Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang have launched an ideological campaign amid ethnic tension between the Muslim Uyghur ethnic group and the rapidly growing Han Chinese migrant population, official media reported.
The campaign will focus on preventing "illegal religious activities" through the use of "patriotic education," the ruling Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, the People's Daily, reported on its website.
The campaign, titled "Modernization and progress week" was formally launched by the Xinjiang regional Party committee on Wednesday, with the aim of spreading the message about Party policies on ethnic minorities and religion, the report said.
The campaign would seek to educate the region's citizens about the law, so that they became "new model citizens with a modern attitude."
On Wednesday, the government began with holding a series of public lectures to rally mass support for the government's religious policies and to discourage illegal religious activities.
The lecture campaign will be carried out throughout the year in every village and residential community in Xinjiang, a vast region featuring a large population of Uyghurs, or ethnic Chinese Muslims, officials said Wednesday.
Lecture officials will elaborate on the government's religious policies and the danger of illegal religious activities, while lecturers from religious circles will advocate proper dress codes, patriotism and efforts to promote peace and discourage violence, local officials said said.
China's Muslim Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking ethnic minority that has long chafed under Beijing's rule, have their practice of Islam tightly regulated by the ruling Communist Party, which bans children from mosques and controls everything about their worship, from the wording of sermons to "approved" interpretations of the Quran.
According to the authorities, study of the Quran in an unauthorized location constitutes an "illegal religious activity."
A resident of Xinjiang who declined to be named said relations between Uyghurs and the huge influx of Han Chinese migrants were still very tense in the wake of massive ethnic violence in Urumqi in July 2009 and a string of attacks and violent clashes elsewhere in the region last year.
"This won't do any good, because the more they do this sort of propaganda, the more of a backlash there will be," the woman said.
"The authorities are afraid that the Turkic minorities in Xinjiang will be united by Islam," she said. "But relations between the ethnic groups in Xinjiang are very tense right now, and this [campaign] probably won't be well-received."
She said that while a small proportion of Uyghurs had seen an improvement in their living standards since the economic migrants arrived, boosting the resource-rich region's economy, this was nothing compared to the growing wealth of the migrant Han Chinese.
"Their standard of living and level of economic benefit is still far below that of the Han Chinese," she said. "And there are armed police outside every mosque, which make the atmosphere even more tense."
June Dreyer, professor of politics at the University of Miami, said she found it hard to understand how the Chinese authorities believed that yet another campaign would have any effect.
"I don't think that this will have any effect," said Dreyer, speaking through an interpreter to RFA's Mandarin service. "People on the whole tend not to like to be told what aspect of their religious practices are acceptable, such as what kind of clothing or personal adornments to wear."
"Given the situation in Xinjiang today, people are probably going to be forced to listen to this propaganda, but that doesn't mean they'll take it seriously and act on it," Dreyer said.
"Afterwards, people will probably still just do what they want."
Previous campaigns in Xinjiang have targeted Uyghurs who wear veils or beards, groups who meet to discuss the Quran in private, and Uyghur children or state employees who fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
Last year, Beijing ramped up security before and during for the five-day China-Eurasia Expo trade fair in Urumqi. The added security measures came in the wake of separate attacks in the Silk Road cities of Kashgar and Hotan that killed more than 30 people in July.
Exile Uyghur groups say the authorities launch house-to-house raids in "strike hard" security campaigns every three months in Xinjiang, targeting Uyghur households in the middle of the night, and detaining anyone found in possession of religious material deemed unacceptable by Beijing, as well as photos, writings and DVDs featuring exiled Uyghur dissident Rebiya Kadeer.
Xi Wang, "Ideological Campaign Launched in Xinjiang" Radio Free Asia February 17, 2012
"Xinjiang uses mass lectures to fight illegal religious activities" Xinhua February 16, 2012
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today