02/12/2007, 00.00
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Year of the Pig: State TV bans piggies out of respect for Islam

The central government order aims to show respect for minorities. However the move is also intended to put a stop to disagreements with the Han and to win the favour of oil-rich Muslim countries. There is the influence of astrology too, which predicts revolts and the overthrow of governments.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In a week’s time, the Chinese world will celebrate the New Year under the zodiac sign of the Pig. But for the Year of the Pig, the Chinese government has banned all adverts showing this animal. Beijing is hoping to gain kudos from Islamic states for its sensitivity and respect for their religious convictions even if it continues repressing the Muslim minority, especially in Xinjiang.

In letter to advertising agencies, the main state television CCTV warned that “since China is a multi-cultural country, out of respect for the religious convictions of Muslims, images of pigs must be avoided in 2007.” TV sources said: “This was indicated to us from top government quarters... to protect harmony between different religions and ethnic groups”.

It seems that the order has come from the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party that wants the Year of the Pig (starting on 18 February) to be celebrated without offending the country’s 21 million Muslims.

The order has created problems for big firms: they had already designed their publicity spots, focused on the presence of pigs, but now they must create new ones within a few days. Nestlé had prepared a cartoon of a beaming little pig celebrating a “Happy Year of the Pig”. Coca Cola had two cartoons, one with a panda and the other with a pig, but they will not broadcast the one with the pig in areas with big Muslim communities.

The media have given the news importance and reported the enthusiastic response from Muslim communities. For example, Huo Engjie, director in Shanghai of the Association of Minorities, said: “Even if we [Muslims] are less than 2% of the Chinese population, this ban shows how much the government respects us. It’s really moving.”

The Muslim population in China is divided into Hui – Chinese who have converted to Islam – and Uighurs.

The Hui, around 15 million, are present especially in Ningxia (Central China), Shaanxi, Qinghai and Beijing.

Beijing has always displayed considerable tact towards them. For decades, while Catholics were forbidden from going to Rome, the government subsidized Muslim pilgrimages to Mecca.

However, China implements a repressive and colonizing policy towards the Uighurs (of Turkish origin, around eight million), aimed at putting a stop to autonomist aspirations and fundamentalist infiltrations from Pakistan and Afghanistan. According to a Xinjiang daily, in 2005 China arrested 18,227 Uighurs on charges of “threatening national security”. Hundreds have been condemned to death. In January, police attacked a training camp and killed 18 Muslim Uighurs, claiming without proof that that they were terrorists.

For some years, tension has also been growing with the Hui, above all for social reasons. The Han – the Chinese race par excellence – are preferred in employment and trade and this has created resentment among the Hui and consequent clashes. There has also been a growth of Muslim integralism among the Hui, owing to the influence of pilgrimages and the meeting of the “Chinesized” Islam of the Hui with more fundamentalist Pakistani and Saudi doctors of the Koran.

The decision to ban images of the pig is an attempt to show, at home and abroad, China’s great respect for the Muslim world. After all, China buys plenty of oil from Muslim countries in the Middle East, central Asia and Africa so it must be hoping this approach will draw appreciation from the Muslim world.

The ban on images of the pig is being debated in many blog sites too. People from the ethnic Hui group consider the ban to be an exaggeration and show tolerance. “This New Year feast is a feast of the Han, it’s not ours. We know how much importance the Han give to this animal [pig], it’s useless to ban it,” said one woman.

Some believe the reason behind the ban on images of the pig lies in the fear that this year will be marked by clashes, conflicts and dynastical changes. According to Chinese astrologists, 2007 is a year of the Pig marked by “fire and water”, two contrasting elements that indicate the possibility of wars and conflicts. “There will be much disharmony that could lead to tensions and revolts to the point of overthrowing governments”.

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