Communist officials move in with Uighur Muslims to promote ‘unity’

The Times, 12 January 2018

By Jamie Fullerton – More than a million Chinese Communist officials have been ordered to move into the houses of Muslim Uighur familes in an attempt to instil pro-party values.

The “unity weeks” involve workers living with families to ensure their loyalty to the party and, according to state media, teaching them to “practise the spirit of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China”.

The introduction of new “relatives” to families is one of many measures Beijing has introduced to promote party loyalty ahead of religion in Xinjiang province, which is home to 11 million people from the Uighur minority. Families have also been told to display President Xi’s portrait in their living rooms and take part in national flag-raising ceremonies and oaths of loyalty.

The communist “relatives” encourage their surrogate families to report to the authorities anyone they suspect of the “three evil forces” of terrorism, separatism and extremism.

The government fears unrest in Xinjiang and has cracked down on those practising religion there. Surveillance and security measures have also been introduced, which critics say have essentially turned the region into a police state.

One official, surnamed Niu, was placed with a family in Xinjiang’s Yengisar county. According to the state-runnewspaper Global Times he used the Uighur language to “discuss the 19th CPC National Congress and let villagers realise that the good changes in their lives were brought about by the Party and the government, and that they should work hard, listen to and follow the Party”.

Communist officials also helped children with homework, made friendly gestures such as paying for family members’ train tickets and encouraged their hosts to share stories about loyal Chinese soldiers and farmers.

“The wife of the Uighur villager [mentioned in a story] was on the verge of tears as she listened to those stories,” the paper reported. “She said that morals from those stories can lead them to a promising path out of poverty. In the end, all the members of the meeting took an oath in front of a Party flag.”

The family home-stay projects first took place in 2016. The latest round was last month. Last October, when another round took place, Radio Free Asia reported that party officials were stopping their hosts from practising religion.

An earlier round started on May 25, 2017, the day before the beginning of Ramadan, when Muslims traditionally fast. Officials stayed in families’ homes for up to 15 days during the festival. A police officer, speaking anonymously, said at the time: “We all signed a letter of responsibility guaranteeing that we won’t fast. Most of the content [in the letter] is the same as last year. However, this year we are required to monitor our families, our neighbours and even the families that we are responsible for and persuade them not to fast.”

Global Times said that Xiong Kunxin, a professor of ethnic studies at Minzu University in Beijing, had “slammed reports” about the home stay scheme threatening religious freedom. The newspaper said that negative reports were written by “some people who have ulterior motives deliberately distorting facts”.