The information chief under China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has drawn derision locally and abroad for using a fake photograph of “Black slaves” to accuse the United States of hypocrisy over alleged forced labor in Xinjiang.
Hua Chunying was found to have passed off a 1968 image of prisoners working in a Texas cotton field as a picture of Black slaves toiling in the U.S. under compulsion.
The spokesperson for China, who was also director of the Information Department under the ministry, was telling reporters at a regular Thursday briefing that claims of forced labor and human rights abuses in the Uyghur-populated Xinjiang were nothing but malicious lies fabricated by anti-Beijing forces in an attempt to smear the country.
Hua then showed the black-and-white photo and compared it to a colored picture of a Xinjiang cotton field that she said had more than 70% of its cotton harvested with machines. “There is never ‘forced labor’ in picking cotton in Xinjiang,” she added.
After the briefing, foreign media and internet users pointed out how Hua’s body language had betrayed her. The diplomat kept blinking and had a stiff expression on her face as she displayed the photos, which were obvious signs of a guilty conscience arising from the knowledge that nobody would believe her.
Sharp-eyed Chinese netizens also found out that the “Black slaves” picture was in fact about a group of inmates at the Ferguson Unit, a prison in Texas. It was taken by American Danny Lyon more than half a century ago, when he was an official photographer for a civil rights group, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Lyon spent 14 months shooting photos of guards and prisoners in six jails across the state. His aim was to raise awareness and defend the rights of Black people by showing their life and work through photographs, and had nothing to do with the abolition of the slavery system in the 19th century.
Xinjiang cotton became a hot issue after Western governments this week imposed sanctions on some Chinese officials for rights abuses in the far western region. The country’s party-led Communist Youth League alleged that Swedish fast-fashion retailer H&M had spread misinformation about Xinjiang by announcing it was no longer using cotton produced in the area. The fallout is ensnaring other Western companies in China, with calls for a boycott gathering steam.
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