Sunday, April 15, 2007

What Did You Do In The War, Mommy?
(*Photo courtesy of Letters From China)

A few days ago thanks to two China blogs, and one called Letters from China, I had the honor of watching one of the most harrowing films I've ever experienced. More so than even say, The Stewardesses 3D or Billy the Kid Versus Dracula.

Though I Am Gone is a bare-bones B&W documentary about one of the first victims of China's Cultural Revolution, the insane 10-year collective splatterfest 41 years ago that cost countless lives, destroyed as many historical and artistic treasures, wasted an entire's generation's education and upbringing and is glibly written off today in all Chinese school textbooks as a brief period when "Mao made a mistake."

I have heard that exact phrase more than once from Chinese too young to have experienced it first-hand when the subject reluctantly comes up. The few others I've talked to who experienced it for real and not as a textbook explanation mostly don't talk about it at all. At least not to a foreigner who speaks no Chinese and asks too many stupid, overt, loud, simplisitic questions too quickly.

Though I Am Gone was entered last month in the Yunnan Multi Culture Visual Festival until the organzing committee suddenly suspended the film fest for no apparent reason, though according to Letters from China it was due to the movie.

It centers on the savage beating death (boards spiked with nails) of an respected middle school principal Bian Zhongyun by teenage female students at an elite Beijing girls' school just as the revolution was picking up steam. Imagine Lord of the Flies meets Mean Girls.

Her dignified widower, Wang Jingyao, who occasionally breaks into tears during the filming, kept her bloody clothes and photographed her corpse along with their two daughters in the immediate aftermath. What isn't answered and probably never will be is, why, exactly, did the students beat Bian to death? Where are they now and do they ever regret what they did? Though the answers are fairly clear. All were from elite families, undoubtedly most still in power and/or influence one way or another. It also includes chilling archival footage and recordings of radio and film broadcasts heralding the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.

If you are not on the Chinese mainland and have the patience and Internet connections you can see it here on Youtube in ten parts. (I just discovered it's suddenly blocked in China so I can't link the address. How surprising! If you need to search it, the director's name is Hu Jie and you've already got the title and subject.)

I was watching it on C's desktop recently as she and her mother were otherwise absorbed in the living room in a contemporary Chinese TV soap opera, the title of which is roughly translated as "Love's Fate." Like US soaps it's about love gone bad, romantic missteps, incest, murder, corruption and overdue utility bills .

C's mother was a Red Guard. Also incidentally and perhaps ironically her all-time favorite foreign TV show was a 1980s-1991 LA detective Dirty Harry shlockoff called Hunter. It starred former NFL player Fred Dryer (Rams, Giants, record holder most safeties in single NFL game). C's mom has fond memories of Hunter, and also still has the red and yellow Red Guard arm band which she gave to C who has stored it away as a momento. During her revolutionary heyday, her mother was also sent with hundreds of other hormone-inflamed Chinese teens on a free train trip to Beijing on August 16, 1966 to see Mao proclaim the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in Tianammen Square.

It was there that a giddy looking student from the same school that had just beaten principal Bian Zhongyun to death ceremoniously put a Red Guard armband on Mao's arm. It's captured in the movie and I thought C and her mom might be interested.

(I also know a few people who say they were at Woodstock and will eagerly point to grainy, indistinct bopping blobs in various film and TV segments saying, "See! There I am! The (guy) (girl) in the (pick a color) headband. Hendrix was playing Star Spangled Banner. See! That's me, baked on 'shrooms.")

Not in China, though, of course. Past is past. Didn't happen or if it did it was a "mistake." They begged off -- C briefly viewed about 2 minutes of Though I Am Gone footage before declaring it "too sad. Why are foreigners so interested in it, anyway?" Her mother had no apparent interest either, though after I cranked up the sound commented to C that what she'd heard was "probably exaggerated and invented."

I shrugged it off. But later that night conversation, such as it is between a pseudo mother-in-law and her foreign barbarian faux son-in-law neither of whom can communicate in each other's tongues, turned again to revolution. I recalled through C that her mother had also been a dancer of some sort. She perked up and after a little encouragement began recreating her small role in a revolutionary ballet beloved by Mao's wife/Cultural Revolution Arts & Entertainment Overseer called The Red Detachment of Women.

C was delighted and, though her mother's moves were a trifle studied and suffering from memory lag, she was not without grace as she sang a revolutionary song to accompany the flowing dance. Then C had an idea. She went to the bedroom, dug out the old Red Guard arm band, tied it on and began accompaniing her mother, mimicking the dance moves.

Taken on strictly on mother and daugher level it was charming, endearing even, yes, definitely cute. On another level, perhaps one I live in too often, it creeped me out. I thought of a WWII German parent and child dressing up in old SS or Hitler Youth gear, throwing Heil salutes and goosestepping around the living room for laughs.
I saw the movie too. Horrifying stuff.

One thing is reading these things in books, but put a face on the tradigy and some footage, then you can't help but feel more touched.
Did our buddy Justin disappear again?
Wait a minute! There was another blog entry that has since disappeared....are we experiencing some censorship? Can't wait to hear...

Oh, and, Happy
(Up Against The Wall, Redneck) Mother's Day Justin
Ben, yes. There was. But call it self-censorship and ulitmately common sense which is something I don't seem to have in great abundance otherwise I wouldn't have written it to begin with. I need the job. But thanks for the MD wishes, youextraterrestrialmutha, you.
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