How China distorts its minorities through propaganda

“Tibet has lost its voice,” says the Tibetan poet and activist Tsering Woeser, referring to the years since China invaded Tibet in 1950. “Artists do not have the freedom to show their real minds. In Tibet, ideology is so strict that space for publishing works is very limited. For self protection, artists and intellectuals are forced to be dumb.”

The Communist government of the People’s Republic of China announced that it would use propaganda films to publicise its ethnic minority groups – shooting one movie for each of the country’s 55 ethnicities. Their aim is to promote China as a multicultural, multiethnic country.

There is a vast gap between how the Chinese Communist Party represents minorities and how they represent themselves. They are commonly depicted in government-produced media as harmless entertainers. The dominant Han Chinese government needs to control restive minorities, who occasionally riot against the government. They present propaganda in the guise of art.

Song and dance

Woeser published a book that describesTibet as a “giant prison”. Her works are banned in mainland China, and her freedom of movement is restricted.

The Chinese government won’t give Tibetans control over their own narrative. Instead, the art that is allowed must depict the region as a touristic paradise.

The ethnic minority artists largely avoid contemporary, more realistic depictions of their homelands.

Zang Xiaowei, a professor of Chinese studies at the University of Sheffield, says that mass media depictions of ethnic minorities are carefully curated to bolster the Communist Party’s “mandate [and] legitimacy to govern China”, a vast land of disparate cultures.

The Communist Party portrays the ethnic groups as under-developed in order to justify its own actions toward them. In Tibet, for example, the government claims that Chinese rule has broken down a barbaric feudal system and brought important everyday benefits and infrastructure to the people, from roads to education. The propaganda also celebrates Tibet’s cultural roots, such as folk dancing or singing – much of which, ironically, has been eroded by top-down development.

Getting real

In Chinese state media, Uyghurs are also stereotyped. They are often labelled as either terrorists or as a people who are too busy singing and dancing to cause issues.

For Uyghur hip-hop band Six City, however, music is less about politics and more about rejecting stereotypes. “If you’re from the Uyghur minority, you need to play Uyghur folk music. They don’t care that we can play hip-hop or pop,” says one Six City band member. His bandmate adds: “it’s like being clowns.”

Musicians in Six City want their voice to show the world what they are really like. “The whole world thinks we’ve disappeared, that we’re extinct. What’s the most important thing for Uyghur people now? It’s not development. The most important thing is that people know who we are.”

Source: How China distorts its minorities through propaganda
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