View Full Version : Al Jazeera: China aims to win Uighur ‘hearts and minds’ with concubine cartoon

25-08-14, 17:33
China aims to win Uighur ‘hearts and minds’ with concubine cartoon

Program on life of Uighur concubine in an 18th century Chinese court will only exacerbate tensions, activists say


August 25, 2014 3:17PM ET

by Massoud Hayoun

China’s efforts to quell unrest among its predominantly Muslim ethnic Uighurs have included cracking down on both beards and traditional snacks, forcing mosques to display flags and charging a prominent economic professor with separatism — a crime punishable by death. Now Beijing is trying something more whimsical — a TV cartoon about a disputed historical figure called the “Fragrant Concubine” in Chinese, or “Iparhan” in the Uighur language.

The quasi-historical figure of Iparhan was a Uighur noble who became a consort of an emperor during the Manchu-led Qing Dynasty in the late 1700s. The point of the animated program, according to Chinese media, is to celebrate a marriage of cultures.

But rights activists say the soon-to-be-released “Princess Fragrant” cartoon series — a joint venture between local authorities in the Uighurs’ native region of Xinjiang in western China and a production company based in the faraway southeastern metropolis of Shenzhen — will only further anger the embattled Uighurs, many of who say Beijing’s policies and a growing influx of China’s majority ethnic Han people into the region threaten their livelihood and culture.

On the same day that the English-language website for Chinese national daily Global Times ran a story that appeared to laud local authorities’ efforts to “fight an ideology war through cartoon production,” Xinjiang’s government-run news channel broadcast what appeared to have been the confessions of two young Uighur men, aged 18 and 19, who it said had orchestrated the killing of a pro-Beijing imam at a prominent mosque in Xinjiang.

All information about the imam’s killing has been filtered through Chinese government-controlled media, prompting calls from international human rights groups to allow greater transparency into Beijing's treatment of Uighurs.

“For the past 65-years [since Xinjiang became part of the People’s Republic], the Uighurs have learned from Chinese rule that on the one hand, they use brutal force against people who are unhappy with Chinese rule and on the other hand, they use propaganda to portray the glorious role of the Chinese government — to deceive people into accepting Chinese rule,” said Alim Seytoff, spokesman for the World Uighur Congress, a rights group that bills itself as an autonomous Uighur government in exile.

“How could the Chinese government think that propaganda cartoons of unity can win the hearts and minds of the Uighurs while the killing and repression of our people is not being stopped?” Seytoff said.

Staff at the Shenzhen Qianheng Cultural Communications Company, who are working with authorities to produce “Princess Fragrant,” were not immediately available for comment. But program director Deng Jianglei told the Global Times that the creators were struggling to find a musician to compose a soundtrack that would be accepted by both Uighurs and Han.

However, Seytoff says that regardless of musical tastes, a Chinese account of Iparhan’s life will only anger Uighurs. In the Chinese version, Iparhan, the daughter of a local Xinjiang leader, had a naturally sweet body odor that enticed the Manchu emperor Qianlong. Iparhan was sent to Beijing, where she became the emperor’s most favored consort.

According to the Uighur telling, Seytoff said, Manchu army forces captured Iparhan while she was fighting to defend Uighur autonomy in battle. Qianlong was infatuated with her scent and beauty and sought to make her a concubine, but Iparhan attempted to kill him before the union was consummated. Later Qianlong’s mother, the Dowager Empress, ordered Iparhan killed.

Iparhan’s “is a story of Uighur resistance, not one of unity. That’s the story the Uighur people know, even if the Chinese government has made up it’s own story,” Seytoff said.

Regardless of the program’s historical accuracy, Seytoff said he finds it particularly offensive that what is blatantly a political cartoon is, he said, trying to indicate that Uighurs are “a concubine” of the Chinese state. But he is confident that Uighurs won’t buy it.

“This is an extremely offensive way of convincing the Uighur people that East Turkestan was part of China,” Seytoff said, employing Uighur separatists’ name for Xinjiang.

Xinjiang, which abuts South and Central Asian nations including Pakistan and oil- and energy-rich Kazakhstan, is of great strategic and economic value to Beijing. In September of last year, China signed a slew of contracts with neighboring nations to import oil and gas directly into the region. Uighur rights activists have said religious repression is one means of controlling a restive Uighur public that Beijing sees as a threat to its commerce.

In recent months, other religious restrictions imposed by local governments have barred women wearing traditional headscarves from entering public venues. In one case in Aksu, authorities placed the Chinese flag at the head of a mosque, in an apparent bid to make worshippers bow to a symbol of the state.

27-08-14, 14:51
Can this cartoon Muslim princess soothe China’s ethnic tensions?


August 27, 2014


Princess Fragrant is the eponymous star of a 104-episode animation series from China in which the Uyghur princess, alongside her brother and their Han and Kazakh friends, embark on a quest to save her captured father. The goal of the series? To show “that ethnic unity is the most powerful weapon in the face of adversity,” the production’s director, Deng Jiangwei, told the New York Times.

To anyone familiar with the glaring ethnic tension and violence between the Uyghur minority and Han Chinese majority, it would be easy to have a skeptical, even pessimistic view as to what the animation is trying to achieve. And those thoughts are widely justified.

For starters, the legend of Princess Fragrant is perceived very differently by the two factions. For Uyghurs, the traditional story is closely tied to the history of intrusion onto Uyghur lands. In their version, Iparhan (as the Princess Fragrant character is known) was captured while she was fighting for Uyghur autonomy—to be a concubine to the emperor. This telling varies greatly from the one told to Han Chinese, who know Princess Fragrant as Xiangfei. In the Han version, the Qianlong emperor was so enraptured by Xiangfei’s fragrant scent that she was brought before him, wooed with lavish gifts, and lived in harmony with the emperor.

Alim Seytoff, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, an organization of exiled Uyghurs, was critical of the cartoon’s attempt to showcase ethnic unity, telling Quartz the animation portrays a “fabricated story of her as a princess marrying the Manchu emperor” rather than as a woman who is taken against her will to lead a tragic life as a concubine. Seytoff also says he was unable to recognize that the character was an Uyghur princess based on the way she was dressed.
“From a westerner’s point of view, trying to patch over extreme ethnic tensions with a cutesy cartoon portrayal of a minority woman might seem problematic—like screening Disney’s Pocahontas after Wounded Knee,” James Millward, professor of Chinese and Central Asian History at Georgetown University told Quartz. But Millward also thinks we “should give this company and its official Chinese supporters credit for making an effort at this time to be culturally sensitive and to present a positive image of Uyghurs to the majority Han Chinese audience.”

There have been other signs that the government is ready to convey a different tone than before on the subject of ethnic minorities, assessing perhaps that some tensions could no longer be ignored. The second Central Work Forum on Xinjiang, held by the Politburo in May, marked one of the first times that the Chinese government went beyond its typical response of promoting economic development as a way of fostering greater relations between Uyghurs and Han Chinese, acknowledging that bridging the ethnic division would help bring greater stability to Xinjiang (where 45% of Uyghurs live and where much of the unrest has taken place). The forum also called for greater integration between the two groups.
In making their cartoon series, producers reportedly cooperated with the local government in Xinjiang and purposefully sought a musician that is culturally acceptable to both Uyghurs and Han Chinese. Deng, the director, has said that the cartoon would steer away from topics of politics and religion, allowing audiences to focus instead on elements of cultural unity.

It will be a tough sell. Seytoff tells Quartz that the series is a form of propaganda made by people who understand only one side of the conflict. “It’s like the Chinese government is trying to make the cartoon without understanding Uyghur culture and then showing it to Uyghurs hoping that they will love it.”