Chinese anti-veil 'beauty' campaign sows ugly tensions KASHGAR: A Chinese government worker in the ancient Silk Road oasis of Kashgar beckons two women to her streetside stand and logs their details under the gaze of a surveillance camera. Their offence: wearing veils. The â€œProject Beautyâ€ campaign aims to discourage women from covering their faces in an attempt to improve security.But critics warn the effort could sow resentment and backfire instead.â€œWe need to hold onto our traditions and they should understand that,â€ said a 25-year-old woman who has been registered twice.Offenders were made to watch a film about the joys of exposing their faces, she added, speaking behind a white crocheted covering.â€œThe movie doesnâ€™t change a lot of peopleâ€™s minds,â€ she said, like others declining to be named.Xinjiang, a vast area bordering Pakistan and Central Asia in Chinaâ€™s far west, beyond the furthest reaches of the Great Wall, has followed Islam for centuries. It came under Chinese control most recently during the Qing dynasty in the late 1800s.For years it has seen sporadic unrest by Uighurs which rights groups say is driven by cultural oppression and intrusive security measures but China attributes to extremist religion, terrorism and separatism.Authoritiesâ€™ concerns intensified after a deadly attack in Beijingâ€™s Tiananmen Square last month which police blamed on Uighurs.Kashgar residents say veil restrictions sparked at least one deadly conflict this year near the city, where 90 percent of the areaâ€™s 3.3 million residents are Uighur. â€œFor the Chinese government the casual process is: extremists ask for independence, ask for separatism, then thatâ€™s why they set very strict limits on Uighursâ€™ religious activities,â€ said Shan Wei, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore.For the Uighursâ€™ part, itâ€™s: â€˜OK, I wasnâ€™t involved in any political movements, Iâ€™m not a separatist at all, but you set so many stupid restrictions on my daily religious activities that I hate youâ€™,â€ he added, pointing out that Chinaâ€™s other Muslim minorities did not face such rules. Women in Kashgar sport a range of coverings, from bright scarves draped stylishly over hairdos that leave their necks exposed, to sombre Saudi-style black fabric cloaking all but their eyes.Policies to stop them covering their faces, and to a lesser extent their hair, are not publicised. City authorities declined to comment and Xinjiang officials could not be reached.But â€œProject Beautyâ€ stands could be seen around the city, and a tailor said campaign staff had instructed him not to make the full-length robes often worn with face coverings.Other residents said that to enter government offices, banks or courts, women had to remove their veils and men shave their beards. In Hotan, another predominantly Uighur city 500 kilometres to the east, at least one hospital received government forms to report back on veiled patients.A Xinjiang government web portal featuring Project Beauty did not mention banning veils but listed its goals as promoting local beauty products and other goods, and encouraging women to be â€œpractitioners of modern cultureâ€. The Xinjiang Daily, run by the ruling Communist Party, warned of the potential dangers of Islamic dress in a July opinion piece.â€œSome people with ulterior motives are distorting religious teachingsâ€ and â€œinciting young people to do jihadâ€, it said, adding that black robes induced depression and scared babies. The ruling party has sought periodically to stamp out veiling since taking power in 1949, first launching an atheism drive and banning the headgear altogether in the 1960s and 70s, said Gardner Bovingdon, a Xinjiang expert at Indiana University Bloomington. Restrictions relaxed in the 1980s as China opened up, but tightened again in the following decade after religiously tinged protests broke out. A worker at a Project Beauty checkpoint cited â€œsecurityâ€ as a motive for the campaign.Some Uighurs endorsed the authoritiesâ€™ precautions, saying thieves or suicide bombers might exploit the outfits to hide packages and their identity.A Uighur metalworker complained that women taught from youth to wear veils found it hard to change, and that other Chinese Muslim men grew beards but only Uighurs were labelled terrorists.Some women took a pragmatic view.A 35-year-old bakery owner with a gauzy orange scarf wrapped around a bun said the need to remove her veil in government buildings did not overly bother her. Women were becoming less strict about wearing veils in any case, she said. But others remove their face covers before approaching Project Beauty checkpoints to avoid trouble, said a 19-year-old woman from a jade-selling family. The â€œBeautyâ€ people were everywhere, she said.