Chinese authorities have been trying hard to suppress ethnic violence in the western border region of Xinjiang. Who next can they call upon to help?
Enter Princess Fragrant.
The 10-year-old Uighur princess is on a mission, with her brother and their ethnic Han and Kazakh friends, to rescue her father from the clutches of a greedy Western explorer.
She is a portrait of ethnic harmony and a messenger of peace amid the racial tension. That is the spin of Chinese authorities.
Xinjiang’s Kashgar TV station will in December broadcast a Disney-style cartoon series in the Uighur language of Princess Fragrant, according to the New York Times.
It is the second Xinjiang-theme cartoon released in recent years after the Legend of Loulan Kingdom in 2013.
The Chinese government no doubt expects the cartoon series to help maintain stability in Xinjiang.
However, some observers question whether enlisting Princess Fragrant in the fight against ethnic violence would work, the Hong Kong Economic Journal, parent publication of ejinsight.com, reported Friday.
Princess Fragrant, created by animators in Shenzhen, is loosely based on a historical Qing Dynasty imperial consort, Fragrant Concubine (or Rongfei, her palace name).
In the context provided by top officials in Beijing, her story represents a theme of ethnic unity among the Han and the Uighur.
However, Fragrant Concubine is more like a tragic figure, in a popular Uighur version of the narrative, who resented the Manchus for invading her homeland. She kept daggers hidden in her robes even after she was taken 2,700 miles to the imperial court in Beijing by the Qianlong Emperor.
James Leibold, a senior lecturer at La Trobe University in Melbourne who studies China’s ethnic policy, was quoted in the NYT report as saying: “Like other Han productions, I suspect Xinjiang’s majority Uighur population will see right through this latest piece of ethnic unity propaganda.”
Incidentally, the Qianlong Emperor was actually ethnic Manchu, not Han.
“How could the Chinese government think that propaganda cartoons of unity can win the hearts and minds of the Uighur while the killing and repression of our people is not being stopped?” an Al Jazeera report quoted Alim Seytoff, a spokesman for the World Uighur Congress, a rights group that bills itself as an autonomous Uighur government in exile.
The cartoon is also expected to boost tourism in Kashgar, one of the largest cities in Xinjiang.
A so-called tomb of Fragrant Concubine there is listed as a “must-see” attraction on Chinese tour groups’ itinerary. But researchers found her grave is actually among the Qing imperial graves near Beijing, the New York Times said.
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