A new state-produced musical in Xinjiang inspired by the Hollywood blockbuster “La La Land” has hit theaters in China, portraying a rural idyll of ethnic cohesion devoid of repression, mass surveillance and even the Islam of its majority population. Uigur.
China is on an elaborate public relations offensive to rename the northwest region where the United States and other Western citizens and human rights groups say genocide has been inflicted on Uighurs and other Muslim minorities.
As allegations of slavery and forced labor within Xinjiang’s cotton industry have attracted renewed global attention, including big brands like Nike saying they would no longer source materials from the region, within China, Beijing has been curing a very different narrative for the troubled region.
Rap songs, photo exhibitions and a musical, “The Wings of Songs,” are leading the cultural reframing of the region, while a legion of celebrities have apparently spontaneously leaped in defense of Xinjiang’s deteriorating textile industry.
Beijing denies all allegations of abuse and has instead reformulated 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.
The film, whose release was reportedly delayed for a year, centers on three men from different ethnic groups dreaming of the big moment as they are musically inspired by all cultures in the snow-capped mountains and desert landscapes of the vast region.
Following the film, the state-run Global Times reported that foreign 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 cover Xinjiang. References to Islam are also notably absent, despite the fact that more than half of Xinjiang’s population is Muslim, and there are no mosques or veiled women.
In one scene, a main character, a clean-shaven Uighur, toasts with a beer in hand.
At least one million Uyghurs and other groups, mostly Muslim, have been held in camps in Xinjiang, according to right-wing groups, where authorities are also accused of forcibly sterilizing women and imposing forced labor.
That has angered Beijing, which at first denied the camps existed and later defended them as training programs.
In March, Britain and the EU took joint action with the United States and Canada to impose parallel sanctions on senior Chinese officials involved in the mass internment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province in the first Western action of its kind against Beijing since Joe Biden took office.
China responded immediately, blacklisting MEPs, European diplomats and think tanks.
Last month, China also quickly shut down the Clubhouse app, an audio platform where uncensored discussions briefly flourished, including over Xinjiang, with Uighurs giving unvarnished accounts of life to attentive Han Chinese guests.
The current public relations push in Xinjiang aims to control the narrative for domestic consumption, says Larry Ong of US consultancy SinoInsider. Beijing “knows that a lie repeated a thousand times becomes the truth,” he said.
For many Chinese, that message seems to be working.
“I’ve been to Xinjiang and the film is very realistic,” a viewer told AFP 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 that have raised concerns about forced labor and refused to source cotton from Xinjiang.
Sweden’s H&M was hit the hardest and on Wednesday tried to limit the damage in its fourth-largest market.
The clothing giant issued a statement saying it wanted to regain people’s trust in China, but the message was met with contempt on the Twitter-like Weibo platform, where 35 million people shared the fashion chain’s comments.
The pushback has taken on a pop culture twist, with a rap released this week criticizing “lies” by “western settlers” about the region’s cotton, while state broadcaster CGTN will release a documentary on the riots that they provoked the repression of Beijing. .
It is impossible to gain unrestricted access to Xinjiang, with foreign media followed by authorities on visits and then harassed for their reporting.
This week, BBC journalist John Sudworth rushed out of China for Taiwan, citing “intimidation” after reporting on conditions at Xinjiang cotton farms.