Via Quartz Magazine, we learn about the Chinese government’s ambition to create a Muslim theme park of sorts in order to court wealthy tourists and bridge Sino-Arab relations and highlight (or perhaps dampen or whitewash) Islam’s identity in the broader Chinese cultural heritage, prising out the folklore that Aladdin of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights hailed from eastern China.
The reporting from Quartz—to my mind, selectively draws from the most cynical and suspect elements of World Muslim City, the trappings and the stagecraft meant to mask China’s internal struggle with its Islamic population, the lack of visitors, the rather insensitive way women are invited to wear veils to see how it feels. All these faults and more are in the source article of course, however cushioned, and perhaps this project is like the 1:1 recreation of Hallstatt, or zombie planned-communities that never came to fruition. Those are epic failures a lot of people take with some schaden Freude—like Chinese wine-enthusiasts paying a mint for counterfeit cheap, supermarket red wine. Executed with the same soft diplomacy, I’d venture it’s far more foreboding that China’s public-relations apparatus is hoping to limn a fairy-tale version of Islam that’s palatable to the government’s world-view, removing potentially destabilising characteristics. I’d applaud the effort for simply not propagating the stereotype of the violent terrorist, but it’s not respecting of the interplay between religion and governance determining social norms and is fraught with the same trappings that forms the impasses of the One China Policy and the evisceration of Tibet (the pronouncement that the next incarnation of the Dalai Lama will be ethnic Chinese and the current avatar fearing he might be the last) and other undesirables that don’t tow the party line. What do you think? Would you visit World Muslim City?