Imams in Uch Turpan dancing to the internet hit ‘Little Apple’ (Spring 2015)
Song and dance has long been harnessed in the service of China’s state policy, but this latest campaign in Xinjiang seems set to make music and dance into an ideological battleground.
Throughout Spring 2015, the people of Xinjiang have been involved in one of China’s more bizarre social campaigns: organised public dancing sessions to the internet hit ‘Little Apple’ (小苹果), in order to promote social harmony and combat religious extremism.
The Xinjiang military police have produced their own video, with new lyrics highlighting their mission to serve, and footage alternating between police officers conducting armed raids and dancing to Little Apple:
Uyghur peasants around the region have also been mobilised to take part in these public dancing displays, as Chinanews reports from Mangshin village in Yengisar county:
Perhaps most controversially, several towns have drafted in the imams of official mosques to give special staged performances of their disco moves. David Brophy (University of Sydney) has highlighted the scandalised response in some Turkish newspapers:
The aim of this campaign appears to be to counter the rise of Islamist views amongst Uyghurs concerning the permissibility of music and dancing in religious life. But by requiring imams to dance in public to Chinese pop music, the Xinjiang authorities are in danger of further discrediting these embattled individuals in the eyes of their congregations, stripping away the remaining spiritual authority from a group of people who ought to be empowered to counter extremist tendencies by promoting a moderate and tolerant model of Islam.