provincial government banned in April all Islam-related writings and symbols on public signages and private residences, also in businesses, like shops and cafes.
by Han Sheng
On April 23, the Ethnic and Religion Affairs Commission of the central province of Henan issued the Notice on the Renewal or Issuance of Halal Food Certificates. It stipulates that production and retail venues cannot be decorated with religious images, tapestries, spray-paintings, and inscriptions. Signboards in Arabic or having religious connotations or elements “suspected of propagating religion” are also banned.
The same restrictions apply to the packaging of goods, company names, and external appearances of buildings. No symbols and signs, like the crescent moon and star, images of mosques and religious clothing, traditional Muslim patterns and ornaments, or writings in Arabic, can be de displayed on them.
After the notice was issued, local governments across Henan launched campaigns to remove all texts in Arabic and Islam-related symbols or patterns.
From mid-April to late June, symbols in Arabic were removed from at least 300 shops in Zhongmu county administered by the provincial capital Zhengzhou. Islam-related symbols and patterns were ordered to be eliminated from tableware, kitchen utensils, menus, and aprons.
“Government officials first ordered to remove the writings in Arabic from my signboard,” a local Hui restaurant owner remembered. “When they noticed the crescent on my apron, they told to replace it with another one without the symbol.”
“Officials removed all writings in Arabic inside and outside my restaurant,” the proprietor of a Hui restaurant in Zhengzhou’s Gaoxin district said. “They also banned Arabic characters on bowls and chopsticks, claiming that such religion-related issues are splitting the state.” He believes that with such crackdowns, the government is eradicating Islam step by step, “killing people with a dull knife.”
“These are merely symbols or decorations; they don’t promote religion, nor they pose any threats to the state, but the government controls us this way,” a Hui restaurant owner in Sanmenxia city was angry. “The Communist Party is not confident in its power. It is not merely an order to replace signboards; it’s the suppression of Islam, an intensifying control over Hui people and their culture.”
Texts in Arabic on menus are also being purged. “These texts on menus state that the food here is halal, fit to be eaten by Muslims. Without them, people are not sure,” a Hui restaurant owner in Zhengzhou city said. “The government ‘sinicizes’ religion, forcefully assimilates it into Chinese culture. If this goes on, our religion will be lost, and Hui people will be no different from Hans. This is suppression.”
According to preliminary statistics, nearly 1,400 shops in Pingdingshan city alone have been cleared of Islamic symbols since the order was issued in April. In Xingyang city—from over 400 shops. Officials threatened to close businesses if owners protested. Even hotels and street vendors’ carts have not been spared. In Luohe city, such symbols were removed from 420 enterprises.
The Chinese characters for “Muslims” were removed from the Liu village signboard “Liu Village Muslims Welcome You” in Nanyang city’s Fangcheng county. Similarly, the signage of the county’s Bai village has been changed to “Bai Village People Welcome You.” Texts in Arabic on ceramic tiles on Hui residents’ houses were covered up or replaced with Chinese characters for “Harmony in a family makes everything successful” and the like.
In August, inscriptions in Arabic were covered up on the lintels of 134 Hui houses in Fangcheng county. In Pingdingshan’s Jia county, writings on 104 residences were replaced with landscape paintings.
“The government has prepared these landscape paintings beforehand and replaced the inscriptions in Arabic on August 8, the same day the households received the official notice about it. No one dared to protest,” a Jia county resident explained. He believes that the authorities fear that Huis will strengthen their Islamic identity, and this will pose a threat to the regime.
The visiting officials refused to show the residents the relevant documents that would explain how the policy is implemented, claiming that the public could not view the texts.
“The government is not restricted in controlling us, demolishing mosques, and purging writings in Arabic,” another local Hui man said indignantly. “This is an insult to the Hui people, but we are suffering in silence because we cannot complain to anyone.”
“Who knows what Xi Jinping’s policy is?” a Hui shop keeper in Zhengzhou asked. “He is bullying ethnic minorities: Tibetans, Mongolians, and Uyghurs. Only one ethnic group will be left in ten or twenty years after all 56 ethnic groups are assimilated.”
A local halal roast chicken shop owner believes that by eliminating writings in Arabic, the government targets the Hui people. “The Communist Party does not allow any ethnic group to develop, fearing to lose control,” the proprietor said.
A Hui restaurant owner in Henan’s Yuzhou city raised a national flag to protect her business. The woman hopes to be spared persecution if officials see that she was patriotic. “It’s hard to run a business now,” she lamented with a grim smile.