The mayor of Wellington, New Zealand, faced criticism Friday for his participation in a local Lunar New Year celebration which included New Zealand Han Chinese dancers dressing up in the cultural garb of Uyghur Muslims, New Zealand’s Stuff news site reported.
“The new year display included New Zealand Han Chinese dancers, dressing up in the cultural dress of Uyghur Muslims, and performing a Uyghur dance,” according to the report. The event was organized on February 12 by Wellington’s China Cultural Center and received financial support from Wellington’s Council City Housing.
“The Chinese Cultural Centre is part of the Chinese state’s united front apparatus. While it is a New Zealand incorporated society, it was founded and is managed by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the People’s Republic of China,” Stuff news noted on February 26.
The event included other multicultural celebrations in addition to the Lunar New Year performance, which Wellington Mayor Andy Foster attended. Foster came under fire this week for his appearance in photos alongside some Han Chinese dancers dressed in Uyghur ethnic garb.
“In the spirit of goodwill and in my role as the Mayor for all people of Wellington City, I appeared in a number of photos featuring the many groups at this event,” Foster said after New Zealand media outlets began to circulate the photos.
A New Zealand-based Uyghur man named Shawudun Abdulgofur told Stuff news he was “disgusted” at what he viewed as cultural appropriation at the Lunar new year event, noting Uyghurs only celebrate the Lunar New Year in China when the state compels them to do so.
“This is very very disrespectful, considering that Uyghurs cannot practice our culture in East Turkestan,” he told the news site.
“East Turkestan” is the name Uyghurs use to refer to Xinjiang, a western Chinese territory where the majority of China’s Uyghurs reside. “Xinjiang” is a Mandarin term meaning “new frontier,” emphasizing its distance from the homeland of the Han people. Uyghurs are a majority Sunni Muslim, Turkic-speaking people native to Xinjiang, which borders Central Asia.
Human rights organizations accuse the Chinese government of detaining 1 to 3 million Uyghurs in state-run concentration camps in Xinjiang since at least 2017. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) refers to the facilities as “vocational” or re-education camps and says they are part of a greater campaign to train Uyghurs for the Chinese labor force and de-radicalize alleged Islamist extremists within Xinjiang’s Muslim community.
Survivors and former employees of the camps told the BBC in a report published February 2 that they experienced or witnessed systematic rape, sexual abuse, and physical torture of Uyghur detainees at the facilities, which are operated by provincial CCP officials based in Xinjiang.