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Observers outside the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region show concern about the pan-halal tendency while local residents are less worried about the role Islam is playing in public life.
The Ningxia government has taken measures in response to heated discussions on the pan-halal tendency, including removing guideboards that used to have China and Arabic script and placing clear limits on halal food.
As a resident of Yinchuan, Northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Xia Yi (pseudonym), 29, has noticed some changes to his city – guideboards that used to have Chinese and Arabic script are now Chinese-only and Islamic-style architecture is now rarely shown on local TV.
“I noticed that during the recent discussion online about the pan-halal tendency in Ningxia some netizens even referred to the region as ‘Ningxiastan,’ especially after the controversy over the Ningxia University halal canteens,” Xia said.
A few online posts complaining that Ningxia University does not offer enough non-halal dining halls snowballed into a national controversy in the middle of August, with many non-Muslim Chinese claiming that Muslims are given favorable treatment to an unfair degree.
Xia, who graduated from Ningxia University in 2011, explained that “most of the time we had dinner with classmates of the Hui ethnicity, so we usually went to the halal canteens for courtesy’s sake, which became our habit. This may be the reason for there being fewer non-halal dining halls in the campus than the halal ones,” Xia said. The Hui ethnic group is predominantly Muslim.
“But the discussion on the pan-halal tendency is quite necessary as more and more things related to Islam could be seen in Ningxia in recent years. This may be one reason that some people worry that the pan-halal tendency will extend to everything in our daily lives,” Xia said.
Harmony at home
Liu Ta (pseudonym) from Wuzhong, a city where more than half of the population are Hui, told the Global Times that it is normal for cities in Ningxia to be influenced by Islam as so many people living there are Hui, but a good balance should be maintained.
According to local government data, Ningxia has more than 2.4 million Hui, accounting for 36 percent of the total population.
Visitors who come to Ningxia cannot miss the influence of Hui culture – women wearing headscarves, many snack stands and restaurants identifying themselves as halal, a building that looks like the white cap worn by many Hui men.
“Many of the Han people in Ningxia are used to halal food. Not eating pork is a small sacrifice we have made to keep ethnic unity,” Liu joked.
However, the Ningxia government has taken measures against the pan-halal tendency and Islamic thought influenced by theologies common in Arab nations, which is referred to as Arabization.
Labels designating products as halal are needed for some food products, but some firms have labeled water, rice and other daily necessities as halal, which has caused confusion in society, Li Jianhua, secretary of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Regional Committee of the Communist Party of China, told the media during the annual two national legislative sessions in Beijing in March.
Li admitted that there are signs of the pan-halal tendency in Ningxia, but it is not unstoppable. “We should place clear limits on halal food to avoid misunderstandings between different ethnicities,” Li said.
The Ningxia Ethnic Affairs Commission vowed in May to do well in on ideological work related to ethnicity and religion, and pay attention to related online discussions, read a press release on the website of the Ningxia government.
The commission will properly handle the pan-halal and Arabization tendencies, promoting socialist core values and placing national flags in religious sites.
The local government has also made efforts to manage public opinion on social media in an effort to eliminate negative influences.
Compared with the previous ChinaArab States Expos held in Yinchuan, fewer guests wearing Islamic clothing were spotted during the 2017 expo from September 6 to 9.
An intern working at a local media outlet told the Global Times that the local government publicity department asked the media not to focus on Islamic factors,