CINEMA: by Ian H. McDougall (reviewer)News Weekly
Revealing insight into Rebiya Kadeer - The 10 Conditions of Love
, September 19, 2009
The 10 Conditions of Love, a documentary about Rebiya Kadeer, President of the World Uighur Congress, depicts a fearless advocate for her homeland and her people. The film screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) despite a campaign by Beijing to prevent its being shown.
This campaign began when an official from China's consulate in Melbourne rang the festival's director, demanding that The 10 Conditions of Love
be pulled from the program. From there, the campaign against this film escalated, with the communist Chinese pressing film-makers from China to withdraw their films from the festival.
Even a film from Taiwan, Miao Miao
, funded in part by the Government Information Office in Taipei, was pulled by its Dutch producers, as it was entered as a film from Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region that is supposedly autonomous from Beijing's rule.
Hackers then attacked the film festival's web-site, and its phone lines were clogged by abusive callers - all this for a film barely an hour long that was having its world premiere at the Melbourne's annual film festival.
What is all the fuss about?
The Uighurs (pronounced Weegas) are a Turkic people, not Chinese. They speak Chinese, badly, if at all; they are Muslims in a country where any form of religious expression is regarded as strange, if not unpatriotic; and they occupy an important piece of territory, which the Uighurs call East Turkestan and the Chinese call Xinjiang, or "New Frontier".
East Turkestan was independent in the 1930s and 1940s. The newly empowered Communists ended that when the People's Liberation Army marched in.
Xinjiang is a treasure house of gold, petroleum, natural gas and coal. It is a strategically important area, bordering the central Asian republics of Kazahkstan, Kyrgyztan and Tajikistan as well as Pakistan, the Kashmiri Indian region of Ladakh, Mongolia, Afghanistan and Russia. Xinjiang also borders another restive region of China, Tibet. Beijing's rulers will not let 20 million Uyghers weaken their stranglehold on this precious real estate.
Before the Communist invasion, few Chinese settled there. Now, Han Chinese continue flooding into Xinjiang, taking all the best jobs in government, education and commerce. The tall buildings that dominate the skyline of the capital Urumchi house Chinese businesses, not Uighur inhabitants, who have been relegated to jerry-built blocks of tiny flats on the city's outskirts.
In tracing Rebiya Kadeer's life, filmmaker Jeff Daniels tells a compelling story. Married off at the age of 14, Kadeer soon gathered a family of children, followed by divorce. At her wit's end, she began taking in washing and doing mending to support herself. From these humble beginnings, she became the wealthiest woman in China and, for a time, the seventh richest person in all China. Her wealth was generated by shrewd investments in property, which boomed as Xinjiang's economy took off in the 1980s. She was, until she spoke out for her people, a model citizen of New China. She was a moderate reformer until radicalised by the brutal execution of 30 Uighurs in 1997.
Kadeer was arrested and held in solitary confinement for six years, living in filth and darkness. An international campaign for her release saw her being allowed to travel to the United States for medical treatment - granted on the proviso that she cease her campaign. Of course, she didn't and her sons in Xinjiang were jailed and tortured, confined on the understanding that they would only be released when she fell silent.
The film revolves around two strong women - Kadeer and her eldest daughter, who had gone to America to study. Kadeer's daughter runs a maternity shop and has no time for politics, despite being her mother's primary aide and executing the strategies for her activist campaigns.
She is both exasperated by her mother and proud of what she is doing. She faithfully translates for her mother, even though at times she is clearly pained by what her mother says. The mother-daughter relationship is the heart of this film, lifting it from mere documentary to human drama.Enormous boost
Beijing's claim that Kadeer organised the recent riots in Xinjiang in which hundreds died seems to have little foundation. She clearly gets under the skin of China's rulers. The little-known World Uighur Congress has received an enormous boost from the publicity surrounding this short film.
Two things should be kept in mind about this film.
First, Beijing's actions have alienated a large proportion of Australia's cultural elite. Commented Beijing-resident scholar Professor David Kelly of the University of Technology, Sydney, "There is now a hardening of opinion in Australian cultural circles that it doesn't pay to be involved in China." (ABC Radio National's PM
program, August 3, 2009.)
Second, China's history is dominated by the pressures of coming together and pulling part. When the border areas start rebelling and the centre can't assert its authority, it is a sign of weakness in the regime and presages its demise. That's what Beijing dreads.- film reviewed by Ian H. McDougall