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Changing place names to ‘better reflect Chinese culture’ in Ningxia, and ‘wonderful’ Xinjiang

“China’s Muslim detention camps spark protests in Islamic world” reads the headline of this Wall Street Journal article (paywall) by Jeremy Page, Eva Dou, and Saeed Shah in Islamabad.The piece cites protests among “Muslim groups in India and Bangladesh,” a movement in Kazakhstan where “hundreds of people have lobbied their government for help, following the detention of several Kazakh citizens and many more ethnic Kazakh Chinese nationals in the camps,” and the fact that Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group that claims it has a million members across 40 countries, has “called on Muslims this month to be wary of Chinese investment and to oppose Chinese rule in Xinjiang.”The family of a Uyghur man detained in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) “have expressed concern that he will be deported to China,” reports Al Jazeera:Emirati police officers arrested Abudujilili Supi on Thursday after he left afternoon prayers at the Abdullah bin Rawaha mosque in Sharjah, where he worked as a muezzin, the person who calls the prayer at mosques.”Supi's wife witnessed the arrest, received no explanation about it, and received a phone call from him three days later. She has since fled to Turkey, where she told Al Jazeera that her husband “was being sent to China and that authorities had yet to respond to his request to be sent to a safer country.”A Uyghur widow in her early thirties with a young child from Aksu Prefecture in Xinjiang died in an internment camp “at the beginning of the year,” according to an officer at the Onsu Police Station who talked to journalists from the Uyghur Service of Radio Free Asia (RFA). The road and railways from Urumqi to Kashgar pass through Aksu, which has borders with Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.The Jakarta Post has published an opinion piece by China’s ambassador to Indonesia, Xiào Qiān 肖千, titled “Xinjiang, what a wonderful place.” Excerpt:

“Xinjiang, What a Wonderful Place” is a popular folk song in China that describes the beauty of Xinjiang’s countryside and pastures, the fragrance of local fruits, the solidarity between ethnic groups and the rhythmic music and dance. The song makes people feel as if they are actually in Xinjiang and are loved by friends from around the world.

The wonders of Xinjiang lie not only in its vast landmass, breathtaking scenery or abundant resources, but also in the mutual respect, solidarity and harmony among ethnic groups, cultures and beliefs and the shared aspiration to build a better home.

Xinjiang is home to 13 ethnic groups, six major religions and more than 24 million citizens. It would not have been possible to achieve harmony and inclusive development in such a diverse region without the ethnic and religious policy upheld by the Chinese government, especially its policy on freedom of religious belief.

Journalist Ben Dooley tweeted: “The men in the photo were part of an official performance. Here's my story about what we saw during the trip: You tell me if it sounds wonderful.” Dooley added:

Among the many misrepresentationsin the ambassador's letter, this one stood out to me personally: ‘Whether to open or close a halal restaurant is entirely at the discretion of its owner without any interference.’ During our trip, we ate at many restaurants that had been forced to stay open. And we visited several whose owners had been detained after they refused to serve food during Eid.

Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region(NHAR) is allegedly autonomously ruled by the Hui people, a Muslim ethnic group with a population of about eleven million.Just as Xinjiang has no autonomydespite being called the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), Ningxia is ruled by the Party with an iron fist. There are signs the repression of Islam in Xinjiang is spreading to Ningxia, where it has traditionally been less strictly controlled.The government of Ningxia “has changed a river from its Arabic-sounding name to a Chinese name in a bid to bolster traditional Chinese culture and rid the autonomous region of religious generalization,” says the Global Times.

Àiyī 爱伊, the old Chinese name for the river…sounds to some people like the Arabic word "Ayishah," said Wang Genming, a researcher at the Ningxia University institute of Hui studies. In 2017, Hui Muslims made up 36 percent of the region's population…

…The Ningxia government has changed the river name to "Diǎnnóng 典农" after an on-the-spot exploration and discussions among experts, according to the Ningxia Daily news website [in Chinese], citing the Ningxia civil affairs bureau. "Diannong" derives from the old Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) name for Ningxia's capital city, currently named Yinchuan…

"This conforms to China's policy of Sinicizing religions and adapting them to socialist society as well as fitting with local history and culture," one “expert” told the Global Times, adding that "the Diannong River can better deliver the spirit of traditional Chinese culture and trace back to history."“The Diannong is just the latest nomenclature adjustment,” says the Global Times. “Throughout the autonomous region, roads, neighborhoods and restaurants have been adopting new names to ‘better reflect Chinese culture.’”In Yinchuan, a road called China-Arab Axis (中阿之轴 zhōngā zhīzhóu) has been changed to Unity Road (团结路 tuánjié lù). In March this year, “the city began to change the road from the ‘original Arabic-style landscape to one that reflects the style of Chinese cultural elements.”Last year, Ningxia organized the 2017 China-Arab States Expo. There seems to be no plan to repeat it in 2018, although Xinhua’s web page for the 2017 event is still online.

—Jeremy Goldkorn


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