China Tries to Counter Xinjiang Backlash With … a Musical?

In one scene, Uyghur ladies are seen dancing in a rousing Bollywood fashion face-off with a group of Uyghur males. In one other, a Kazakh man serenades a group of mates with a conventional two-stringed lute whereas sitting in a yurt.

Welcome to “The Wings of Songs,” a state-backed musical that’s the newest addition to China’s propaganda campaign to defend its insurance policies in Xinjiang. The marketing campaign has intensified in current weeks as Western politicians and rights teams have accused Beijing of subjecting Uyghurs and different Muslim minorities in Xinjiang to forced labor and genocide.

The movie, which debuted in Chinese cinemas final week, gives a glimpse of the alternate imaginative and prescient of Xinjiang that China’s ruling Communist Party is pushing to audiences at house and overseas. Far from being oppressed, the musical appears to say, the Uyghurs and different minorities are singing and dancing fortunately in colourful gown, a flashy tackle a drained Chinese stereotype concerning the area’s minorities that Uyghur rights activists rapidly denounced.

“The notion that Uyghurs can sing and dance so therefore there is no genocide — that’s just not going to work,” mentioned Nury Turkel, a Uyghur-American lawyer and senior fellow on the Hudson Institute in Washington. “Genocide can take place in any beautiful place.”

In the wake of Western sanctions, the Chinese authorities has responded with a contemporary wave of Xinjiang propaganda throughout a large spectrum. The method ranges from portraying a sanitized, feel-good model of life in Xinjiang — as within the instance of the musical — to deploying Chinese officers on social media websites to assault Beijing’s critics. To reinforce its message, the occasion is emphasizing that its efforts have rooted out the perceived menace of violent terrorism.

In the federal government’s telling, Xinjiang is now a peaceable place the place Han Chinese, the nation’s dominant ethnic group, dwell in concord alongside the area’s Muslim ethnic minorities, similar to the “seeds of a pomegranate.” It’s a place the place the federal government has efficiently emancipated ladies from the shackles of extremist considering. And the area’s ethnic minorities are portrayed as grateful for the federal government’s efforts.

The musical takes the narrative to a new cringe-inducing stage. It tells the story of three younger males, a Uyghur, a Kazakh and a Han Chinese, who come collectively to pursue their musical goals.

The film depicts Xinjiang, a predominantly Muslim area in China’s far west, as scrubbed freed from Islamic affect. Young Uyghur males are clean-shaven and seen chugging beers, freed from the beards and abstinence from alcohol that the authorities see as indicators of non secular extremism. Uyghur ladies are seen with out conventional head scarves.

The Uyghurs and different Central Asian ethnic minorities, seen via this lens, are additionally portrayed as absolutely assimilated into the mainstream. They are fluent in Chinese, with few, if any, hints of their native languages. They get alongside nicely with the Han Chinese ethnic majority, with no sense of the long-simmering resentment amongst Uyghurs and different minorities over systematic discrimination.

The narrative presents a image starkly totally different from the reality on the ground, by which the authorities keep tight management utilizing a dense network of surveillance cameras and police posts, and have detained many Uyghurs and different Muslims in mass internment camps and prisons. As of Monday, the movie had introduced in a dismal $109,000 on the field workplace, in accordance to Maoyan, a firm that tracks ticket gross sales.

Chinese officers initially denied the existence of the area’s internment camps. Then they described the amenities as “boarding schools” by which attendance was fully voluntary.

Now, the federal government is more and more adopting a extra combative method, searching for to justify its insurance policies as crucial to fight terrorism and separatism within the area.

Chinese officers and state media shops have pushed the federal government’s narrative about its insurance policies in Xinjiang partly by spreading different narratives — together with disinformation — on American social networks like Twitter and Facebook. This method reached an all-time excessive final yr, in accordance to a report published last week by researchers on the International Cyber Policy Center of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, or ASPI.

The social media marketing campaign is centered on Chinese diplomats on Twitter, state-owned media accounts, pro-Communist Party influencers and bots, the institute’s researchers discovered. The accounts ship messages typically aimed toward spreading disinformation about Uyghurs who’ve spoken out, and to smear researchers, journalists, and organizations engaged on Xinjiang points.

Anne-Marie Brady, a professor of Chinese politics on the University of Canterbury in New Zealand who was not concerned within the ASPI report, known as China’s Xinjiang offensive the largest worldwide propaganda marketing campaign on a single subject that she had seen in her 25 years of researching the Chinese propaganda system.

“It’s shrill and dogmatic, it’s increasingly aggressive,” she mentioned in emailed feedback. “And it will keep on going, whether it is effective or not.”

In a assertion, Twitter mentioned it had suspended a variety of the accounts cited by the ASPI researchers. Facebook mentioned in a assertion that it had not too long ago eliminated a malicious hacker group that had been focusing on the Uyghur diaspora. Both firms started labeling the accounts of state-affiliated media shops final yr.

The occasion has additionally asserted that it wanted to take agency motion after a spate of lethal assaults rocked the area some years in the past. Critics say that the extent of the violence stays unclear, but additionally that such unrest didn’t justify the sweeping, indiscriminate scope of the detentions.

Last week, the federal government performed up a declare that it had uncovered a plot by Uyghur intellectuals to sow ethnic hatred. CGTN, a world arm of China’s state broadcaster, launched a documentary on Friday that accused the students of writing textbooks that have been stuffed with “blood, violence, terrorism and separatism.”

The books had been accepted to be used in elementary and center colleges in Xinjiang for greater than a decade. Then in 2016, shortly earlier than the crackdown began, they have been immediately deemed subversive.

The documentary accuses the intellectuals of getting distorted historic details, citing, for instance, the inclusion of a historic picture of Ehmetjan Qasim, a chief of a short-lived impartial state in Xinjiang within the late Nineteen Forties.

“It’s just absurd,” mentioned Kamalturk Yalqun, whose father, Yalqun Rozi, a outstanding Uyghur scholar, was sentenced to 15 years in jail in 2018 for tried subversion for his involvement with the textbooks. He mentioned that a picture of Mr. Rozi proven within the movie was the primary time he had seen his father in 5 years.

“China is just trying to come up with any way they can think of to dehumanize Uyghurs and make these textbooks look like dangerous materials,” he mentioned by telephone from Boston. “My father was not an extremist but just a scholar trying to do his job well.”

Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting.


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