‘Like a movie’: In Xinjiang, new evidence that China stages prayers, street scenes for visiting delegationsNovember 04, 2019
“One day last October, eight local officials entered Zumuret Dawut’s home in Urumqi, the regional capital of northwestern China’s Xinjiang region. They came to ask her elderly father to pray – and they promised to pay.
They said, “We will give you 20 renminbi for each time you pray,” Ms. Dawut recalled in an interview. “You will need to pray five times tomorrow. So we will give you 100 renminbi” – about $18.50.
Her 79-year-old father was puzzled. He had long since stopped attending the local mosque out of fear the authorities would see his religious observance as a sign of radicalization and place him in an indoctrination centre, as the government has done with hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the region. The mosque was considered closed.
But the officials and police said an inspection tour was being arranged that would bring dignitaries from around the world to Urumqi and they wanted the visitors to see people praying.
It amounted to staging a show, Ms. Dawut said, to create the illusion of a free and open society – part of a campaign, she and others said, of showing visitors orchestrated scenes of people in peaceful religious observance.
To quell international anxieties about Xinjiang, one of China’s most important assets has been government loyalists who have defended the indoctrination centres and, according to multiple people interviewed by The Globe and Mail, have staged intricately managed scenes filled with pedestrians, street vendors and drivers played by people – police officers, teachers, retirees – who have been screened by the authorities and assigned roles.
Ms. Dawut watched as the officials taught her father, a former worker at the Bureau of Non-ferrous Metal Industry, what to say if he was asked questions. He was to respond, “We are not prohibited from praying” or “We are not prohibited from entering the mosque.””
Police friends described similar scenes to Ms. Dawut. “They appointed people to go on the street and pretend to be vegetable vendors or shop owners or bus drivers. These are all characters that they arranged,” she said. Police officers, too, pretended “to be couples out shopping.””
In Urumqi, meanwhile, one Western researcher photographed police taking away Uyghur dancers after a performance at the Grand Bazaar, one of the region’s central tourist attractions, even though authorities have used dance as a demonstration of contentment and unity in the region.
“This is not what dance troupes do – getting into police cars without licence plates,” said Hanna Burdorf, a Newcastle University PhD student researching language education for Uyghur children in Xinjiang. She shared her photos with The Globe.
“In my opinion, this means that these dancers are being controlled by the government,” she said.