A few years ago a friend of mine, the Chinese-born Canadian actor Anastasia Lin, winner of Miss World Canada, auditioned for the lead role in the new Disney production Mulan. She was unsuccessful, and now I fully understand why.

The film is based on the legend of the young Chinese woman, Hua Mulan, who disguises herself as a man to fight in the imperial army in place of her father, somewhere around the fifth century AD. It is a story of courage, intelligence, determination and honour.

Photo: WikiCommons.

As a character, Ms Lin would have been perfect for the part, for she herself has shown extraordinary persistence and bravery in her fight for human rights against the Chinese Communist Party regime. But that is precisely why she did not get the part. Of course in terms of sheer talent it would have been fiercely competitive – but her political activism disqualified her from the start.

Instead, Chinese-born American Crystal Liu Yifei was cast as Mulan. Very quickly, she kowtowed to the regime in Beijing when she publicly expressed support for the Hong Kong police force in its brutal suppression of pro-democracy protesters. Despite shocking widespread, disproportionate and indiscriminate violence by the Hong Kong police, widely condemned by international human rights organisations, Ms Liu posted a message on the Chinese social media site Weibo, saying: “I also support Hong Kong police.”

This came soon after the Hong Kong police allowed triad gangsters to beat up civilians with impunity in Hong Kong’s Yuen Long district, and credible reports of sexual violence and torture in detention were presented by Amnesty International.

Photo: Mulan trailer screenshot.

Naturally the remark provoked an enormous backlash among Hongkongers and calls for a boycott of the film. And it was unnecessary. She did not need to comment either way on the crisis in Hong Kong. But she clearly felt the need to ingratiate herself with Beijing.

It is now apparent why. Disney’s production of Mulan, released last Friday, is so knee-deep in collusion with the Chinese regime that it is not a family feature film but a Communist Party propaganda initiative.

It has emerged that Mulan was filmed in Xinjiang, the region of China which has become notorious for the regime’s mass atrocities against the predominantly Muslim Uighur population.

Officially known as the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) – and known to Uighurs as East Turkestan – it is the site of a network of prison camps in which at least one million, perhaps up to three million, Uighurs are incarcerated, subjected to appalling slave labour, sexual violence and torture.

File photo posted by the Xinjiang Judicial Administration to its WeChat account, April 2017, showing detainees at a camp in Lop county, Hotan prefecture, Xinjiang. Photo: RFA, Oct. 2, 2018; cf. WaybackMachine Internet Archive, April 17, 2017.

It is a region where, outside the camps, an Orwellian surveillance state has been erected to monitor Uighurs’ every move, with artificial intelligence, facial recognition technology, cameras on every block and Chinese agents living with Uighur families 24 hours a day. “People don’t even have the freedom to breathe,” my Uighur friend Kuzzat Altay told me 18 months ago.

It is a region where  religious freedom is denied, as mosques and Muslim burial grounds are destroyed and beards of a certain length or the wearing of headscarves can result in detention. Religious acts such as fasting during Ramadan, or praying, are punished and Uighurs have reported being forced to eat pork and drink alcohol.

It is a region which has seen the transfer of Uighurs to other parts of China for slave labour, in factories manufacturing for high-street brands and multinational corporations.

It is a region where, according to researcher Adrian Zenz, a campaign of forced sterilisation of Uighur women is underway, targeting 80% of Uighur women of childbearing age in the four Uighur-populated prefectures – which, according to the 1948 Genocide Convention, could elevate this to the level of genocide.

Last week, a courageous Uighur doctor told ITV that she had personally conducted at least 500 to 600 operations on Uighur women including forced contraception, forced abortion (even in the last two months of pregnancy), forced sterilisation and forced removal of wombs. She said that on at least one occasion a baby was still moving when it was discarded into the rubbish. Others report killing babies by injection if they survive late abortion.

China’s state media has declared that the aim in this crackdown on the Uighurs is to “break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections and break their origins.” As the Washington Post put it in an editorial, “It’s hard to read that as anything other than a declaration of genocidal intent.” Leaked high-level Chinese government documents last year speak of “absolutely no mercy”.

The situation is so grave that a British barrister, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, is leading an independent inquiry into whether the evidence amounts to genocide. As the man who prosecuted Slobodan Milosevic, he knows atrocity crimes when he sees them. Last year he led a similar inquiry into allegations of forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience in China and concluded that this crime was being perpetrated and amounts to a “crime against humanity” under international law. The China Tribunal also concluded that those who engage with the regime in Beijing must do so in the knowledge that they are “interacting with a criminal state.”

The producers of Mulan, it would appear, are in bed with this criminal state. The credits at the end of the film include “special thanks” to no less than eight government bodies in Xinjiang, including the public security bureau in Turpan, a city where several prison camps exist. The Chinese Communist Party’s Xinjiang propaganda department also gets an acknowledgement. In other words, this is a film made with the assistance of a regime that is committing crimes against humanity and may well be genocidal.

No wonder Disney did not even consider Ms Lin, who helped expose forced organ harvesting among prisoners of conscience in China to the world. Disney wants to make box office profits in China. And of course China’s influence in Hollywood is already well-known. But with Mulan it has now moved from insidious censorship to outright takeover.

The film is little more than a propaganda tool for Xi Jinping’s nationalist and aggressively expansionist agenda, aimed at generating pride at home and influence abroad. That is why I will never go to see this new release, and I urge everyone who has a conscience to join the #BoycottMulan campaign.


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Benedict Rogers

Benedict Rogers is a writer and human rights activist specialising in Asia. He is the author of six books, including Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads. He is also a former parliamentary candidate and co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission in the UK. Ben lived in Hong Kong from 1997-2002 and travels regularly to the region. He is the founder and chair of Hong Kong Watch.