Chinese Propaganda: Lesson in Forbidden Territory (2014)

Directors: Eric Darbré, Axel Royer
Producer: Olivier Wlodarczyk,
Production: Ego Productions, France télévision, Public sénat


An authoritarian People’s Republic or real dictatorship? This documentary reveals the real face of China and get inside the propaganda machine. For the 1st time, a French director-journalist joined an official trip to the heart of one of the most secret and unstable regions in China: Xinjiang, an area that’s normally out of bounds to tourists. Thanks to reliable contacts amongst the organisers of this “Chinese tour” and the help of diasporas based in Europe and Central Asia, and thanks also to accounts given here for the 1st time by Turkish-speaking Muslims and footage of the most recent revolts, this film draws a parallel between a slick, consensual tour and the distress of an entire race.



Diamond in the Dunes (2009)

Diamond in the Dunes (2009)
Director: Christopher Rufo

Country: USA
Language: Uighur | Mandarin
Release Date: 10 August 2014 (USA)
Production Co: Documentary Foundation

Series: Global Voices
Watch for free: Documentary Foundation


The true story of hope and baseball in China’s Xinjiang Province — a region harshly divided between an indigenous Muslim minority and the ruling Han Chinese. Diamond in the Dunes follows 20-year-old Uyghur shepherd Parhat Ablat, who attends the region’s racially segregated Xinjiang University.

Parhat is on a fraught quest to raise his people out of what he calls their “spirit sickness.” While at the helm of the university’s first mixed-race baseball team, he also starts a program at a minority elementary school. After a year of practice in the shadow of tense ethnic relations, Parhat and the university team travel 2,000 miles for their only game of the season — against a team of Tibetans on the Qinghai Plateau. Baseball is more than a game; it’s a vehicle for spiritual transformation.



Bogha: The Donkey-Pad

Another film by Saipulla Mutellip I thought I should share. Information from this website:

(Saipulla Mutallip, 2016, Hong Kong, 70 min, in Uyghur w/ English subtitles, Color, DVD) 

Muhter is a good boy. He helps his father pushing his hawker’s cart in the morning before school. In the afternoon he helps his mother with the baby. His only vice is ice-lollipops. One day while he is taking his grandmother home, he finds a donkey-pad which he sells to finance his purchase of a lot of ice-lollipops. However, life becomes complicated for Muhter…

Bogha is adapted from a short-story of the same title by the Uyghur writer Memtimin Hoshur.

Memtimin Hoshur is a pretty famous author. Not listed on his Wikipedia page is “Qirliq Istakan” which was turned into a movie that I consider a classic. I will probably post a separate blog on that movie, actually. In any case, based on his previous works, I assume Bogha would also be some sort of social commentary – something I will always enjoy. However, this film seems to be more elusive than Qarangghu Tagh so, again, not sure where I would be able to get my hands on it. If anyone knows, please hmu!


Qarangghu Tagh: The Villages Afar

I was recently alerted to this documentary called Qarangghu Tagh by Saipulla Mutellip. It was nominated for a Hong Kong Documentary Award. I don’t know much about it but I did find an explanation on this website:

This is the first known independent Uyghur documentary for public screening by a native Uyghur film maker about Xinjiang entirely without government background or involvement.

Qarangghu Tagh is an impoverished mountain area near Khotan in the southernmost part of Xinjiang. The villages are situated on high mountains at altitudes above 3000m. The area is so remote that it has no road connecting it to the world outside. Even to this day, the only access to Qarangghu Tagh is a long, narrow and meandering mountain path that takes 8-9 hours on donkey back, or 3-4 hours by motorbike to get through. One might expect such a self-subsistent community so isolated from the rest of the world to be left in peace.

However, history of the larger world has not left Qarangghu Tagh alone. In 1934 the army led by the Tonggan (Hui) warlord Ma Hushan was defeated in battles fought out in Xinjiang by the army of Sheng Shicai, the Han warlord from Liaoning Province recognized by the Kuomintang. Ma’s soldiers retreated to Khotan and inaugurated four years’ of brutal rule in Khotan. The people of Khotan were subjected to atrocious killing and looting. Some of Ma’s soldiers went up the mountain to Qarangghu Tagh and committed a massacre in one of the villages. This event that destroyed the world of the ordinary people of Qarangghu Tagh is not written down in any historical records, but the people of Qarangghu Tagh have remembered it in a folk song that everybody in the village can sing.

During the 1934 massacre, the unfeigned and mild folks of Qarangghu Tagh did not put up any resistance because the simple lives of rural living had not occasioned the training of strong leaders. Today, after more than half a century, education in the village is still barely existing.

The director-cinematographer of Qarangghu Tagh is a native Uyghur of Xinjiang. He travelled to Qarangghu Tagh for the first time in 2009 to observe the people’s way of life. It was in that trip when he first heard villagers sing the folk song about the 1934 massacre. Then he started to research on that incident and returned to Qarangghu Tagh multiple times between 2009 and December 2012 to interview villagers including survivors of the massacre and their descendants.  He worked alone on most of the research and creative tasks within a minimal budget and other social constraints. He is the director, researcher, cinematographer and co-editor of this film. It took him six years until 2014 to complete this project.

Fascinating to say the least. Sinoturcica also has a more in-depth look at the film, as well as the history surrounding the events cataloged. I had never heard of the massacre but the information provided in the above-mentioned blog reminds me of a part in Ana Yurt where one of the characters is taken captive by Tunggans and travels from the north to Kashgar and eventually to Hotan. I’m not sure whether it specifically referenced Qarangghu Tagh, but it did mention the bloodshed and horrors and the pillaging of every village they came across so I wonder if the documentary and the book speak of the same group. But read the linked blog for more information (and pictures!) on the historical events.

Here is a trailer for the documentary:


Unfortunately, I am not sure where you would be able to watch it. Perhaps you can suggest a screening to an organisation near you, or contact the director or producer directly:

Saipulla Mutalip, Film Director
Jessica Yeung, Film Producer

Gherip Senem (1981)

above photo credits: Rian Thum
Gherip Senem is a movie produced by the Tengritagh Film Studio and written by Zunun Kadir. Watching the film was like stepping into some weird Orientalist fantasy on drugs – the tinny 80s sounds, the explosion of colours muffled by a blanket filter of 80s film quality, the dramatic makeup (particularly the teacher’s eyelashes – wow), and that dream sequence! A couple, dancing on clouds inside a kaleidoscope? Amazing. I’m not sure about the historical accuracy of the costumes, but they look great and I suppose an Uyghur/Han project would be different from the weird Oriental fetishizing seen in Western projects. So, considering I have no background in film, I looked to Dilber Thwaites’ thesis Zunun Kadir’s Ambiguity: The dilemma of a Uyghur writer under Chinese rule, where she has an extensive section on the film, opera, and script versions of this story.

From my understanding, Gherip Senem started as an opera written by Ziya Samedi, based on the classical Uyghur romance “Gherip and Senem”. A few years after the first opera was written, Kadir contributed two scenes to a re-staging of it in 1941. The plays were staged in Ghulja in 1936, then Urumqi, Aksu, Kashgar, Hoten and Kucha between 1939 and 1944. In 1945 it was banned by Chinese authorities and a number of those involved in the production were arrested or had to flee. The opera was reworked in the early 1950s. Kadir was exiled in 1962 as a “revisionist”, and at least two of his major works were destroyed at that time, including his dramatic version of “Gherip and Senem”. During Kadir’s exile, in the 1970s, Ali Azziz put together an opera based on Kadir’s work, then in 1981 Kadir and Azziz produced a movie script for “Gherip and Senem”.

(Samedi himself was a prolific author who would later write many stories that centred on the theme of anti-Chinese colonialism.)

Although the writers and actors were Uyghur, the production was Han so there are some key differences between the film and opera versions.

To read more analysis about Gherip Senem (including historical and political context) you can click this link and go to pages 142-180. I will include the first couple of sections here:


Gerip and Senem

Zunun’s work on this epic story is of special interest, because it exists in three forms that show various stages of development. The first form is an opera libretto, on which the film script is based. The second is the Chinese translation of the film script, which was published in a single volume together with the opera script in 1981. The third version is the actual transcription of the Uyghur language version of the film, which was made by the Tianshan Film Studio under the direction of Han production crew with Uyghur actors and assistant director. A translation of the opera version is provided in Appendix 3 [p 412]. Appendix 4 [p 464] is a table in which the differences between the film script and soundtrack transcript versions are noted in detail, whereas only the major differences are noted between the opera and the film. The major textual discussion focuses on the differences between the opera and the film, as these two treatments were made at different times in China’s political development of the early 1980s.


Origins and evolution of the opera

Some history of the story of Gerip and Senem is provided in the translator’s note. It refers to a 175-year old story as a major source “as well as other sources”. Thus, some of Zunun’s contribution to the work is unacknowledged. In the article “Remembering Artist Friends” Zunun states that in 1945 he added two scenes to a dramatic musical version of “Gerip and Senem” that had been staged in the 1930s by the Uyghur Cultural Development Organisation’s Arts Committee. Separately, Zunun says in his oral memoir: “In 1963 my five-act, seven-scene drama of Gerip and Senem… was destroyed”. The published script that is discussed here gives credit only to Ali Azziz, with the acknowledgement that he “used previous material”. According to Zunun’s wife Zileyhan, the script attributed to Ali Azziz was in fact based on Zunun’s earlier work. The current opera script was published in 1980, following Zunun’s return from exile. Although we cannot identify clearly what parts of the opera were Zunun’s individual work, his involvement is strong enough to justify considering it in this thesis. The final film script is attributed to both Ali Azziz and Zunun Kadir.



King Abbas has agreed to betroth his daughter Senem to Gerip, the son of his trusted Vezir Hessen. However, his military chief Shawazi and his wife want their own unworthy son Abdullah to marry the King’s daughter. Shawazi plots to have Hessen assassinated, after which the King goes back on his promise and dissolves the betrothal. As Gerip and Senem love each other, Abdullah plots to separate them, and Gerip is sent into exile, leaving Senem grieving. Shawazi’s faction gains strength at the court, and Gerip becomes the focus of hope for other honourable officials who are exiled or imprisoned. They join with the rebellious Mountain People, and eventually return to rescue Senem from a forced marriage to Abdullah. The King is forced to accept the marriage of Gerip and Senem.



The story of Gerip and Senem has developed to contain considerably more than just a simple love story. In introducing his Chinese translation, the Han writer Zhang Shirong of the Xinjiang Writers’ Association says that it symbolizes feudal relationships between Islamic rulers and their subjects under the Abassi Empire – a conventional CCP-based view of this type of writing. However, for those who know how to interpret it, the story has other meanings. In conversations with a number of Uyghur scholars during this study, it was almost unanimously said that such stories have layers that the reader must understand for himself. As noted in Chapter 2, in his own article “Concerning Spiritual Nourishment”, Zunun said that “Love may include higher love: love of one’s country, one’s people…” My reading of “Gerip and Senem” is based on understanding of the way such material may be read by a Uyghur audience, with the love between the central characters symbolizing “higher” kinds of love. The story has many threads, but three of these are most important as social and political comment that is usually presented indirectly:

  • East Turkistan culture and its relation to Central Asian and Middle Eastern culture;
  • the power relation of China as a whole to East Turkistan, and Chinese views of Xinjiang; and
  • the relationship of Uyghur people in East Turkistan to Chinese rule, and their means of self-preservation.

I identify these key threads separately, even though they are sometimes interwoven in the narrative and their evidence is often deliberately obscure. In considering these different narrative threads, I will also note the changes that were made between the opera libretto and the film script, and between the published script and the released film as transcribed from the sound-track. This analysis indicates the assertion of Uyghur identity tends to be more overt in the opera, whereas the film versions of the story, where there are differences, lean more towards imagery and references that support the incorporation of Xinjiang into China. There can be two reasons for this: the time difference between the publication of the opera and the publication of the film spans a period during which political supervision of literary activity was being tightened up throughout China (as mentioned earlier in this chapter); and in addition, the opera was produced only in Uyghur for a Uyghur audience, whereas the film was dubbed into Chinese and therefore would potentially be seen by an audience throughout China. However, there are instances where the film seems to have included elements that favour the Uyghur point of view. It would appear that, in the negotiation process between the Uyghur and Han members of the production team, there was some scope for the Uyghur writers (principally Zunun himself) to argue on cultural grounds for the inclusion of material, the political significance of which would not be evident to the Han officials.


Do check out the rest of the analysis, because she goes in-depth on the different characters, themes, styles, some artistic choices, etc and it’s quite incredible. That being said, the movie itself is fun to watch on a surface level as a visual spectacle and a short version of an old folk tale, and the actors are great!

A List of Short Movies

I have come across some really random videos while looking for all the links on this blog, so here are some that don’t quite fit a criteria but are interesting nonetheless. I have included the organisations or schools that have funded each project to give an idea of the sort of information inside it (e.g. Chinese propaganda), so keep that in mind while watching. Enjoy.

University of the Arts London, London College of Communication
An Uyghur Odyssey (2009) A simple tale – we pick up three Uyghur musicians on their way to play a 24 hour long song. 

The Uyghurs (2013) Stef Hoffer: [this video] gives an impression of the traditions and remaining culture I encountered while traveling through the region. There are images of Kashgar, Hotan and smaller villages in the area.

Xinjiang Art Institute with the Committee Propaganda Department of Chinese Communist Party, Yecheng County
The Edge of the Bazaar (2015) This short Uyghur language film (English and Chinese subtitles) by student filmmakers Dilmurat Tohti and Abdukadirjan Upur follows the lives of three craftsmen (a mat-maker, spoon-maker, and salt seller) who live at the margins of a small town in the south of Kashgar prefecture called Qaghaliq.

Rahime (2015) a short film by Mukaddas Mijit. “In this particular time of human history, where cultural heritages, morality and brotherhood have been humiliated; a grandmother from a remote place sends a message of peace, respect and generosity.”

University of Hawaii: National Resource Centre for East Asia, National Foreign Language Resource Centre. Funded by the US Department of Education, Confucius Institute, and the PRC Ministry of Education
Xinjiang, Kashgar – Uyghur Muslim China ئۇيغۇر‎ an interview with a local on various Uyghur and Muslim customs


Send me suggestions for more if you know of any.

Hard To Believe (2016)

A film about organ harvesting in China. On one hand I would like to watch it, on the other hand I don’t know if I could stand the horror it will discuss. I was always good with gore and such in films, but that’s exactly why – the horror was just a film, fake. This is… real life. And I’m friends with Enver Tohti (one of the surgeons in the documentary) on Facebook. It really is hard to believe.

You can view the trailer and buy the documentary here. Or you can rent it on YouTube Movies.


“Hard To Believe” investigates the serious medical crimes of forced live organ harvesting from Chinese prisoners of conscience, and the response—or lack of it—around the world. From an author’s 7-year investigation to a doctor’s confession; the determination of the son of a Holocaust survivor, to the persistence of a culturally-challenged victim community, “Hard To Believe” explores the mystery of why so few people seem to be paying attention to a crime so horrific it goes beyond belief.


Adrift (2017)

Adrift is a short documentary about a traditional musician named Shohrat from Uyghur, an autonomous region of northwest China. Once famous in Japan in the 1990’s, he is now relatively unknown and lives in suburban western Sydney. Shohrat is torn between his Uyghur homeland, his ties to Japan where his talent was truly appreciated, and suburban Australia where his family now lives.”

Director & Director of Photography: Jon Mark Oldmeadow
Producers: Jon Mark Oldmeadow, Caitlin Farrugia
Editors: Miška Mandić, Jon Mark Oldmeadow

Here is the official website for more information about this film. It was recently screened at the St Kilda Film Festival where it won the Audience Choice Award. Hopefully it will be available to the public in the future!

Death on the Silk Road (1999)

An old documentary I found on YouTube which discusses China’s nuclear testing program in Lop Nor. You can watch it here.

I found a helpful description on this website:

Death on the Silk Road

Distributed by Filmakers Library, 124 East 40th Street, New York, NY 10016; 212-808-4980
Produced by Richard Hering and Stuart Tanner for Channel Four Dispatches
VHS, color, 27 min.

Reviewed by Cliff Glaviano, Coordinator of Cataloging, Bowling Green State University Libraries, Bowling Green, OH

This film reveals the extraordinary risks involved in attempting to document possible health hazards of nuclear weapons testing in China. From 1964 to 1996, the Chinese conducted a series of at least 43 nuclear experiments of high-yield tactical nuclear weapons at the Lop Nor site in Xinjiang province. Though the area of the tests is sparsely populated, many cities on the ancient Silk Road trade route are downwind from Lop Nor and have been exposed to fallout from above ground tests and radiation releases from underground tests. The Great Silk Road currently is among areas highly promoted by China for foreign tourism.

A team of doctors and filmmakers pose as tourists in order to assess the potential effects of nuclear testing in China. Each takes considerable personal risk to attempt to document increased incidences of birth defects, leukemia and other cancers in Xinjian. Increased rates of these medical problems could be evidence that Chinese nuclear testing has placed the Xinjian population at risk. The team obtains its evidence by gaining illegal access to Chinese medical records, by interviewing local doctors, and by offering medical services to indigent residents. This is a documentary of a very real case of modern spying in which evidence collected by the team is smuggled out of the country by accomplices. One team member is detained for hours and strip-searched at the Beijing airport, before being released to board his out-of-country flight for lack of evidence.

Death on the Silk Road won the 1999 Rory Peck Award for Journalism. The review copy lacked a view of the most compelling evidence the team was able to collect (“shot missing”) and also contained a blank sequence of about 20 seconds duration before the final credits. Assuming the production copies of the video have corrected these small faults, the film is recommended for 9th grade through adult audiences. Scenes of victims with birth defects or diseases are graphic and could disturb less mature viewers.


The 10 Conditions of Love (2009)

I cannot forget to mention The 10 Conditions of Love in a series on Uyghur documentaries. It was shown in the Melbourne Film Festival despite China’s warnings – in fact, I believe China’s attempts at stopping its screening gave the documentary a lot more attention than it may have otherwise received. Since then, the film has been shown in many locations, including the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, where I first watched it. I enjoyed it for the most part, although it was the first instance where I consciously realised how much is lost when translating Uyghur speech to English subtitles. Here is a trailer and you can go to this website to buy the DVD. A Q&A was also held in the Lincoln Center in 2012.


THE 10 CONDITIONS OF LOVE is a love story – of a woman, a man, a family, a people and a homeland. It is the story of Rebiya Kadeer, China’s nightmare – the woman it accuses of inciting terrorism within China’s borders.

It is also the story of the ‘other Tibet’, the country its Muslim people call East Turkestan, but which the Chinese call Xinjiang Province – the other stain on China’s moral character.

It is a big story: a story of the ruthless oppression of 20-million people; of the global politics of energy; of Super Power politicking over the War on Terror; and of the pain of a deeply loving family torn violently apart.

Exiled in the US, Rebiya Kadeer is fighting for the human rights of her people, the Uyghur, China’s oppressed Muslim minority. But Rebiya Kadeer’s campaign condemns her sons to on-going solitary confinement in a Chinese prison. Having done six years in prison including solitary herself, she understands the appalling consequences for them of her actions – but she will not relent.

Twice nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, once – reputedly – the richest woman in China, Rebiya Kadeer is a remarkable woman who pays daily a terrible price for patriotism.

And it will never be over.