As David Hasslehoff proved a quarter-century ago, sometimes a slice of tailor-made entertainment is the ideal solution to resolving a conflict, and it is an approach currently being taken by the Chinese government.
As opposed to a Chinese-made production attempting to be the resolution of some of the ongoing conflicts in various parts of the world, their focus in this instance is directed purely within their designated borders, as they seek to ease ethnic tensions in the north-westerly Xinjiang province.
The region is one which is predominantly populated by Muslim Uyghur people, though just behind in terms of population is the Han Chinese, the majority race of the country as a whole.
The two ethnicities have clashed regularly over the past century in particular, with occasional rioting occuring, and an overhanging on-off independence movement from the Uyghurs most commonly known as East Turkestan.
As a measure designed to relieve some of these hostilities, the Xinjiang governmental administration have begun the creation of a made-for-TV CGI cartoon that will retell a famous story of unity between the two peoples. The legend is known as Fragrant Concubine, and tells the story of an Uyghur princess named Ipal Khan, who marries a Chinese emperor of Han descent in a ‘politically important’ 18th-century union.
But it appears as though the feature, taking the title of Princess Fragrant with a goal of “boosting ethnic solidarity”, is having troubles of its own in development, as taking a leaf out of Hollywood’s book, creative personnel find themselves in constant conflict over the type of title music employed and key story themes down to whether or not characters should be able to ‘have pets’ or ‘time travel’, only in this instance it is cultural differences rather than personal ego that is the cause.
Global Times report that the cartoon’s director Deng Jianglei (from the Shenzhen Qianheng Cultural Communications Company) took over a year to find an appropriate musician to compose a theme song with lyrics. Jianglei stated: “The musician has to be accepted both by the communities of Han and Uighur people, which means he or she has to be familiar with two different cultures and musical styles, which is difficult. Hong met almost all of our expectations. He grew up in Xinjiang, knows Xinjiang well and is well accepted by Han people.”
Hong Qi, the half-Uyghur musician eventually selected for the task, noted problems that he witnessed while on duty, with Uyghur staff strongly against the idea of incorporating time travel into the plot (a theme most commonly seen as frowned upon in nation-wide entertainment authorities), as well as using animal characters, as a snake and later a squirrel character was pitched for inclusion in the Princess Fragrant story. Qi said: “Snakes are regarded as evil in Islamic culture, and Uighur families seldom keep pets, unlike Han people.”
Though those issues, like others, appear to be on a slow route to resolution, with Jianglei compromising by insisting on having at least one animal in the cartoon “for the sake of the market”. Xinjiang Bureau of Culture official Sheng Jun said of the ‘sensitive’ overall process that is hoped to have a calming end result: “It is similar to fighting a war in the realm of ideology. If we don’t pass on positive energy, the opposite side would occupy the battlefield. Xinjiang’s cartoon industry can use this opportunity to develop its own market. “
Whether a historical reimaginacament’s desired effect will be achieved by Princess Fragrant‘s creators remains to be seen (whenever it does get released), but it wouldn’t be the first time that children’s cartoons are used in an attempt to contribute to a big cause: