Statements posted in the past several days on websites of schools, government agencies and local party organizations in the Xinjiang region said the ban was aimed at protecting students' well-being and preventing the use of schools and government offices to promote religion. Statements on the websites of local party organizations said members of the officially atheist ruling party should also avoid fasting.
Bans have been imposed in the past on fasting for Ramadan, which began at sundown Saturday. But this year is unusually sensitive because Xinjiang is under tight security following an escalation of violence that the government blames on Muslim extremists with foreign ties who it says want independence.
Members of the region's Uighur ethnic group complain that discrimination and restrictions on religion, such as a ban on taking children to mosques, are fueling anger at the ethnic Han Chinese majority.
An attack on May 22 in the regional capital, Urumqi, by four people who threw bombs in a vegetable market killed 43 people, including the attackers. On June 22, police in Kashgar in the far west said they killed 13 assailants who drove into a police building and set off explosives, injuring three officers. Authorities have blamed two other attacks at train stations in Urumqi and in China's southwest on Muslim extremists.
The government responded with a crackdown that resulted in more than 380 arrests in one month and public rallies to announce sentences.
The ruling party is wary of religious activities it worries might serve as a rallying point for opposition to one-party rule. Controls on worship are especially sensitive in Xinjiang and neighboring Tibet, where religious faith plays a large role in local cultures.
On Tuesday, authorities in some communities in Xinjiang held celebrations of the anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party and served food to test whether Muslim guests were fasting, according to Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman in Germany for the rights group World Uyghur Congress.
"This will lead to more conflicts if China uses coercive measures to rule and to challenge Uighur beliefs," said Dilxat Raxit in an email.
The ruling party says religion and education should be kept separate and students should not be subject to religious influences. That rule is rarely enforced for children of Han Chinese, who, if they have a religion, are usually Buddhist, Daoist or Christian. [Source: The Associated Press – July 3, 2014]
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