China’s Alibaba in ‘fly­ing pig’ con­tro­versy

Malta Independent - - WORLD -

A Chi­nese Mus­lim’s call for ecom­merce giant Alibaba to re­name one of its ser­vices be­cause it uses the word “pig” has sparked a back­lash in China.

It all be­gan when Alibaba changed the name of its pop­u­lar travel book­ing app from Al­itrip to one that means “Fly­ing Pig” in Chi­nese. Its English name is Fliggy.

Over the week­end, Uighur busi­ness­man Adil Memet­tur crit­i­cised this de­ci­sion on pop­u­lar mi­croblog­ging net­work Sina Weibo, where he has hun­dreds of thou­sands of fol­low­ers.

He noted that the app is pop­u­lar among mi­nori­ties be­cause it lets peo­ple whose names have un­usual spellings make book­ings.

“But now that Al­itrip has changed its name to Fly­ing Pig, I can only unin­stall it, and maybe all my Mus­lim friends too, be­cause the word “pig” is taboo to Mus­lims all over the world. Alibaba is an in­ter­na­tional cor­po­ra­tion, could it take Mus­lim taboos into con­sid­er­a­tion?” he said.

His post quickly sparked con­dem­na­tion and ridicule from other Chi­nese on­line, with some ask­ing if this meant China had to ex­punge all ref­er­ences to pigs in pop­u­lar cul­ture and lit­er­a­ture.

“We each have our own way of life; we do not force you to live ac­cord­ing to our rules, but you can­not force us to change the law,” said Weibo user Fire­fly­inred. Mr Memet­tur quickly took down the post and on Sun­day night he posted an apol­ogy.

Alibaba said that they de­cided to rebrand the app to ap­peal to a younger de­mo­graphic. “We em­brace di­ver­sity and re­spect all creeds and re­li­gions.

The name change is meant to re­flect the de­mo­graphic’s as­pi­ra­tions to pur­sue dreams, sit back and en­joy life,” said the spokesman.

The vis­ceral push­back stems from the fact that the pig oc­cu­pies an im­por­tant place in Chi­nese cul­ture.

Pork is not only a sta­ple of Chi­nese cui­sine - the govern­ment keeps a na­tional re­serve of pork in case of mar­ket short­ages - but the pig is also cel­e­brated in folk­lore and the Chi­nese zo­diac.

On­line, the re­ac­tion to Mr Memet­tur has been in­tense, of­ten de­scend­ing into deroga­tory com­ments and in­sult­ing jokes about Mus­lims and Uighur cul­ture.

It has also high­lighted how gaps in un­der­stand­ing be­tween Mus­lim mi­nori­ties and the Han Chi­nese ma­jor­ity can arise.

Be­cause of their rel­a­tively small num­bers, con­cen­trated mostly in the West, Mus­lims still do not fig­ure largely in Chi­nese pub­lic dis­course.

China’s 21 mil­lion Mus­lims, com­pris­ing mi­nor­ity eth­nic groups such as the Huis and Uighurs, make up only 1.6% of the pop­u­la­tion, with the rest from the Han eth­nic ma­jor­ity and they have mostly co-ex­isted peace­fully.

The western prov­ince of Xin­jiang, home to many Chi­nese Uighurs, has seen un­rest with res­i­dents say­ing they have been eco­nom­i­cally and cul­tur­ally dis­placed by a grow­ing in­flux of Han mi­grants. Vi­o­lence there has been at­trib­uted by the au­thor­i­ties to Is­lamist mil­i­tants and sep­a­ratists - rights groups point to in­creas­ingly tight con­trol by Bei­jing.

In this in­stance some on­line, like blog­ger Han Dongyan, have called for re­spect and calm.

“Don’t ex­tend this to all Mus­lims... (Mr Memet­tur) has made a mis­take and he can be crit­i­cised, but don’t re­spond to an ex­treme with an­other ex­treme and tar them all with the same brush, this is wrong too!” he wrote in one pop­u­lar post.

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