Attempt to standardize Uyghur traditional clothing latest excessive intrusion into personal religious lives of Uyghurs

For immediate release
May 15, 2014, 11:10am EST
Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project +1 (202) 478 1920

The Uyghur American Association (UAA) is concerned that a regional directive regarding the standardization of traditional Uyghur clothing is an excessive intrusion into the private lives and decisions of the Uyghur people in East Turkestan. UAA is troubled that this latest initiative by Chinese officials will label as suspicious those Uyghurs choosing to wear clothes not listed as “government approved.”

“The Chinese government is making what it thinks is an attempt to flush out Uyghurs under the influence of so called ‘extremism.’ However, this move is another indicator of increasingly repressive measures that limit the religious freedom of the Uyghur people,” said UAA president, Alim Seytoff in a statement from Washington, DC. “The alleged standardization of traditional Uyghur clothing, as well as the recent publication of a Shayar County notice asking for informants to report on Uyghurs practicing the customary aspects of their faith show local authorities are ready to follow through on Xi Jinping’s threat to crack down on the region. As ever, these crackdowns are counterproductive, as it is ordinary Uyghurs who are made to suffer.”

A May 13, 2014 report in the Chinese state media outlet, Tianshan explained how “the office of a small leadership group for standardization work at the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Bureau of Quality and Technology Supervision” planned to liaise with other government departments to standardize the characteristics of traditional ethnic minority dress in the region. According to the report, the initiative was spurred by concern for the slow “disappearance” of traditional Uyghur clothing due to the influence of the “three evil forces of extremism, separatism and terrorism.” The article continues by asserting: “a minority of the Xinjiang public is blindly adopting foreign clothes with an extremist religious character.” The standardization work is scheduled to be completed by 2015 for the Uyghur and by 2020 for other non-Han Chinese people in the region.

On May 8, 2014, the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) published a translation of an April 16, 2014 notice released on the Shayar County government website detailing rewards for information on 53 proscribed behaviors. Informants could be rewarded with payments of 50 Yuan to 50,000 Yuan (8 USD to 8,000 USD) for notifying authorities of suspicious conduct including 18 religious activities, among them customary practices. The Shayar County document described how rewards would be issued to residents “[d]iscovering people with bizarre dress or growing a long beard.”

The Chinese administration in East Turkestan has frequently regulated the dress behavior of Uyghurs. In a 2013 report on religious restrictions in East Turkestan, UHRP documented a pattern of control since 2008 over this personal aspect of Uyghur lives. Uyghurs interviewed by UHRP told researchers how Chinese officials demanded the removal of “Islamic” clothing from male and female Uyghurs, even in public spaces.

UHRP’s report also discusses a notice issued by the City of Kashgar People’s Court Party Committee on July 5, 2012 that outlines the “religious atmosphere” in the city. The document relates how the wearing of beards is not a custom among young Uyghurs and officials should promote the concept of “beautiful women,” referring to unveiled Uyghur women.

Following through on the latter of these recommendations, in 2013 Kashgar authorities developed an initiative called “Project Beauty,” in which state officials encouraged local women not to wear headscarves or veils. Government workers occupied street stalls in order to identify women wearing the offending clothing in public. Once they had been singled out, women wearing headscarves or veils were filmed using surveillance cameras and forced to watch a film on the benefits of unveiling. The author of a November 26, 2013 article in Foreign Policy on the initiative called “Project Beauty” “an underhanded campaign to put beauty ideals to work in the name of national security.”

Furthermore, 2010 restrictions in Kucha County described bans on headscarves and beards and equated non-Islamic appearance with civility. In 2011, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China reported campaigns in East Turkestan that connected religious clothing to “religious extremism” and “backwardness.”

Xinjiang actively promotes standardization of traditional minority clothes

May 13, 2014 10:17. From Tianshan News

Recently, according to the office of a small leadership group for standardization work at the XUAR [Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region] Bureau of Quality and Technology Supervision, multiple departments in Xinjiang are in the process of cooperating to accelerate work to standardize ethnic minority traditional clothing in order to preserve and enhance ethnic minority traditional clothing culture and to promote the healthy development of Xinjiang’s modern clothing industry.

Xinjiang has the largest area of any provincial region in China, and since ancient times it is a region in which different ethnicities, religions and cultures have flourished together. A crossroads of four major cultures and a cultural and economic hub for East and West, the Silk Road has crossed Eurasia, tens of thousands of miles, continuously for thousands of years, right through Xinjiang. Xinjiang’s ethnic clothing culture has a long standing, with 4,000 years of history, from the fur clothing of the early Qin dynasty to the silk clothing of the Han and Tang dynasties, and it occupies an important place in the history of China’s clothing development. For the 13 native ethnic groups of Xinjiang especially, including the Uyghur, Han, Kazakh, Hui, Mongol, Kirgiz, Xibo, Tajik, Uzbek, Manchurian, Daghur, Tatar and Russian, the recent modern clothing of each group has a special character, is uniquely colorful, and they are a bunch of wonderful flowers in China’s cultural artistic treasure.

Following the development of the modern society and improvement of people’s living standards, people of different ethnicities, and especially young men and women, favor modern fashions. This modern culture has brought Xinjiang’s minority nationalities’ clothing into a period of unprecedented industrialized development. However, as some typical traditional clothes have slowly disappeared, the diversity of traditional clothing has been gradually obscured, and Xinjiang minorities’ traditional clothing culture, like other ethnic clothing cultures, faces a conflict. In recent years, as a result of the negative influence of the “three evil forces” [of separatism, terrorism and religious extremism], a minority of the public in Xinjiang has blindly adopted foreign clothing with an extremist religious character. This has had a negative influence on Xinjiang’s traditional culture and clothing, and also caused concern for knowledgeable people: will Xinjiang’s unique style of doppa [four cornered Uyghur hat] and etles [Uyghur silk] disappear?

In order to reform radically, several bureaus including the XUAR Propaganda Department, XUAR Department of Quality Supervision, Economic Information Committee, Department of Culture, Department of Education, and State Assets Administration Committee have joined together to develop and improve standards for traditional ethnic clothing. Standardization skills will be utilized to protect and develop ethnic clothing traditions which have been passed on through generations, to preserve the accuracy and authenticity of the fundamental elements of traditional ethnic clothing culture, and by means of standardization to systematize and standardize the traditional clothing of each ethnic group in Xinjiang, and form a standardized system of each ethnic group’s traditional clothing.

It is reported that Xinjiang ethnic minority traditional clothing standardization work will touch upon multiple spheres including historic materials, ethnicity research, cultural research, folk culture research, clothing design, clothing samples, and preparation of standards. The scale of work will be great, and the research and preparation will be serious. The XUAR government has proposed that the Xinjiang ethnic minority traditional clothing standardization work should be pursued on the principles of a “standardization sequence, of outstanding characteristic, cross-departmental, and gradually implemented” to deal with any difficulties in sequence and gradually make progress over several years. In 2014, standardization research work will be launched for Uyghur traditional clothing in primary area, to examine and approve a working standard of vocabulary to classify and code Uyghur traditional clothing. In 2015, [we will] construct a standard framing system for Uyghur traditional clothes, research and draft standard principles for Uyghur traditional clothes and a corresponding system of techniques, and essentially determine a standard system of Uyghur traditional clothing. [We will] manufacture a representative material model of Uyghur traditional clothing. From 2016-2020, [we will] gradually establish a standard system for other minorities’ traditional clothes such as Kazakh and Kirgiz, and gradually construct and complete a standardized system with distinguishing features for each of the major minorities in Xinjiang.

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