Ramadan: the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, when Muslims the world over observe a 29-30-day fast to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad.

Except, that is, in China’s Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang. In conservative Hotan Prefecture, the Communist Youth League of China held a “beer festival” and “beer competition” just before the start of the holy month, which began on June 18 this year.

Prizes of up to RMB1,000 were awarded to the top binge drinkers among the 60 young farmers and herders who attended the event, which also featured a troupe of dancing women. On 21 June the story was picked up by regional news website Tianshan, but deleted soon thereafter.

Tianshan Net report on the Hotan “beer competition”. Photo: Tianshan.

A spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, which represents the Turkic and mostly Muslim Uyghur minority who comprise the largest ethnic group in Xinjiang, condemned the event as “an open provocation to the Islamic faith”

Earlier this year, authorities in the township of Laskuy, Hotan County, issued an announcement in the town seat of Aktash Village that “all restaurants and supermarkets in our village should place five different brands of alcohol and cigarettes in their shops” and create “eye-catching displays” to promote the forbidden products. “[A]nybody who neglects this notice and fails to act” the notice warned, “will see their shops sealed off, their business suspended, and legal action pursued against them.”

Aktash’s Communist Party committee secretary then went on to tell reporters that regional authorities view not smoking and drinking as “a form of religious extremism” and are waging “a campaign to weaken religion”.

Every year, China’s attempts to quash the observance of religious holidays earned widespread criticism from rights groups. In 2014, schools were accused of force-feeding Muslim students while this year students, teachers, civil servants and Communist Party members in Xinjiang have all been banned from fasting.

Article 36 of China’s constitution guarantees that “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief”.


Ryan Ho Kilpatrick

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick is an award-winning journalist and scholar from Hong Kong who has reported on the city’s politics, protests, and policing for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, TIME, The Guardian, The Independent, and others