Disney’s Mulan Movie Credits Chinese Communists Who Force Uighur Muslims Into Prison Camps

(p. A10) Disney’s live-action remake of “Mulan” has drawn a fresh wave of criticism for being filmed partly in Xinjiang, the region in China where Uighur Muslims have been detained in mass internment camps.

The outcry, which has spread to include U.S. lawmakers, was the latest example of how the new film, released on Disney+ over the weekend, has become a magnet for anger over the Chinese Communist Party’s policies promoting nationalism and ethnic Han chauvinism.

. . .

The film was already coming under fire months ago, facing calls for a boycott by supporters of the Hong Kong antigovernment protests after the movie’s star, Liu Yifei, said she backed the city’s police, who have been criticized for their use of force against pro-democracy demonstrators.

Last month, as Disney ramped up promotion for the new film, supporters of the Hong Kong protests anointed Agnes Chow, a prominent democracy activist who was recently arrested under the territory’s new national security law, as their own, “real” Mulan.

Rayhan Asat, an ethnic Uighur lawyer in Washington whose younger brother, Ekpar Asat, has been imprisoned in Xinjiang, said in an interview that Disney giving credit to Xinjiang government agencies “runs counter to the ideals of those in the artistic, business and entertainment communities.”

“Devastatingly, Disney’s support amounts to collaboration and enables repression,” she added. “Those who claim to champion freedom in the world cannot afford to ignore such complicity.”

. . .

Last year, Mr. Pence criticized American companies for trying to silence speech in order to maintain access to the Chinese market. He accused Nike of checking its “conscience at the door” and owners and players in the N.B.A. of “siding with the Chinese Communist Party” by suppressing support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

In July [2020], an ESPN investigation described reports of abuse of young players at the National Basketball Association’s player-development training camps in China, including in Xinjiang. After the investigation was published, the N.B.A. acknowledged for the first time that it had ended its relationship with the Xinjiang academy more than a year earlier, but declined to say whether human rights had been a factor.

On Monday, calls to boycott “Mulan” began growing on social media. Among the critics was Joshua Wong, a prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist, who accused Disney of bowing to pressure from Beijing. Supporters in Thailand and Taiwan had also urged a boycott of the movie, citing concerns about China’s growing influence in the region.

For the full story, see:

Amy Qin and Edward Wong. “Calls Grow to Boycott ‘Mulan’ Over China’s Treatment of Uighur Muslims.” The New York Times (Wednesday, September 9, 2020): A10.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 8, 2020, and has the title “Why Calls to Boycott ‘Mulan’ Over Concerns About China Are Growing.” Where the online and print versions differ, the passages above follow the print version.)

Chinese Communist Response to Covid-19 “Shows an Increasingly Nervous, Fragile Country”

(p. A7) LONDON — In January [2020], the Chinese city of Wuhan became the first in the world to undergo a lockdown to fight the coronavirus pandemic. In many ways this crucial period remains a mystery, with few images escaping the censors’ grasp.

A new film by the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei helps fill in some of that missing history. Although now living in Europe, Ai remotely directed dozens of volunteers across China to create “Coronation,” a portrait of Wuhan’s draconian lockdown — and of a country able to mobilize huge resources, if at great human cost.

. . .

The overall impression, especially in the film’s first half-hour, is one of awesome efficiency. Crews quickly bolt prefabricated rooms together, I.C.U. machines beep and purr. The new party members are sworn in with their right fists raised up and the crematory laborers work so hard that they complain that their hands ache.

As the film progresses, the human costs become more apparent. A volunteer worker whose job is finished is not allowed to leave the quarantine zone, so he sleeps in his car in a parking garage. Mourners wail inconsolably at a crematory, and a man fights to be allowed to collect his father’s urn without government officials present — something authorities do not permit because they are afraid the mourning will turn to anger at the government for having allowed the virus to spin out of control.

. . .

The film is available in the United States on Alamo on Demand and in other parts of the world on Vimeo on Demand. Ai said he had hoped to show it first at a film festival, but festivals in New York, Toronto and Venice, after first expressing interest, turned him down. He said that Amazon and Netflix also rejected the movie.

He says his impression is that this was because many of these festivals and companies want to do business in China and so avoid topics that might anger Beijing, something other Chinese directors say is common.

. . .

Rather than providing the world with a model for how to govern, China’s response to the virus shows an increasingly nervous, fragile country, he said. In the scenes where mourners collect ashes, for example, Ai said viewers should note that all the people in white suits and full personal protective gear lurking in the background are members of state organizations trying to make sure that a lid is kept on the grief.

For the full story, see:

Ian Johnson. “‘This Is About China’: Artist Shines a Light on What Wuhan Went Through.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, August 23, 2020): A7.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 21, 2020, and has the title “From Ai Weiwei, a Portrait of Wuhan’s Draconian Covid Lockdown.”)

Reuters Kowtows to Beijing Communists By Erasing Tiananmen Square Stories

(p. B3) A financial-information company partly owned by the news organization Thomson Reuters removed articles related to the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square massacre from the feeds of its data terminals in China last week. The move came under pressure from the Chinese government, Reuters reported Monday [June 3, 2019].

The data firm that complied with the censorship demands, Refinitiv, is Reuters’s biggest customer. It prevented some articles that included mentions of the pro-democracy demonstrations from appearing on its Eikon software and mobile app in China.

In a statement, Refinitiv pointed to legal realities in China, whose government previously blocked websites from publishing stories it deemed politically sensitive. The Chinese authorities have also denied visas to journalists working for news outlets that have published articles that were critical of the nation’s leaders.

For the full story, see:

Marc Tracy. “Reuters Partner Hides Tiananmen News.” The New York Times (Wednesday, June 5, 2019): B3.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 4, 2019, and has the title “In China, a Reuters Partner Blocks Articles on the Tiananmen Square Massacre.”)

China’s “Great Firewall” Is the New Symbol of a New Cold War

(p. A11) At the United Nations Humans Rights Council in Geneva, 53 nations — from Belarus to Zimbabwe — signed a statement supporting China’s new security law for Hong Kong. Only 27 nations on the council criticized it, most of them European democracies, along with Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Such blocs would not have been unfamiliar at the height of the Cold War.

China has also wielded its vast economic power as a tool of political coercion, cutting off imports of beef and barley from Australia because its government called for an international investigation into the origins of the pandemic. On Tuesday [July 14, 2020], Beijing said it would sanction the American aerospace manufacturer Lockheed Martin over recent weapons sales to Taiwan.

. . .

A backlash against Beijing appears to be growing. The tensions are particularly clear in tech, where China has sought to compete with the world in cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence and microchips, while harshly restricting what people can read, watch or listen to inside the country.

If the Berlin Wall was the physical symbol of the first Cold War, the Great Firewall could well be the virtual symbol of the new one.

What began as a divide in cyberspace to insulate Chinese citizens from views not authorized by the Communist Party has now proved to be a prescient indicator of the deeper fissures between China and much of the Western world.

For the full story, see:

Steven Lee Myers and Paul Mozur. “Caught in ‘Ideological Spiral,’ U.S. and China Drift Toward a New Cold War.” The New York Times (Wednesday, July 15, 2020): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated July 23 [sic], 2020, and has the title “Caught in ‘Ideological Spiral,’ U.S. and China Drift Toward Cold War.”)

“There’s No Wolf Warrior Coming to” Rescue the “Little Pinks”

(p. B1) When China came under attack online, Mr. Liu was one of the legions of Chinese students studying abroad who posted in its defense. He condemned the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which he saw as an effort to split a uniting China. After President Trump called the coronavirus the “Chinese virus,” Mr. Liu turned to Twitter to correct those who used the term.

“I was a real little pink,” he said, using a somewhat derogatory term for the young, Communist-red Chinese nationalists who use the internet as a patriotic battleground to fight those who disparage China.

Then Mr. Liu, 21, discovered that the country he had long defended didn’t want him back.

. . .

Mr. Liu and many other countless Chinese people stranded overseas are, for the first time, running afoul of one of their country’s bedrock political prin-(p. B5)ciples: National interests come before an individual’s needs.

. . .

“Can you imagine what it was like when one day someone told you what you believed firmly wasn’t actually true?” Mr. Liu said.

. . .

“In the real world, there’s no wolf warrior coming to my rescue,” a Chinese student in Japan posted on Weibo.

. . .

While the students were outspoken in their anonymous social media comments, they were more reserved in interviews. Mr. Liu, for example, focused his frustration on China’s aviation regulator, which recently backed down after U.S. officials challenged its limits on foreign airlines. Ms. Leng, of Troy University, said she understood the regulator’s motivations.

But some admitted to what might be a new feeling: fear. The student from Japan who invoked “Wolf Warrior 2” said she feared retribution by the Chinese government if she spoke to me.

Then she invited me into a WeChat group of nearly 500 Chinese students exchanging information about flights, visas, schools and frustrations. They told one another not to give news interviews, not even to the Chinese media, for fear of government punishment.

When they sometimes couldn’t help curse the government or the policy, someone would quickly warn that they had better shut up or risk losing their WeChat accounts or even being invited for a chat once they’re back in China.

One student, after being warned, posted an emoticon of the 12 core socialist values that every Chinese citizen is supposed to live by, posting it five times in a row, as if pledging his loyalty to the surveillance state.

“I grew up under the red flag and received the red education,” Mr. Liu said to me. “But what can I say now?”

For the full story, see:

Li Yuan. “THE NEW NEW WORLD; Little Pinks’ Rethink China After Being Trapped Abroad.” The New York Times (Tuesday, June 30, 2020): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 24, 2020, and has the title “THE NEW NEW WORLD; Trapped Abroad, China’s ‘Little Pinks’ Rethink Their Country.”)

Agnes Chow Is “the Real Mulan”

The first “Mulan” below is the Disney actress Liu Yifei, who has expressed support for the suppression of freedom in Hong Kong. The third “Mulan” below is Agnes Chow, the 23 year-old Hong Kong freedom activist who the Beijing communists arrested under their new Hong Kong “security” law.

Meme viral on Twitter.

(p. A10) HONG KONG — Soon after one of Hong Kong’s best-known democracy activists was arrested this week under the national security law imposed on the city by the Chinese government, supporters turned her into a “Mulan” meme.

The social media storm around the activist, Agnes Chow, coincided with Disney’s online campaign for its upcoming movie “Mulan,” about the Chinese folk heroine who disguises herself as a man to stand in for her ailing father in the army. Disney’s slogan: “The legend arrives.”

Supporters on Twitter quickly anointed Ms. Chow, 23, “the real Mulan.” One meme featured three images, each accompanied by text: the “Mulan” star Liu Yifei (“I want the real Mulan”); the cartoon version of Mulan from Disney’s animated 1998 film (“I said the real Mulan”); and Ms. Chow (“Perfection”).

. . .

Ms. Chow, a former leader of the now-disbanded pro-democracy group Demosisto, was among 10 people arrested on Monday [August 10, 2020] on suspicion of violating the security law. She was detained hours after 200 police officers converged on the newsroom of Apple Daily, a publication owned by the media mogul Jimmy Lai, who is a vocal critic of the Chinese government. He, his two sons and other executives from his company were arrested.

. . .

Ms. Liu, the Chinese actress who plays Mulan in the movie, drew a backlash last August when she sided with the Hong Kong police against the protesters on the microblogging platform Weibo, where she had nearly 66 million followers at the time. The police have been accused of excessive force in dealing with the protests.

When Ms. Liu shared the quote “I support the Hong Kong police, you all can beat me up now,” adding a heart and a bicep emoji, the blowback was swift, with supporters of the protests calling for a boycott of “Mulan.”

For the full story, see:

Elaine Yu. “Supporters of Activist in Hong Kong Draft Mulan.” The New York Times (Friday, August 14, 2020): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date August 13, 2020, and has the title “After Agnes Chow Is Arrested in Hong Kong, a ‘Mulan’ Meme Is Born.” Where there are slight differences in wording between the versions in the passages quoted, the online version appears above. The online version does not list an author. I cite James Barron, who is listed as the author in the print version.)

“The Last Bastion of Freedom in the Chinese-Speaking World”

(p. A14) The new security rules for Hong Kong that China passed this week — without input from the city’s Beijing-backed leadership — have made Mr. Xi’s promise of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework seem hollow. And it has raised fears that China will move more aggressively to bring Taiwan, too, under its control.

. . .

In recent weeks, China has buzzed Taiwan’s territorial airspace almost daily. It accused Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, of carrying out a “separatist plot” by speaking at an international democracy forum. It has warned the Taiwan government to stop providing shelter to Hong Kong political activists, who are flocking to what they call the last bastion of freedom in the Chinese-speaking world.

For the full story, see:

Javier C. Hernández and Steven Lee Myers. “Taiwan Sees Ominous Signs for Its Own Autonomy.” The New York Times (Thursday, July 2, 2020): A14-A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 1, 2020, and has the title “As China Strengthens Grip on Hong Kong, Taiwan Sees a Threat.”)

Chinese Communists Threaten Foreign Universities That Screen Hu’s Films

(p. C5) For more than 20 years, the filmmaker Hu Jie has been trawling the deep waters of Chinese history to create a series of harrowing documentaries about the early years of Communist Party rule.

. . .

“Spark” — a film that has undergone many iterations, alternations and expansions — reconstructs the fate of a group of young people who started an underground journal 60 years ago. And “The Observer,” a documentary about Hu by the Italian director Rita Andreetti, is at once a sympathetic portrait of the filmmaker and an introduction to his films.

Both are being distributed by Icarus Films as part of dGenerate Films’ collection of independent Chinese movies, curated by the American film producer Karin Chien.

. . .

Hu’s films are personal takes on several critical turning points in modern Chinese history, especially the persecution of independent thinkers in the 1950s, the famine that followed it, and the Cultural Revolution a decade later. He hunts down survivors, finds rare written material, and creates a composite history in which he is also very much present as a narrator and judge, clearly taking sides with the victims of Maoist China.

Almost all of his films come across as radically low-tech. For years he used a battered Sony Handycam, and he almost never uses lights or multiple cameras — largely because he works alone, but also to give the feeling of authenticity and discovery, as if the viewer were on a journey with Hu to discover a forbidden past.

. . .

. . . he became famous among China’s intelligentsia for his 2004 film, “Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul,” one of the films being released by Icarus. It recounts the story of a political prisoner who was executed in 1968 for refusing to renounce her political convictions. Hu traces Lin’s story through her classmates and friends, and especially through letters that she wrote with her own blood for lack of ink.

That led to “Spark,” about the magazine for which Lin Zhao wrote an epic poem describing the struggle for freedom from tyranny. First released in 2013, “Spark,” like all of Hu’s films, has been added to and re-edited, most recently to include testimony by a witness to the famine who wanted to wait until retiring to speak out.

. . .

. . . he said he hoped his films would resonate today. “Spark,” he said, shows how even in the darkest era of the Mao period — the great famine of 1958 to 1961, which killed at least 30 million people — some were willing to stand up and be counted.

“This story has great significance today,” Hu said. “This country is a country with a unified governing structure, so if no one dares speak truth, a mistake will continue for a long time.”

. . .

Though Hu’s critical works are now being made available to foreign audiences, pressure from the Chinese government makes it hard to arrange public showings there, Chien said.

This scrutiny began around 2015 when she and others put together a touring film festival called “Cinema on the Edge.” Hailed as “beyond the censors’ reach,” the film series ended up coming under intense pressure from the Chinese government. Filmmakers in China were warned to drop out and when the festival went ahead, but with less publicity, foreign outlets, especially universities, were told that screening the films could endanger their chance to work with China.

For the full story, see:

Ian Johnson. “‘To Show Reality as It Really Was’.” The New York Times (Monday, June 29, 2020): C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 28, 2020, and has the title “Excavating Chinese History, One Harrowing Film at a Time.”)

Infectious Disease Specialist Asks If Chinese Labs Did “Gain of Function” Research on Covid-19

(p. D7) For decades, Dr. Daniel R. Lucey, an infectious disease specialist at Georgetown University, has crisscrossed the globe to study epidemics and their origins. His attention now is on the Covid-19 pandemic, which first came to public notice late last year in Wuhan, China. Its exact beginnings are sufficiently clouded that the World Health Organization has begun a wide inquiry into its roots. The advance team is to leave for China this weekend, and Dr. Lucey has publicly encouraged the health agency to address what he considers eight top questions.

“It’s not a legitimate investigation if the team doesn’t ask them,” Dr. Lucey said in a recent interview. He cited public reports and scientific articles as starting points for his queries, adding that Beijing “has never come out and answered these questions.”

Clear answers, Dr. Lucey said, would cast light on how the deadly pathogen spread so rapidly and, perhaps, how exactly the outbreak began. China has not been forthcoming with information, . . .

. . .

The sixth and seventh questions go to whether the deadly pathogen leapt to humans from a laboratory. Although some intelligence analysts and scientists have entertained that scenario, no direct evidence has come to light suggesting that the coronavirus escaped from one of Wuhan’s labs.

Even so, given the wet market’s downgrading in the investigation, “It is important to address questions about any potential laboratory source of the virus, whether in Wuhan or elsewhere,” Dr. Lucey wrote in his blog post.

To that end, he urges the W.H.O. investigators to look for any signs of “gain of function” research — the deliberate enhancement of pathogens to make them more dangerous. The technique is highly contentious. Critics question its merits and warn that it could lead to catastrophic lab leaks. Proponents see it as a legitimate way to learn how viruses and other infectious organisms might evolve to infect and kill people, and thus help in devising new protections and precautions.

Debate over its wisdom erupted in 2011 after researchers announced success in making the highly lethal H5N1 strain of avian flu easily transmissible through the air between ferrets, at least in the laboratory.

In his blog, Dr. Lucey asks “what, if any,” gain-of-function studies were done on coronaviruses in Wuhan, elsewhere in China, or in collaboration with foreign laboratories.

“If done well scientifically, then this investigation should allay persistent concerns about the origin of this virus,” he wrote. “It could also help set an improved standard for investigating and stopping the awful viruses, and other pathogens, in the decades ahead.”

Finally, Dr. Lucey asks the W.H.O. team to learn more about China’s main influenza research lab, a high-security facility in Harbin, the capital of China’s northernmost province. In May [2020], he notes, a Chinese paper in the journal Science reported that two virus samples from Wuhan were studied there in great detail early this year, including in a variety of animals. It reported that cats and ferrets were highly susceptible to the pathogen; dogs were only mildly susceptible; and pigs, chickens and ducks were not susceptible at all.

For the full story, see:

William J. Broad. “Disease Detective Puts Forth Pointed Questions.” The New York Times (Tuesday, July 14, 2020): D7.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 8, 2020, and has the title “8 Questions From a Disease Detective on the Pandemic’s Origins.”)

The blog posting in which Dr. Lucey asked his eight key questions, is:

Lucey, Daniel R. “Covid-19: Covid: Eight Questions for the Who Team Going to China Next Week to Investigate Pandemic Origins.” Science Speaks: Global ID News blog, posted June 30, 2020.

China Allows Some Volunteers to Receive Covid-19 Vaccines After Only Phase 2 Trials

(p. B1) The offer to employees at the state-owned oil giant was compelling: Be among the first in China to take a coronavirus vaccine.

The employees at PetroChina could use one of two vaccines “for emergency use” to protect themselves when working overseas as part of China’s ambitious infrastructure program, according to a copy of the notice, which was reviewed by The New York Times.

. . .

(p. B6) Such “emergency use” is rare, and the taking of unapproved vaccines is typically reserved for health care professionals. Although the government has stressed that taking the vaccine is voluntary, the state-owned workers and soldiers could feel pressure to participate.

. . .

Along with the testing at the oil company, Sinopharm, which has completed Phase 2 trials for two products, has injected the vaccine into its chairman and other senior officials, according to the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, or SASAC, the government agency managing all employees at state-backed companies. The Chinese government has allowed the CanSino-military vaccine to be given to its armed forces, a first for the military of any country.

. . .

“If you are a regulatory body, if you play by the rules, if you are hard-nosed about it, you say this is very wrong,” said Ray Yip, the former head of the Gates Foundation in China.

Dr. Yip added that it would be useful for company executives to know that they had given the dose to “a couple of thousand people, but no one has dropped dead, so that’s pretty good.”

Dr. Yip said the people taking the vaccines should read up on reports of the safety data and make an informed decision. He said he would be willing to take it.

“If you offer that to me saying it’s safe and there’s an 85 percent chance that it works, would I take it today?” he said. “You know what, I probably will. Because then I don’t have to worry.”

In a post on its official WeChat account, a government agency reported that the “vaccine pretest” on Sinopharm employees showed that antibody levels were high enough in subjects to combat the coronavirus, indicating that it was safe and effective.

. . .

In June [2020], Sinopharm began the third phase of clinical trials in Beijing, Wuhan and Abu Dhabi, becoming the first company to enter the final regulatory stage. China’s Sinovac Biotech is teaming up with Instituto Butantan in Brazil, which has the world’s second-highest case count after the United States.

. . .

Dimas Tadeu Covas, the director of Butantan, said that he was impressed with Sinovac’s preliminary results and that the vaccine “has the greatest potential for success.” He cited results from Sinovac’s Phase 1 trials that showed no adverse effects and Phase 2 trials that showed 90 percent protection against Sars-Cov2.

“I know vaccines, and I am betting a lot on this one,” Dr. Covas said.

For the full story, see:

Sui-Lee Wee and Mariana Simões. “China Skirts Convention For Vaccines.” The New York Times (Friday, July 17, 2020): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 17, 2020, and has the title “In Coronavirus Vaccine Race, China Strays From the Official Paths.”)

“All You Need Is a Pair of Eyes”

(p. 1) MUNICH — Dr. Camilla Rothe was about to leave for dinner when the government laboratory called with the surprising test result. Positive. It was Jan. 27 [2020]. She had just discovered Germany’s first case of the new coronavirus.

But the diagnosis made no sense. Her patient, a businessman from a nearby auto parts company, could have been infected by only one person: a colleague visiting from China. And that colleague should not have been contagious.

The visitor had seemed perfectly healthy during her stay in Germany. No coughing or sneezing, no signs of fatigue or fever during two days of long meetings. She told colleagues that she had started feeling ill after the flight back to China. Days later, she tested positive for the coronavirus.

. . .

Dr. Rothe and her colleagues were among the first to warn the world. But even as evidence accumulated from other scientists, leading health officials expressed unwavering confidence that symptomless spreading was not important.

In the days and weeks to come, politicians, public health officials and rival academics disparaged or ignored the Munich team. Some actively worked to undermine the warnings at a crucial moment, as the disease was spreading unnoticed in French churches, Italian soccer stadiums and Austrian ski bars. A cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, would become a deadly harbinger of symptomless spreading. Continue reading ““All You Need Is a Pair of Eyes””