KEEP­ING IN STEP WITH THE SHANG­HAI BEAT

Although he was born in the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, Ha­mutMehmut has be­come a fix­ture on the na­tional arts scene, as Cui Jia re­ports from Shang­hai.

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

As some­one who speaks the Shang­hai di­alect flu­ently and has lived in the city for more than 55 years, Hamut Mehmut calls him­self Shang­hainese. “At the same time, my iden­tity as a Uygur has al­ways mo­ti­vated me to excel, be­cause I don’t want peo­ple to say Uygurs can’t do well,” the for­mer head of the Shang­hai Ballet said.

The 69-year-old was both an­gered and sad­dened when he heard that po­lice in theXin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion had shot and killed six peo­ple sus­pected of at­tempt­ing to det­o­nate ex­plo­sives in a com­mer­cial dis­trict of Shule county, Kash­gar pre­fec­ture, on Mon­day.

He reacts the same way when­ever in­ci­dents of this kind oc­cur in the re­gion, which has a largeMus­lim pop­u­la­tion, some of whom have been rad­i­cal­ized. “I re­ally hate re­li­gious ex­trem­ism. It’s like an evil cult. I feel sad for peo­ple, es­pe­cially young peo­ple, who fall for it and lose their lives. Most of them are poorly ed­u­cated.”

Hamut said at­tacks, most of the vi­o­lent which have been linked with ex­trem­ism, have changed the public’s per­cep­tion of Uygurs. “Be­fore, peo­ple cared for and re­spected peo­ple fromXin­jiang, from the far west of China. Now we’re of­ten seen as thieves and ter­ror­ists,” he said. “Peo­ple ig­nore the 99 per­cent ofXin­jiang peo­ple who are friendly, and only fo­cus on the 1 per­cent who are the com­mon en­emy of all Chi­nese peo­ple. That hurts.”

Peo­ple need to unite in the face of a com­mon dan­ger, he said, and tar­ring all Xin­jiang peo­ple with the same brush will sim­ply cre­ate un­nec­es­sary con­flicts. “I un­der­stand why tight se­cu­rity is im­posed on peo­ple from Xin­jiang at air­ports, but it shouldn’t be done with a bad at­ti­tude. I was once ques­tioned ag­gres­sively for more than 10 min­utes in front of dozens of ballet dancers when I was lead­ing the team on an over­seas tour,” he said. “Why­couldn’t the cus­toms guy be po­lite to me in front of the troupe?”

Although Hamut’s eth­nic iden­tity never makes him feel dif­fer­ent from oth­ers, in­ci­dents like the one at the air­port are a con­stant re­minder that he’s from Xin­jiang, and and science with teach­ers from the Sovi­etUnion. He later be­came one of the first science teach­ers in Xin­jiang — at the time schools in the re­gion only taught the Qu­ran — and was head­mas­ter of a pri­mary school in Hami pre­fec­ture.

AfterShengShi­cai, a war­lord who ruled Xin­jiang be­tween 1933 and 1944, turned against the Soviet Union in 1942, Mehmut, who was be­lieved to be close to the USSR, was fre­quently ques­tioned and ha­rassed by the po­lice.

One day, he fled on a horse, car­ry­ing only a large sack of raisins, and headed for Shang­hai, which was un­der the con­trol of the Com­mu­nist Party of China. He had to leave his wife, whowaspreg­nant with­Ha­mut, but she andHa­mut­man­agedto join him when the boy was 6.

Mehmut’s deep knowl­edge of Is­lam led to his ap­point­ment as a mem­ber of Shang­hai’s Eth­nic Af­fairs Com­mit­tee in 1953. Hamut still proudly holds the “fam­ily jew­els”, the let­ters of ap­point­ment signed by pre­mier Zhou En­lai.

“My fa­ther has be­come an in­flu­en­tial fig­ure in eth­nic is­sues, and is re­spected by the Xin­jiang peo­ple be­cause he stoodup­for them,” Ha­mut­said.

Dur­ing a time of ex­treme food short­ages, Mehmut per­suaded the Shang­hai gov­ern­ment to al­low Xin­jiang peo­ple to use mar­kets that were usu­ally only open to ex­pats, and also sug­gested the con­struc­tion of aceme­tery forMus­lims.

Hamut orig­i­nally wanted to be a pi­lot, but a fine singing voice led to him be­com­ing a stu­dent at the Shang­hai Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic in 1965. He headed the Shang­hai Ballet for 16 years, and now dreams of Xin­jiang­hav­ing it­sown­com­pany. “Xin­jiang peo­ple sing and dance from the heart, so they could be the best ballet dancers in China,” he said, mo­tion­ing to a video on his cell­phone show­ing Uygur chil­dren danc­ing at a wed­ding in­Xin­jiang.

Nowre­tired, he­likes tospend time with a new gen­er­a­tion of Xin­jiang peo­ple in Shang­hai who’ve re­ceived higher ed­u­ca­tio­nan­dearned re­spectby their achieve­ments. “Grad­u­ally, they will help to change peo­ple’s views, and­be­comethe new­face ofXin­jiang.” Con­tact the writer at cui­jia@chi­nadaily.com.cn

GAO ERQIANG / CHINA DAILY

Hamut Mehmut, for­mer head of the Shang­hai Ballet, wants to do ev­ery­thing he can to help Xin­jiang peo­ple set­tle in Shang­hai.

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