Teach­ing tol­er­ance and un­der­stand­ing

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By CUI JIA

As an en­er­getic young English teacher in Bei­jing, Nu­rali Abliz from Urumqi, the cap­i­tal of the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, is pas­sion­ate about two things: teach­ing his stu­dents fun ways to mas­ter the lan­guage, and pass­ing on the pos­i­tive en­ergy of his na­tive re­gion.

When the 26-year-old Uygur, who refers to him­self as Ali, at­tended the in­ter­view­for his cur­rent job, he sud­denly re­al­ized he was wear­ing a T-shirt bear­ing the slo­gan “pos­i­tive en­ergy” un­der his shirt. Although it was purely co­in­ci­den­tal, that’s ex­actly the feel­ing he wants to cre­ate.

He cer­tainly caused a buzz last year when he made a speech called “Lift­ing the Veil on Your Face”, on Su­per Speaker, a popular TV pro­gram where the contestants vied to win the ti­tle of “China’s Best Speech­maker 2014”.

Ali said he didn’t en­ter the com­pe­ti­tion to win, but to change public per­cep­tions of Xin­jiang peo­ple. At the be­gin­ning of his speech, he donned a doppa — the tra­di­tional flat hat worn by Uygur men — and said some peo­ple put la­bels on Xin­jiangers and the re­gion with­out both­er­ing to chal­lenge the stereo­types, such as ev­ery­one rid­ing don­keys to work or be­ing skill­ful bar­beque chefs.

He then re­moved the hat, and said gen­er­al­iza­tions are com­mon­place, and every­body suf­fers them at some point, no mat­ter where they come from.

Ali be­came a teacher when he was a 19-year-old stu­dent at Pek­ing Uni­ver­sity in Bei­jing, one of China’s most pres­ti­gious seats of learn­ing. Now, his ac­count on Sina Weibo, a Chi­nese Twit­ter-like so­cial net­work where he reg­u­larly posts fun, English-ori­ented videos, has more than 3 mil­lion fol­low­ers.

In ad­di­tion to teach­ing ma­te­ri­als, Ali also posts home­made videos to clear up mis­un­der­stand­ings about Xin­jiang. “Gen­er­al­iza­tions can lead to dis­crim­i­na­tion, and ig­no­rance mixed with a lit­tle fear can spark ha­tred,” he said.

To il­lus­trate his point, he re­ferred to a well-known in­ci­dent in Hu­nan prov­ince in De­cem­ber 2013, when a man from the ma­jor­ity Han eth­nic group was ar­rested and pun­ished af­ter a scuf­fle with a cou­ple of Uygur men. The fight started af­ter the man ac­cused the ven­dors of cheat­ing him on the price and weight of a slice of nut cake, which was heav­ier and more costly than he’d as­sumed.

Made with a mix­ture of nuts, sweets and rice, nut cake is a Uygur spe­cialty that’s popular across China. In Xin­jiang the cakes are typ­i­cally sold by ven­dors who cut slices from the large slabs they carry on their tri­cy­cles.

When­the man, whomany peo­ple be­lieved had been cheated, was or­dered to pay com­pen­sa­tion of more than 152,000 yuan ($24,403), the public re­ac­tion was heated. The in­ci­dent sparked na­tional head­lines, and prompted fierce de­bate and claims that Xin­jiangers rou­tinely cheat peo­ple from other eth­nic groups.

In re­sponse, Ali posted a video in which he wore a doppa and ex­plained that the costly in­gre­di­ents mean the cake is al­ways ex­pen­sive. He also joked about how much money he’d made from sell­ing the cakes. In a more se­ri­ous vein, he urged the public not to la­bel Xin­jiang peo­ple as cheats, and pointed out that one bad ap­ple doesn’t spoil the whole bar­rel.

“When peo­ple ask me about the prob­lem, I al­ways give the same an­swer: The ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is wrong. Only ed­u­ca­tion can pro­vide the crit­i­cal think­ing skills that can pre­vent false la­bels be­ing put on Xin­jiang peo­ple, but an ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem that only teaches stu­dents how to achieve a good score won’t achieve that,” he said. “I want to change many things in so­ci­ety for the bet­ter, but first I will need to be­come a stronger per­son.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.