Illustration by Hannah Robinson
Recently, high fashion house Louis Vuitton released an Instagram campaign in which they featured China’s most popular actress, Dilraba Dilmurat, posing in Shanghai alongside fellow actress Ming Xi. If those two names sound like they’re in completely different languages, that’s because they are. Dilmurat is Uyghur, originally hailing from East Turkestan. Being of Turkic rather than East Asian origin, Uyghurs have physical features that differ from China’s Han majority, giving Dilmurat a unique and recognisable look that stands out amongst her mainly Han counterparts in the industry.
Yes, Dilmurat is beautiful and talented, but her popularity actually demonstrates a deeply disturbing hypocrisy governing China’s social policy. As the world is thankfully becoming more aware, the Chinese Communist Party continues to wage a bona fide genocide against the Uyghur population whom they forcibly annexed seventy years ago. Yet while her brethren are being put in concentration camps and having their organs harvested because of their ethnicity, Dilmurat is being celebrated. Part of the appreciation of traditionally Uyghur appearances is due to their being seen as more ‘Western’: the larger, double-creased eyes, the higher nose bridge. This appeals greatly to Chinese audiences, many of whom undergo cosmetic procedures to obtain these very features; Dilmurat fits this criteria.
This appropriation is highlighted by the jarring realisation that, aside from her first film, Dilmurat has played only Han Chinese roles. It is evident that China only allows Uyghurs to exist in a way that ultimately serves Chinese interests and dominance: since being illegally occupied in a quest for Han dominance, East Turkestan has only been valued for its resources and convenience, its people only appreciated to give China a claim to diversity. Her heritage can be exploited exclusively when it generates a profitable fan base; when it is skin-deep. This can be seen in the way mainland Chinese speak about Uyghurs as well: the Chinese government euphemises and lies about its egregious human rights violations, and Chinese people wax poetic about how beautiful and even ‘exotic’ the people of East Turkestan are. To them, all we are worth is how we look, and if the sky-high rates of cosmetic surgery prove anything, it’s that ideally, we aren’t even the ones who should look the way we do.
While the case of Dilmurat and the plight of Uyghurs is extreme, China is not alone in its dismissive exploitation of the appearances of oppressed minority groups. For an obvious example, scroll through any social media or tabloid site and you’ll see picture after picture of non-black girls with lip filler and extreme curves, wearing cornrows, far too much fake tan, and fashion styles that originated in black communities. Yet throughout history, black people have beentreated by other races as second-rate citizens or even subhuman. While they are discriminated against both systematically and individually, the world is silent. Worse, they (especially black women) are mocked for having the very features girls of other races so badly want to obtain. Just as Dilmurat’s natural features are only palatable when framed in a Han-centric ideal, dark skin and full lips areonly worth something when a non-black girl sports them. Every human being, regardless of ethnicity, is worth more than their appearance. It’s beyond time society started treating them as such.