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Ripples peeks inside the hem of Yiwu to Xinjiang China’s cotton production circuit

Reviewed by Quendrith Johnson

“You know brands such as H&M, all those famous marks use Xinjiang cotton. Now Xinjiang cotton cannot go to foreign countries,” explains Amani Shahan in RIPPLES, a 27-minute short film exploration currently on the film festival circuit. From co-directors Benoit Lelievre and Huaqing Jin, this documentary subject peeks into the lives of those families connected to the cotton-growing industry.

Chronicled here are the interconnected lives of four women from Yiwu, a city in a coastal province 4100 km from their rural desert-to-forest wide plains farms in Xinjiang, to Aksu Prefecture. Amani Shahan is a cotton broker for her family, whose products were suspended for global sale in March 2020, after the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) found issued with specifically with Uyghur labor. Her bales of cotton are bound for regions in shipping, but stalled at the moment as she tells her friends at a mall food court, much like any Western city. Mihaly is a middle-aged single mother who celebrates a birthday as friends and family thank her for teaching them about WeChat business, with her relative success in Yiwu begun with a mere 300 yuan as a divorcee.

Next is “Health Coach” Guli Bexremu, who is adept at streaming her business via cell phone, as she sits down for a quick chat about her Uyghur experience within the larger Han Chinese population.

Since Uyghur labor viewed as forced is the pivot for the suspension of cotton exports from China, Guli seeks to sort out the truth about Uyghurs in Xinjiang countryside and then working in the urban Yiwu. Guli speaks English with a male friend and reveals that many of her Beijing friends in high school had asked whether they had electricity, or did they “still use candles” and “camels” in Xinjiang. Such are the misconceptions about the region, which represents 80% of China’s cotton production.

Ripples wraps with Aksu, the “white river” city in Xinjiang some 4700 km from Yiwu, and a family of Afghanistan descent with the focus of pregnant mother Ayiguli. She and her husband began a shipping business 11 years ago, and the cotton ban has impacted their local economy. In a sense, Ayiguli’s large family is unusual in a country where a One Child Policy held sway for many years. 

This film is fascinating for its rare look inside a swath of vast China, where few Westerners ever get to glimpse daily life. Cotton is a world wide commodity that drives the economy in many Chinese cities with hints at ethnic diversity in largely Han majority. 

Yet the world wants cotton, so this short doc subject looks into the questions and lives in the balance of the international battle behind one of the most-used fibers on the planet.    

In any case, RIPPLES is a remarkably intimate look inside the veiled cotton industry in China.

See more on the film here.

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About Quendrith Johnson

Johnson Quendrith

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