The changes on the Chinese government policy towards Xinjiang after the July 5th event in 2009 have been epitomized in the replacement of the former CCP Secretary in the region Wang Lequan -known for his ‘stability’ policy line- and the arrival of Zhang Chunxian and his ‘development’ approach. By doing this, Beijing has shifted his focus from class-struggle (ethic struggle) to economic construction in the restive region. In his speech delivered at the VIII Xinjiang CCP Conference, Zhang announced his guidelines for economic reform in the region. Amongst them, the development of the Qingzhen food industry was highlighted as one of the potential profitable sectors for Xinjiang (Xinhua, November 3).
‘Qingzhen’ stands as the Mandarin translation for Islam and its derivates, such as ‘Halal’ food, that is the food permissible by Islam precepts such as meat from animals slaughtered according to Dhabiha method. ’Qingzhen’ term has been used for centuries in Xinjiang and despite different philosophical and religious interpretations of its meaning, it is widely accepted that its main meaning connotation is ‘Islamic’.
However, this religious symbol and sign for ‘Halal’ food has been monopolized in recent times by local ethnic and religious officers who have actually traded with a certification strongly chased by companies,factories and restaurants. In the current context of control and restriction of Islamic religious practices in
Xinjiang, the Qingzhen official certification has lost its Islamic value and connotation, and has been turned into a merely ‘merchandized’ label which has little or nothing to do with Islamic regulations on food and nutrition.
According to Xinjiang official regulations on the Qingzhen certification, almost any company employing ethnic Muslim workers (mainly Uyghurs) and having a canteen/eatery place can successfully apply for this official recognition. Therefore, it is not surprising that the most famous Xinjiang restaurant, the ‘Islamic Restaurant’ -located at the Xinjiang government office in Beijing and owned by a Han from Henan province- is widely known among Muslims working there for serving non-Halal chicken food despite having obtained the Halal certification and claiming to serve real Halal food.
This is just one of many examples of the deterioration of the Qingzhen certification standards within the Xinjiang food industry. This decline has been the result of Han businessmen poorly running ‘Qinghzen’ labeled canteens at the streets or even in official buildings. Just at happens in China with other ‘fake food’cases –such as fake egg, fale meat, etc.- which have shocked the public opinion, many officially sanctioned ‘Qingzhen’ restaurants run by Chinese Han coming from provinces other than Xinjiang and with little or no knowledge of the ‘Halal’ requisites have turned into ‘fake Qingzhen restaurants’.
This situation has forced Chinese Muslims to look for restaurants run by members of the Uyghur or Hui minority rather than to pay attention on whether the spotted restaurant has the certification or not. The Qingzhen qualification has therefore lost its value and credentials and this reality might jeopardize the Xinjiang government efforts in developing a ‘Halal’ food international industry in Xinjiang. If the ‘Qingzhen’etiquette is not recognized by Chinese Muslims in China, how is it going to be exported to other Muslim countries? The plan for developing a ‘Halal’ food industry in China is currently being considered in several provinces with large Muslim populations such as Ningxia, Yunnan, Qinghai, Gansu and Xinjiang, which have discovered the potential economic benefits derived from targeting the Islamic countries market with a quality ‘Qingzhen’ food industry. So far, Ningxia stands ahead on these efforts after holding several Sino-
Arab economic forums and setting up the regional standards and regulations for ‘Qingzhen’ food, which must really meet the international Halal certification (Ningxia Government news service, September 16).
Under the current political context in Xinjiang, with a fierce campaign of religious control and restriction going on aimed at curbing the ‘religious extremism’ alleged by the Chinese government, the definition and quality of the ‘Qingzhen’ certification is at a serious risk of becoming just another ‘fake’ phenomenon. Nowadays, it only takes for a restaurant to serve beef and lamb in order to become a ‘Halal business. Just as other Islamic (that is, Qingzhen) symbols such as beards and niqabs have been undermined by the‘civilized and modern’ beard-less face and bikini-style clothes promoted by the government in Uyghur populated areas (such as Khotan and Kashgar), the real ‘Qingzhen’ food cooked and prepared under Islamic precepts might become a mere Xinjiang gastronomic ‘fashion’ with no Islamic authenticity at all. If Xinjiang truly wants to develop a competitive ‘Qingzhen’ food industry at the international level which helps
the economic development in the region, it must first start by introducing the international Halal certification in China and equating the ‘Qingzheng’ certification with it.