top of page

Influencers Help China Peddle Happy Uyghur Propaganda to Mask Genocide

May 3, 2022

The Chinese Communist Party’s latest tactic for whitewashing the mass imprisonment, brainwashing, and enslavement of the Uyghur Muslims involves recruiting young foreign travel bloggers to depict the Uyghurs’ home of East Turkistan as a happy land of content and productive citizens.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Sunday described how “vloggers” are employed to “echo and amplify Beijing’s massive propaganda effort to depict Uyghurs as content with and grateful for Chinese rule”:

The videos show “foreign travelers” interviewing people in factories in Xinjiang [the Han Chinese name for East Turkistan], with captions such as “Friends, it’s a lie that there is a genocide of the Uyghurs,” “Everything is normal here,” and “Is there a single piece of evidence that there are more than 1 million people in concentration camps?”

Vloggers who refused the Chinese Communist Party’s overtures reported receiving offers of generous cash compensation and paid travel expenses, provided they were willing to be supervised by Communist “minders,” “translators,” and “fixers” every step of the way.

“They arrange our travel, and they pay for our lodging and food,” YouTube video blogger Lee Barrett confirmed.

RFA saw the initiative to whitewash the Uyghur genocide with travel bloggers growing from previous big-money Chinese propaganda efforts, such as $300 million paid to New Jersey-based Vippi Media to “create a social media campaign promoting positive messaging about China” for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, and a sinister program that pushes foreign students to become propaganda mouthpieces:

Under the title “The people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang are living happily and joyfully,” the report cited a series of letters written by Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping in which he called on foreign students in July 2021 to increase their understanding of the “real China,” so that their knowledge would inspire others to understand the country as well.

Foreign correspondents experienced in dealing with the Chinese government assured RFA all of these tours by video bloggers and students are heavily stage-managed by agents of the authoritarian regime, who ensure the cameras are pointed only at what Beijing wants the world to see, and the foreign propaganda recruits say exactly what Beijing wants them to say.

Several of RFA’s correspondents said the talent agencies China pays to arrange these tightly controlled tours know exactly what the Chinese government is doing but play along anyway.

Some of the vloggers, on the other hand, appear to be relatively innocent dupes. Some of them seem unaware that the Xinjiang concentration camps are visible from orbit, or that the Chinese government long ago stopped pretending they do not exist, instead claiming they are huge vocational schools that just happen to be surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers.

Those who ask uncomfortable questions, or try filming parts of Xinjiang the Chinese government does not want the world to see, tend to get deported and locked out of future lucrative paid blogging gigs.

“By going there and smiling and saying, ‘Look at all the Uyghurs dancing,’ you are helping one of the most disgusting governments in the world,” said Winston Sterzel, a South African video blogger kicked out of China for refusing to accept a $2,000 contract to make a video pushing a Chinese conspiracy theory that the Wuhan coronavirus originated in the United States.

“Xinjiang is massive, and there’s no way that some idiot YouTuber who cannot speak Chinese, who cannot speak the Uyghur language, who knows nothing about the culture of China can walk around in this tiny little area and claim that there is no genocide or any bad things happening in China,” Sterzel pointed out.

“My friends there disappeared. What the YouTubers are saying in the counterpropaganda videos they make about Uyghurs are lies,” said Xinjiang Victims Database founder Gene Bunin.

China managed to hold international investigators at bay for a decade while millions of Uyghurs were herded through the Xinjiang concentration camps and mercilessly deprogrammed of their culture and religion, but last week a five-member team from the U.N. Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) finally arrived in China.

The U.N. team is currently undergoing a lengthy quarantine in Guangzhou. It is then scheduled to pay a visit to Xinjiang that took UNHCR chief Michele Bachelet four years to negotiate with the Chinese government. Bachelet herself is supposed to visit China at some point, although the timing has not yet been announced.

Skeptics note the U.N. team was only allowed to visit Xinjiang after Bachelet literally promised they would not investigate – their trip must be strictly “friendly” in nature – and there is every reason to suspect Chinese officials will invoke coronavirus quarantine rules to prevent the team from visiting certain locations.

Bachelet was also required to indefinitely postpone a human rights report on Xinjiang that was supposed to be published ahead of the Beijing Winter Games. The report still has no announced release date, to the dismay of human rights activists.

“The Chinese government has given no indication that the UN high commissioner will be allowed to see anything they don’t want her to see. She should not fail the victims of crimes against humanity and other grave abuses by enabling the Chinese authorities to manipulate her visit,” said Human Rights Watch China director Sophie Richardson.

bottom of page