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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

More on the Acrobat Defectors

Radio Free Asia

Seven Uygur Defectors
Uygur Defectors In Toronto Picture courtesy of the "Toronto Star"

You may remember the story from a week or so back about the seven members of an Uygur Acrobatic troupe that defected in Canada during a Chinese Government organised cultural visit there to celebrate Chinese New Year.

Well, in a follow up one of the female Uygur acrobats has told how she and other woman of the troupe were co-erced by their Chinese "minders" to perform extra- curricular duties.

Aygul, one of seven Uyghur acrobats, stated that "Once we were taken to a private party room in the Fulu Hotel to carry out a so-called political duty" Aygul said. "After the performance, we were not allowed to go back home but forced to eat and drink with the official leaders. The worst thing was, we were forced to keep the official leaders happy by drinking alcoholic wine, even if we said no"

She said the Manager of the acrobatic troupe, Zheng Qinhai, also commanded women in the troupe to invite his guests to dance, as a "political duty". "After drinking alcoholic wine, we were also forced to invite the official leaders for dancing. It is actually against our traditional rules" she said. (The Uygur being predominantly Muslims are forbidden from drinking alcohol)

Members of the troupe complied through fear of losing their jobs.

More worrying however is the report that the Acrobat's families back in Xinjiang had been threatened.

Aygul said her family in the regional capital, Urumqi, had already received threats from the Chinese authorities.

"They told my family that without my going back to Urumqi, they would confiscate our house. It is so unfair. We just bought that house by saving every single penny... for 20 years... It is our private house, it is not a free house given by the government. They have no right and no reason" she said.

This story highlights a problem with touring "Cultural Groups" from China in that they are used as part of the overall Chinese Government propaganda supporting the notion that the country is "one big happy family".

Every occasion of any importance in China, such as visits of foreign dignitaries, has the obligatory trouping out of the "happy ethnic group" to dance and perform their unique music.

One can not of course blame the performers, they are doing what is in their nature to do and in most instances it is a way for them to earn above average wages and to travel.

In the case of the Uygur at least these "performances" are nothing more than tools of state propaganda and are treated by the Chinese as little more than "dancing bear" routines.

One can only hope that the families of the defectors are not unduly treated by the Chinese government