New Zealand news source Stuff recently covered a story about an offensive imitation of Uyghur culture during a recent Chinese New Year’s celebration.
The display has been deemed a harmful extension of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda by some who are fully aware of the genocidal situation Uyghurs face in Xinjiang today.
The Uyghur community in New Zealand felt disrespected after what they thought was a “disgusting” performance mimicking Uyghur culture at the China Cultural Centre in Wellington, New Zealand. Han Chinese dressed up in traditional Uyghur garb and performed the traditional Uyghur dance as part of a Chinese New Year celebration, which Uyghurs do not usually take part in unless the Chinese state coerces them.
A recent BBC report highlights the current situation Uyghurs are facing in Xinjiang today. Huge numbers of Han people are migrating to Xinjiang, causing the Turkic Muslim ethnic minority to feel threatened. With nearly 12 million Uyghurs in Xinjiang, they currently make up less than half of the population. There are reports of forced labor and sterilization of Uyghurs at re-education camps in the area, where survivors from the camps have given accounts of abuse, rape, and torture.
The CCP has deployed one of its most advanced surveillance and re-education efforts in the area, insisting that “Uighur militants are waging a violent campaign for an independent state by plotting bombings, sabotage, and civic unrest.” This sentiment appears to be rhetoric used to justify the systematic violent treatment of Uyghurs since many in the international community have now classified the brutal persecution as genocide.
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Politician photographed with the Han dancers dressed as Uyghurs triggers an outcry
Stuff reported that the China Cultural Centre is founded and managed by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the People’s Republic of China. They did not respond to specific questions related to their decision to perform an Uyghur dance while there was such a conflict going on in China but claimed that they had been teaching Uyghur dance since they began in 2015. A local politician who attended the event was photographed with the Han dancers outfitted as Uyghurs, sparking outrage.
Victoria University of Wellington Asian Studies lecturer Catherine Churchman said that local politician Andy Foster did not know that he was supporting such Chinese state propaganda when he posed for pictures with the Han dancers. But given the situation in Xinjiang, his attendance was “tone-deaf.”
“If nothing was going on in Xinjiang, I probably wouldn’t have complained about it other than with a sarcastic comment – it’s the fact that mass internment and state-backed elimination of Uyghur language and culture is going on right now that makes the dancing so utterly distasteful,” Churchman said. In July last year, other Wellington politicians also took part in a similar activity where Han were imitating Uyghurs.
Anne-Marie Brady, a University of Canterbury China expert professor expressed disapproval of local politicians taking part in China’s propaganda activities in New Zealand. In her research, she has given examples of how local politicians were being used for CCP propaganda. She said that “Han Chinese dressing up as Uyghurs and performing traditional Uyghur dances is as offensive as blackface.”
In a recent interview with New Zealand’s Politik, Chinese Ambassador Wu Xi spoke highly of the relationship between New Zealand and China, claiming that a good relationship is in the best interest of both countries, but also that, “China has always followed the principle of non-interference in others’ internal affairs. At the same time, China stands ready to safeguard its core and major interests. Issues related to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Tibet all touch on China’s sovereignty and security. There is no room for foreign interference on these issues.”