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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 46, November 8, 2014

Princess Fragrant: Will it Bridge the Gap?

Sunday 9 November 2014

by Teshu Singh

In a recent endeavour to restore the cultural difference between the Uyghurs and Han Chinese, the Chinese Government has come up with an innovative ides of a cartoon television serial by the end of 2015 on one of the fabled Princesses from Kashgar. The lead character Iparhan is portrayed as a Disney character “Princess Fragrant” (Uyghur Princess- Abakh Kohja in Uyghur, Xiangfei in Mandrin). The story was popular during the Qing dynasty.

The lead character, Iparhan, was popular for the sweet fragrance that captivated Emperor Qianlong. There are many narratives related to the story. Few believe that the Princess fell in love with the emperor; others believe given her beauty and fragrance she was included in the emperor’s consort. As depicted in the cartoon, the Princess is wearing a red embroided dress, flowing head scarf and apparently has big eyes. The depiction of the Disney cartoon is an endeavour to portray an ethnic-neutral character.

At present China is promoting her story to show unity between the Uyghurs and Han. It acknowledges that there are some ethnic problems in Xinjiang for now, and the problems are related to many aspects such as the Uyghur minority’s history and the policy of the government in the region. In the Last few months the problems are getting more and more difficult to handle.

The story revolves around the plot of the Princess Fragrant, her brother and their friends from Han and Kazakh nationality. Together, they travelled to rescue the princess’ father from the charge of a western explorer. The thrust of the story is to show that different ethnic and cultures can help each other and it further stresses on ethnic unity because Xinjiang has a long history of ethnic unrest. It is a fresh endeavour to relook the friendship between the Han and Uyghurs. The larger aim of broad-casting these cartoons on television is to imbibe the kids with values. Seeing these serials kids try to imitate and eventually it becomes part of their life-style. This serial will prove significant to re-educate the children and teach them to accept different cultures since the bottom-line of the story is confluence of cultures.

Needless to mention, the Chinese officials are trying to suppress ethnic violence in the western part of China. The new leadership is already giving emphasis on its peripheral policy and western development strategy. It is pertinent to maintain stability in the Xinjiang province because it forms an important province in China’s both the policies. Notably, the relations between the Uyghurs of Xinjiang and Han have never been smooth. The cartoon is trying to foster better understanding between the Han and Uyghurs. Thus the main aim of the cartoon is to promote a ‘modern and open’ view of Xinjiang to the world.

Global Times, in an article ‘Xinjiang fights an ideology war through cartoon production’, has stated that that through this endeavour the Xinjiang authorities are trying to develop their animation industry and the production of the cartoon series is a part of the endeavour. The Chinese Government has started venturing into the cartoon/animation market and the cartoon market in China has already shown a turnover of 200 billion RMB.

The government is using the cartoon industry to enhance its soft power in the region and show its sincere concern for the people. The industry had received attention and support from the government. China’s Ministry of Culture released the ‘National Development Plan for the Animation Industry under the 12th Five Year Plan’ to facilitate the healthy development of the industry. The plan set out the main tasks for the industry and had put forward safeguarding measures to facilitate the development of the animation industry.

The aim of the cartoon character is to get the ethnic Uyghur and Han Chinese together. There is a proposal to move the Uyghurs to the regions that are dominated by the Han, so they are assimilated in a better way into the society. This is not the first time that China is using cartoon characters to promote ethnic unity. In 2013 “Legends of Loulan” was used to promote ethnic unity. However, it is a challenging task to understand both history and culture whilst catering to the market demands.

Such initiatives by the government indicate that the government is already aware of the existing problem and trying hard in all possible ways and means to bridge the ethnic gap. It will definitely bring a positive impact on the society, and it will also ease up the tension there to a certain degree. It can be stated that the cartoon is a positive step towards bridging the gap between the ethnic groups. However, it may not be sufficient; some more assimilation policies should be considered.

The author is a Senior Research Officer, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, and her area of research is China.