Images in Red: Han Culture, Uyghur Performers, Chinese New YearFebruary 23, 2018
Unlike in years past, this year Uyghurs were asked to perform their Han affinity by participating in Han cultural events. Although “Chinese New Year” is not an exclusively Han tradition, it is seen as un-Islamic and experienced as exclusively Han by most Uyghurs. In the past Uyghurs have nearly universally abstained from writing couplets and pasting them over the frames of their doors, lighting fireworks, making dumplings, and forcing their children to dress in Han traditional clothing and perform Han cultural myths. As seen in the state media clip above and the images below, this year was different.
This year, according to reports that have filtered out of the region, fines were put in place for those that did not perform their fealty to the state by dressing in red and pasting couplets over the door to their house. Many Uyghurs were also asked to attend dumpling-making celebrations with their Han “older brothers” and “older sisters.” Since asking whether or not the dumplings were stuffed with pork would have been a sign of a lack of love for Han culture, many allegedly were forced to eat dumplings without asking if the meat that was used was pork. Many of those that participated in these events said that they were crying on the inside while smiling on the outside.
These images are ubiquitous. All Uyghurs outside of China have seen them: strange banners and couplets pasted to the doorways of their natal homes in the Uyghur homeland. Portraits of family members and Uyghur cultural figures dressed in red or carrying the Chinese flag declaring their love for Han cultural traditions and the beneficence of the state.”‘
The sheer number of the images documenting the celebrations are remarkable. Many of the activities appear to be staged for the camera and for Internet circulation. In all cases the images demonstrate that the women and children who have not been taken to the reeducation camps are loyal to the Chinese state. They also demonstrate the warm-hearted paternalism of Han state workers. It is as though the state workers feel as though they are leading by example. If they simply demonstrate how wonderful Han traditions are, Uyghurs will be able to imagine themselves as becoming Han.
At the same time that these images and videos of forced celebration among those who are not yet in the prison system began to circulate, videos and stories of the forced patriotism of Uyghur detainees was also widely circulated among Uyghurs in the diaspora.