China made a ‘La La Land’-inspired propaganda musical about the life of Uyghur Muslims, which omits all mention of mass surveillance and oppression

china musical uyghurs wings of songs
A still from the 2021 Chinese propaganda musical “The Wings of Songs.”

  • The state-produced “The Wings of Songs” released in China on March 28.
  • It shows Uyghur Muslims living peacefully alongside Han Chinese people.
  • In reality, Uyghurs are heavily monitored and detained in their homeland of Xinjiang.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

China released a propaganda musical that purportedly depicts the life of Uyghur Muslims, which fails to mention mass surveillance and systematic human-rights abuses.

“The Wings of Songs,” which premiered in China on March 28, follows the story of a Uyghur, a Kazakh, and a Han Chinese man who form a musical group in the Xinjiang region.

In the film, the relationship between Uyghurs and Han Chinese is described as the “seeds of a pomegranate,” according to The New York Times.

In reality, Beijing has since at least 2017 sought to erase Uyghur culture, detaining more than one million Uyghurs in hundreds of prison camps across Xinjiang.

Early this year, the US State Department said the crackdown amounted to genocide. Canada and the Netherlands have since said the same.

Chinese authorities have in recent years forced Uyghurs to adopt mainstream Han Chinese culture, tried to slash Uyghur birthrates with birth control plans, and monitored their every move.

But “The Wings of Songs” glosses over all of these issues, according to reviews from Agence France-Presse and the Times.

Prominent examples of culture washing in the film include the fact that there are no references to Islam, AFP said, adding that more than half of the population of Xinjiang are Muslims.

Similarly, the Uyghur men in the film are depicted as clean-shaven and drinking alcohol, while Uyghur women are seen without their traditional headscarves, the Times said.

“The notion that Uyghurs can sing and dance so therefore there is no genocide – that’s just not going to work,” Nury Turkel, a Uyghur-American lawyer, told the Times.

“Genocide can take place in any beautiful place.”

uighur protest china
A protest against China’s treatment of the Uyghurs held in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2020.

While making headlines abroad, the film appears to have been a damp squib at the Chinese box office.

As of Monday, it had generated just $109,000, according to data from the movie-ticketing company Maoyan, cited by the Times.

The state-run Global Times tabloid reported that the film was inspired by the success of the Oscar-winning 2016 musical “La La Land.”

Last month the US, European Union, Britain, and Canada announced sanctions against two Chinese officials for “serious human rights abuses” against Uyghurs.

Last week António Guterres, the UN secretary general, said that he had begun negotiating with Beijing to secure a visit to Xinjiang so that allegations of genocide could be examined.

China has denied the existence of the camps, and state media has in recent weeks slammed the US for meddling in its domestic affairs.

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