Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Facial hair and subversion

The news about beards is probably only one bit in a long list of things the Chinese government wants to know about, but it makes a good headline.

China Offers Rewards for Beard Informants in Muslim-Majority Area
Authorities in western China’s restive, Muslim-majority Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region are offering rewards to locals who inform on their neighbors for “wearing beards,” government-controlled media reported this week. Islamic liturgy recommends that Muslim men wear beards.
Uighur men at a cattle market
In recent months, local officials have tightened religious restrictions on Xinjiang’s ethnic Uighurs, in response to a series of armed attacks that were allegedly perpetrated by Uighur separatists…

Informants in parts of Xinjiang’s Aksu prefecture, an epicenter of the region’s ethnic tensions, can earn anywhere from $8 to $8,000 for reporting their neighbors’ illegal religious or “separatist activity” — which can now include facial hair, according to Chinese newspaper The Global Times.

"That's a lot of money for Uighurs in the south [of the region]. There they are very poor. This is an incentive to betray their fellow Uighurs to get some financial gain," Alim Seytoff, spokesman for the Uighur rights advocacy group World Uyghur Congress (WUC), told Al Jazeera

Local authorities have attempted to suppress various ostensible signs of Muslim religiosity in the past. But Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said this appeared to be first time officials are comfortable enough with such measures to allow them to be reported in an English-language publication geared toward foreigners…

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