China’s autonomous region of Xinjiang is banking on cockfighting to give its tourism industry a boost.
According to a recent report by China’s Xinhua news agency, officials in the city of Turpan are touting cockfighting as a way of making their city stand out from the others looking to lure the growing number of tourists visiting the autonomous region along China’s northwest border.
The region saw tourism revenue rise 15% last year and Turpan official Perhat Kadir says plans are underway to brand the city as the go-to source of cockfighting, “just like Spain is famous for bullfighting.”
Turpan is one of four Chinese cities that has an established reputation for cockfighting, and Turpan can trace its cockfighting tradition back nearly three centuries. Xinhua claimed around one-sixth of the city’s 600k residents relies directly or indirectly on the game-fowl trade.
One of these residents, Ismail Iblahim, is known locally as the ‘cockfighting czar’ for his reputation as a top breeder and trainer of birds. Iblahim, aka the Chicken George of Turpan, says he earns about RMB 5k (US $760) per month, a sum Xinhua described as a “handsome” salary in the city.
Perhat Kadir said the city would establish a cockfighting association by the end of the year to craft regulations, promote the sport and draw tourists from the rest of China. Cockfighting arenas will be set up in markets and bazaars to boost public interest in the activity.
But Kadir said the city didn’t plan to tolerate gambling on the outcomes of the cockfights, although enforcement of a no-gambling policy will prove harder than simply declaring it off limits. After all, without gambling, what’s the point?
Naturally, animal welfare activists are horrified by the idea of the government actively supporting blood sports. The matches between roosters can take up to four hours and often result in the death of one of the combatants.
The roosters may not be the only ones taking the risks. Xinjiang, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, is home to China’s restive Muslim Uighur population. Hardliners among this population have clashed violently with the region’s non-Muslim residents in recent years.
Fundamentalist Islamic groups are strictly against gambling and the Afghan Taliban has targeted cockfights with bombs in the past. So it remains to be seen how the Uighur hardliners will view the local government’s efforts to further push cockfighting into the mainstream.