Xinjiang musical sings to Beijing’s ethnic unity tune

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New state-produced musical ensemble in Xinjiang inspired by Hollywood blockbuster “La La Land” has hit Chinese cinemas, portraying an ethnically cohesive rural idyll devoid of repression, mass surveillance and even the Islam of its people predominantly Uyghur.

China is leading an elaborate public relations offensive to rename the northwest region where the United States says “genocide” has been inflicted on Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.

As allegations of slavery and forced labor in Xinjiang’s cotton industry attract renewed global attention, in China, Beijing is setting a very different narrative for the struggling region.

Rap songs, photo exhibitions and a musical – “The Wings of Songs” – are leading the region’s cultural reframing, while a legion of celebrities have apparently spontaneously leaped up in defense of the tarnished textile industry. Xinjiang.

Beijing denies all allegations of abuse and instead has recast Xinjiang as a haven of social cohesion and economic renewal that has turned its back on years of violent extremism thanks to benevolent state intervention.

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The film, reportedly delayed for a year, focuses on three men from different ethnicities dreaming of the big time as they gather musical inspiration through cultures in the snow-capped mountains and desert landscapes of the vast region.

At the end of the film, the state-run Global Times reported that overseas blockbusters such as “La La Land” “inspired Chinese studios” to produce their own domestic hits.

But the musical omits the surveillance cameras and security checks that cover Xinjiang.

References to Islam are also noticeably absent – although more than half of Xinjiang’s population is Muslim – and there are no mosques or veiled women.

In one scene, a main character, a well-shaven Uyghur, toasts with a beer in his hand.

At least 1 million Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim groups have been held in camps in Xinjiang, right-wing groups say, where authorities are also accused of forcibly sterilizing women and performing forced labor.

This angered Beijing, which initially denied the existence of the camps and then defended them as training programs.

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Last month, China quickly shut down the Clubhouse app, an audio platform where uncensored talks briefly flourished, including on Xinjiang, with Uyghurs giving unvarnished accounts of life to Chinese guests. Han attentive.

The current PR pressure on Xinjiang is aimed at controlling the internal consumption narrative, says Larry Ong of US consultancy SinoInsider.

Beijing “knows that a lie repeated a thousand times becomes truth,” he said.

For many Chinese, this message seems to work.

“I went to Xinjiang and the film is very realistic,” said one moviegoer after seeing “The Wings of Songs” in Beijing.

“People are happy, free and open,” he said, refusing to give his name.

Last week, celebrities, tech brands and state media – sparked by outrage on China’s tightly-controlled social media – piled on several global fashion brands who expressed concerns about forced labor and refused to source cotton from Xinjiang.

The Swedish H&M was the most affected and tried last Wednesday to limit the damage in its fourth market.

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The clothing giant issued a statement in which it wanted to regain the trust of the Chinese, but the post was met with contempt on the Twitter-like platform Weibo, where 35 million people shared the fashion channel’s comments. .

The crackdown has taken on a pop culture side, with a rap released this week lashing out at the ‘western settlers’ ‘lies’ about the region’s cotton, while state broadcaster CGTN set to release documentary on the unrest that provoked Beijing’s repression. .

It is impossible to gain unhindered access to Xinjiang, as foreign media are followed by authorities during their visits and then harassed for their reporting.

This week, TBEN reporter John Sudworth rushed out of China for Taiwan, alleging “intimidation” after reporting on conditions on cotton farms in Xinjiang.

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