China has released a new state-produced musical showing Uighurs singing and dancing as part of a propaganda bid to counter international fury over the minority group’s treatment.
The 100 minute-long film, set in Xinjiang and has hit the country’s cinemas under the uplifting title ‘The Wings of Songs’.
Uighurs can be seen happily singing and dancing in colourful outfits against spectacular backdrops in the movie, inspired by the Hollywood blockbuster ‘La La Land’.
It portrays a rural idyll of ethnic cohesion devoid of repression, mass surveillance and even the Islam of its majority Uighur population, a non-Chinese ethnic group living in the supposedly autonomous Xinjiang Province, north-west China.
China is on an elaborate PR offensive to rebrand the north-western region where the United States and other western nationals and human rights groups say genocide has been inflicted on the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities.
A new state-produced musical set in Xinjiang and inspired by the Hollywood blockbuster ‘La La Land’ has hit China’s cinemas
The musical, which has been seen as an elaborate PR offensive to rebrand the north-western region, also features notable odes to the 1965 film, the Sound of Music
As allegations of slavery and forced labour inside Xinjiang’s cotton industry have drawn renewed global attention big brands like Nike have said they will no longer source materials from the region.
However, inside China, Beijing has been curating a very different narrative for the troubled region.
Rap songs, photo exhibitions, and the musical are leading the cultural reframing of the region, while a legion of celebrities have seemingly unprompted leapt to the defence of Xinjiang’s tarnished textile industry.
Beijing denies all allegations of abuse and has instead 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.
But the United States and other western nationals say the film is being used to cover up a genocide that has been inflicted on the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the reigon
The 100 minute-long film portrays a rural idyll of ethnic cohesion devoid of repression, mass surveillance and even the Islam of its majority Uighur population
Rap songs, photo exhibitions, and the musical titled ‘The Wings of Songs’ are leading the cultural reframing of the region
The musical focuses on three men – a Kazakh, a Uighur, and a Han Chinese – who together dream of hitting the big time as singers
The musical, whose release was reportedly delayed by a year, focuses on three men – a Kazakh, a Uighur, and a Han Chinese.
Together the trio dream of hitting the big time as they gather musical inspiration across cultures in the snow-capped mountains and desertscapes of the vast region.
Trailing the movie, state-run Global Times reported that overseas blockbusters such as ‘La La Land’ have ‘inspired Chinese studios’ to produce their own domestic hits.
But the musical omits the surveillance cameras and security checks that blanket Xinjiang.
Also noticeably absent are references to Islam – despite more than half of the population of Xinjiang being Muslim – and there are no mosques or women in veils.
But noticeably absent from the musical are references to Islam – despite more than half of the population of Xinjiang being Muslim – and there are no mosques or women in veils
Several Uighur men are seen unshaven, and in some of the musical’s scenes, toasting their friends with beer, despite Islam requiring abstention from drinking alcohol
But according to rights groups, contrary to the happy scenes of inter-ethnic harmony depicted in the musical, at least one million Uighurs are being help in camps in the vast Xinjiang region
In one scene, a leading character, a well-shaven Uighur, toasts with a beer in his hand.
At least one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim groups have been held in camps in Xinjiang, according to right groups.
Chinese authorities have been accused of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labour in the camps.
The allegations have enraged Beijing, which at first denied the existence of the camps and then defended them as vocational training programmes.
Chinese authorities have been accused of forcibly sterilising Uighur women and imposing forced labour in the camps (pictured, Xinjiang residents enjoy peaceful ethnic mixing in the musical)
Allegations Chinese authorities have carried out a genocide against the Uighur people have enraged Beijing, which claims life in Xinjiang province is depicted more realistically in the new musical
In the film, characters from Han Chinese, Uighur, and Kazakh backgrounds are seen working together to achieve shared goals
The release of ‘The Wings of Songs’ musical has coincided with new rap songs and photo exhibits which seek to reframe opinions on the Chinese state involvement in Xinjiang
China has faced international criticism over the internment camps used to hold Uighur Muslims, which Beijing insists are for vocational training programmes
Chinese authorities have been accused of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labour in ‘vocational training programmes’
The Uighur are a mostly Muslim, non-Chinese ethnic group living in supposedly autonomous Xinjiang Province, north-west China. Pictured: A gate of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Xinjiang
In March, Britain and the EU took joint action with the US and Canada to impose parallel sanctions on senior Chinese officials involved in the mass internment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province.
It was the first such western action against Beijing since US President Joe Biden took office in late January.
China hit back immediately, blacklisting MEPs, European diplomats and thinktanks, in a move condemned by US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
In March, Britain , the EU, US, and Canada to impose parallel sanctions on senior Chinese officials involved in the mass internment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province (pictured, people protest outside the Canadian embassy in Washington DC, calling on President Justin Trudeau to declare China’s treatment of Uighurs as genocide)
US president Joe Biden, left, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, right, condemned Beijing’s decision to place several MPs on a sanctions list over their criticism of human rights abuses against China’s Uighur Muslim population
Last month, China also swiftly closed down the Clubhouse app, an audio platform where uncensored discussions briefly flowered including on Xinjiang, with Uighurs giving unvarnished accounts of life to attentive Han Chinese guests.
The current PR push on Xinjiang aims at controlling the narrative for internal consumption, says Larry Ong, of US-based consultancy SinoInsider.
He said Beijing ‘knows that a lie repeated a thousand times becomes truth’.
To many Chinese, that messaging appears to be working.
‘I have been to Xinjiang and the film is very realistic,’ one moviegoer told AFP after seeing ‘The Wings of Songs’ in Beijing.
‘People are happy, free and open,’ he said, declining to give his name.
Last week, celebrities, tech brands and state media – whipped up by outrage on China’s tightly controlled social media – piled in on several global fashion brands who have raised concerns over forced labour and refused to source cotton from Xinjiang.
Sweden’s H&M was the worst-hit and on Wednesday attempted to limit the damage in its fourth-largest market.
The clothing giant issued a statement saying it wanted to regain the trust of people in China, but the message was greeted with scorn on the Twitter-like Weibo platform, where 35 million people shared the fashion chain’s comments.
The pushback has taken on a pop culture edge, with a rap released this week castigating ‘lies’ by the ‘western settlers’ about cotton from the region.
State broadcaster CGTN is also set to release a documentary on the unrest that prompted the Beijing crackdown.
It is impossible to gain unfettered access to Xinjiang, with foreign media shadowed by authorities on visits and then harassed for their reporting.
Last week, BBC journalist John Sudworth hurriedly left China for Taiwan after facing threats of legal action, obstruction and intimidation for reporting on conditions in the cotton farms of Xinjiang.
His departure comes amid rising tensions between the BBC and China over the latter’s condemnation of the corporation’s reporting on Xinjiang, Covid-19 and Hong Kong.
BBC journalist John Sudworth has fled China for Taiwan after facing threats of legal action, obstruction and intimidation
Last month, Chinese authorities barred BBC World News from being aired in response to what the Chinese embassy in London called ‘relentless fabrication of “lies of the century” in reporting China.’
One flashpoint was a BBC report in February stating that women in Xinjiang’s internment camps for Uighurs were subject to rape, sexual abuse and torture.
According to the UK Government, survivor testimonies indicate that more than a million people have been detained without trial, with widespread claims of torture, rape and sterilisations in prison camps, where Uighurs are forced to denounce their cultural heritage, language and religion.
China has repeatedly said the BBC’s report was false and it has also forcefully denied other claims of human rights abuses in Xinjiang raised by western governments and rights groups.