Xinjiang: where Disney’s Chinese fiction clashes with harsh facts

Xinjiang: where Disney’s Chinese fiction clashes with harsh facts

The opening fight scene in Disney’s new live-action film Mulan boasts an epic backdrop. Fearsome invaders gallop from red ochre sand dunes towards a walled garrison on the ancient Silk Road. The Chinese empire is under attack.

The location for the scene tells a different reality. Near the same dunes, there is another securely guarded fortress with high walls; an internment camp built by the ruling Chinese Communist party to lock up and “re-educate” people deemed a threat to China.

Disney, the world’s largest entertainment company, had hoped to spend this week talking up its new blockbuster — the budget for Mulan, which launched in the US on Friday and opens in China this weekend, was $200m. But instead it has found itself at the centre of a controversy about China, human rights and the responsibility of multinational companies.

Some of the scenes were shot in Xinjiang, the region in the north-west of China where the government has built a massive network of “re-education” camps to intern more than 1m Uighurs, Kazakhs and other mostly Muslim peoples. The film’s credits thank four different propaganda offices in Xinjiang, as well as the public security bureau in the nearby city of Turpan, which works closely with some of the camps.