The Disney film company has in recent days faced significant backlash, including a growing call to boycott the movie Mulan, over its decision to film in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) despite on-going rights abuses, as well as for thanking entities linked to mass incarceration in the region.
Detainees at an internment camp in the XUAR, where Disney shot part of its film Mulan, are being subjected to forced labour making socks and crushing gravel, according to a local official.
Disney released its US$200 million live-action version of the popular 1998 animated film “Mulan” on its streaming platform Disney+ on Sept. 04.
In the credits of the long-awaited remake, the company thanks several entities known to have contributed to Beijing’s repressive rule in the XUAR.
Among those thanked in the credits are the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda commission in the XUAR, which has sought to justify the camps as voluntary “vocational centres”.
Disney also thanked the Turpan (in Chinese, Tulufan) prefectural branch of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, which in July was sanctioned by the Trump administration for its role in abuses in the region.
Turpan, where the film was shot in part, is a prefecture-level city in eastern Xinjiang whose population of around 650,000 people is 75% Uyghur.
The ancient Silk Road city is known as being one of the earliest to have rolled out a campaign of “transformation through education” of Muslims, beginning in August 2013.
RFA recently learned from local police officers that as many as eight camps are in operation within the prefecture’s boundaries, despite claims in Paris earlier this month by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that all those sent to camps in the XUAR have been released and placed in employment.
A source who is familiar with the situation in Turpan, but declined to be named for fear of reprisal, told RFA that authorities sent many residents to one of the camps outside of Turpan city in 2017 as part of what they initially termed a “15-day training session” that was to be completed at the end of China’s Oct. 18-25 19th Party Congress held in Beijing that year.
However, families of the detainees were later told that, because the “training” had resulted in a “positive effect on social stability,” those at the camp would remain there for the foreseeable future, according to the source.
By the end of 2017, camp authorities had begun building factories inside the camp and detainees were made to wear color-coded uniforms that classified them according to their so-called “crimes,” the source said.
Reports of the forced labour conditions in Turpan come amid indications that China is increasingly relocating some inmates of its three-year-old internment camp program that has drawn international condemnation and US sanctions, sending many to work in factories across China and arbitrarily sentencing others to prison terms without trials.
On Monday, the Trump administration announced new customs actions to block imports of hair, apparel, and cotton products believed to be produced with forced labour by three entities from Xinjiang, as well as computer parts produced by one from eastern China’s Anhui province.
In a message posted to Twitter that day, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed China’s “immoral use of forced labour,” which he said “is at odds with American values.”
Last week, US lawmakers sent an open letter to Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek, demanding clarification on the company’s cooperation with XUAR agencies.
Globally, Mulan has earned US$37.6 million to date at the box office. The film, which has faced tough reviews in China for what critics say are poor action scenes and its deviation from the plot of the original animated feature, endured a disappointing debut of only US$23.2 million. (Source: RFA)