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China’s Muslim Disneyland

HONG KONG (SE): China is spending US$3.5 billion ($27.1 billion) to turn Yinchuan, the capital of the Hui Muslim-governed Ningxia province, into a World Muslim City.

Quartz reports that the new city will be replete with a Golden Palace and Arabic street signs, as well as feature an elaborate light and dance show inspired by the version of A Thousand-and-One Nights in which Aladdin was born in China, on a regular basis.

Quartz says that it is believed to be part of the government’s larger bid to improve relations with the Arab world by emphasising its shared Sino-Arab history and culture.

Quartz points out, “China has come under criticism for its repressive treatment of Muslims, especially the Uyghur—Turkic-speaking Muslims who live in the Xinjian region.”

During 2015, Turkey denounced China’s policies towards its Muslim population, which prompted protests in Istanbul during which Chinese establishments were attacked.

In December, the Islamic State released a chant in fluent Mandarin, calling on Muslims in China to wake up and overcome a century of slavery.

Elizabeth Winkler notes that Beijing has a vested interest in promoting a more positive image of Chinese Islam, in connection with which the president, Xi Jinping, published a white paper in January this year detailing his ambitious plans to increase his country’s influence in the Middle East.

It is also significant that the decision was made not to build the theme park in Uyghur territory. Hui Muslims, unlike the Uyghur, speak Mandarin and are ethnically related to the Han majority.

In addition, they are less likely to be connected with terrorism or subject to police crackdowns, so the choice of Yinchuan shifts the focus to an officially approved version of Islam.

However, as an expression of Islam, Winkler says that it has all the authenticity, cultural sophistication and sensitivity of Disney’s Epcot Theme Park in Florida, the United States of America.

ChinaFile reports that female visitors looking for an authentic mosque experience can be fitted out with a makeshift abaya (long-sleeved, long flowing dress popular in Muslim cultures).

In deference to the tourist dollar, visitors are encouraged to dress their children in traditional outfits from the gift shop.

A 900,000 square-foot terminal is being added at the nearby airport to accommodate the hoped-for flocks of Arab tourists and direct flights from Amman and Kuala Lumpur are being negotiated.

Nevertheless, few have shown interest and China’s Muslim Disneyland has all the trappings of another expensive, ill-conceived public relations stunt to beautify a defective society.

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