will never find a collegiate sports program less tainted by agents and money
than the Xinjiang University baseball team. It is the only area of the highly
segregated campus where Uyghurs and ethnic Han Chinese freely mix. They could
not field a team without each other. Christopher Rufo documents the passion for
the game that keeps the underdog team together in Diamond in the Dunes (trailer here), which airs this
Sunday on PBS World as part of the current season of Global Voices.
Arblat might be the best baseball player in the entire Xinjiang province. He is
also a member of the Uyghur minority. Despite his soon-to-be-completed university
education, his future remains uncertain. He is far more likely to return to
shepherding than field an offer from the Yankees, or even our beloved Mets. Although
he might be a comparatively okay player, he unfortunately appears to be getting
played by his childhood sweetheart.
he emerges as a leader on the field, teaching the younger players how to play
the game and conduct themselves in life, as they train for their one big annual
game with a Tibetan University. Yes, Arblat and his Xinjiang teammates are the
boys of one single summer day. They practice all year to face their nearest
rivals, one thousand miles away—a thirty hour train journey. That is
irony of an American game bringing together Xinjiang’s fractious ethnic groups
is not entirely lost on the players. Frankly, the broadcast cut of Diamond could have played up the
unifying power of sportsmanship more, because it is quite compelling. Rufo also
seems to deliberately de-emphasize the Uyghurs’ Muslim faith, portraying the
regions’ differences in largely racial and cultural terms.
the extent and severity of Xinjiang segregation exposed in the film is truly
mind-boggling. The fact that Communist China gets a pass from professional
protestors and NGOs constitutes sheer hypocrisy. Indeed, the film serves as an
indirect indictment of the western media’s coverage of China. Remember all the
coverage of the 2009 Ürümqi riots? Exactly.
Arblat is an enormously sympathetic POV figure,
so it is nice that Rufo can balance some hopefulness with the hardscrabble realities
of his provincial Xinjiang life. While the broadcast edit feels noticeably
abbreviated, it still makes rewarding viewing. Recommended for baseball fans
and China watchers, Diamond in the Dunes airs
on PBS World this Sunday (8/10).
Labels: Baseball, China, Documentary