What’s in a name?

New rules to combat extremism in Xinjiang


New rules in Xinjiang on naming kids, growing beards and wearing veils

In the not-too-distant past some Chinese gave their children names to reflect the country’s revolutionary struggle: Jianguo or ‘build the nation’ was common after the founding of Communist China in 1949, and Kangmei or ‘resist US aggression’ was popular during the Korean war. But Beijing doesn’t want its own ethnic groups to adopt a similar practice.

This month the police in Xinjiang banned the Uighur ethnic minority in the region from giving their children overtly religious or political names.

Among those now illegal: Jihad, Saddam, Mujahideen – a police woman in Urumqi said. Children bearing “sensitive” or “extremist” names will be refused hukou (household registration) and thus be prevented from attending school.

According to a photo of the full document procured by Taiwan’s Central News Agency, the list also includes the names Turkestan or Crescent Moon which are references to an independent Uighur nation.

Xinjiang is home to about 10 million Uighurs who speak a language similar to Turkish and practice Islam.

Many say they are treated as second class citizens by Han Chinese in mineral-rich Xinjiang. They resent decades of state-sponsored resettlement of millions of Han Chinese to the large region and the restrictions placed on their faith and daily lives. There are periodic attacks on government forces in the area (and beyond) which the central government labels as terrorism inspired by outside forces.

Since the arrival of the new Party secretary Chen Quanguo last August the government has ratcheted up the security presence in the region and introduced more “anti-extremist” laws.

On March 30 the regional parliament confirmed a law that made it illegal to grow an “abnormal” beard, wear a veil, or use religious instead of civil procedures to marry or divorce. Other examples of extremist behaviour listed in the legislation include exceeding limits on family size or refusing to watch state TV. The law also reminded government employees they were responsible for upholding “national unity” and preventing “illegal religious activity”.

Only a few days before the new edict a village official in Hotan prefecture was demoted for refusing to smoke in front of Uighur elders. His actions were deemed too deferential and he was accused of having an “irresolute political stance” and “not holding the banner of anti-extremism high enough,” the Hotan Daily said.

Part of the reason for the crackdown is Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Summit in Beijing next month. Xinjiang, which borders eight countries including Pakistan, Russia and Kazakhstan, will play an important role in the Belt – the overland part –  and instability there would make the project seem less attractive.

To make sure that doesn’t happen, Chen, who was previously Party secretary in Tibet, has orders to construct thousands of so-called “convenience police stations” on street corners – and to hire 30,000 new police officers.

Meanwhile military spending in the region grew nearly 20% in 2016 to more than Rmb30 billion ($4.35 billion).

In February, tens of thousands of police and paramilitary troops took part in mass “anti-terror” exercises across four of Xinjiang’s largest cities and at the ‘Two Meetings’ in March Xi Jinping urged security forces to erect a “Great Wall of Steel” and to bring “lasting peace and stability”.

Also assisting: Eric Prince, a former US Navy Seal officer and the founder of security firm Blackwater, who announced last month that his new company Frontier Services Group would be setting up bases in Yunnan and  Xinjiang to help firms using the new Silk Road.

Meanwhile in the villages around Hotan, Uighurs are being made to attend weekly flag-raising ceremonies where they are expected to pledge allegiance to the Chinese state. Photos on Xinjiang government websites show whole families waiting in line to have their IDs scanned to prove attendance.

“The solemn ceremony affected the villagers, stimulated patriotic feelings and enhanced a sense of national identity and belonging,” a government report said.

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