Posted by Alice Xin Liu on Friday, January 29, 2010 at 6:30 PM
Canadian citizen Fan Lixin (范立欣) has made a documentary that spans the years 2007 to 2009, focusing on an old couple's journey back to Guang'an city, Huilong village (回龙村) in Sichuan from the factories of Guangzhou. The documentary, made with over one million dollars in funding, will have wide release in foreign countries, but not in mainland China. In a Southern Weekly culture feature, Fan, the director, says: "There is a complex economic chain between the rich lifestyles of developed countries and the hard work of Chinese peasants who are trying to survive. At the two ends of the chain, neither party understands the other."
In 2007, on the CCTV documentary program Jishi (or 纪事 Chronicles), Fan contributed a section about the story of elder brother Zhang and elder sister Chen, which began the seed of the documentary Last Train Home (归途列车). The Southern Weekly culture feature goes on to say:
Fan has been accused of taking foreign money, and even university professors have said (quote in the Southern Weekly piece) after watching his film that taking one million dollars means allowing foreigners to instill their economic and political viewpoints. But Fan's response is:
Southern Weekly went on to interview Fan and his Chinese producer, Zhao Qi (赵齐). They talk about finding a route into other countries' TV programming with a film about the "real China."
Why film unhappy things?by Li Hongyu (李宏宇) in Guangzhou / SW
What are they laughing at
Southern Weekly: As a Canadian Chinese, what is your experience like making films abroad?
Southern Weekly: What are they laughing at?
You need to establish a real image, you should use a form that can be accepted by the west to express your confidence and success. I think Last Train Home is a form that can directly enter into the theaters of the west as well as mainstream television, this will be watched by westerners who have been educated, the people who are the core force of society.
Southern Weekly: What do you hope to do with your film in China?
Southern Weekly: But there are already Chinese viewers who think that you are showing "negative things" to foreigners. Using foreigners' money is also a problem.
As for foreigners' money, I have already concluded an answer myself. Because we have grown up in this kind of environment, it's easy to apply the experience here [in China] to other people, thinking that whoever is the boss we have to listen to them. But it isn't like this is other countries.
Southern Weekly: With the support of the funds, do you really think your work is more free?
Zhao Qi (赵齐, the producer on the Chinese front): Actually, from a deeper level it's not really so: they are not specifically editing or controlling it, but they are choosing the subject matter, and choosing what conforms to their fundamental ideas and value systems.
This is a format that China should learn from. There are historical reasons in China, most documentary resources are monopolized by the people in the system, and they will be more inclined to have a propaganda task, their tone is one of recounting, and their editing method is, comparatively speaking, more rigid. Because the documentaries outside of the system don't have any freedom, sometimes they will feel anger, and at the same time, in order to survive, they often go down a biased path. In actual fact, for China, normal and real recounting is very important.
Saying the truth is a big payoff for a small effort
Southern Weekly: What do you mean by a normal and real recounting?
Any hostility or friction comes from distrust of the two sides － there will definitely be distrust, even if it is between Britain and America. Our work is how to get the two sides to understand each other, and create more trust, asking them to recognize that the people of this country are different to them.
Fan: I have been in contact with the editors of different TV stations. They always say we want to see how real Chinese people see China.
In order to survive, commercial TV stations will have some bias, public TV stations in actual fact acts like "society's conscience," they are comparatively speaking less affected by the political environment and the social environment, this is the best point to break into for China if it wants to change its own image. The public TV stations of the west want to find people who talk the truth in China. If China also has a mechanism that can connect with them, and can get talented Chinese directors or valuable mediums to enter into other countries' public media, then it would be a big payoff using a small effort.
Southern Weekly: Can Last Train Home have a big payoff?
The most important thing is to see who earned all the money. The Chinese government has become a scapegoat and the western government is also a scapegoat, only the people on Wall Street are very rich.
Westerners complain that developing countries have cheap workers that have stolen their jobs and lowered their quality of living. In actual fact the change in their lives have changed in the sense that they are driving a Toyota instead of a Mercedes-Benz. But for lots of cheap workers it's the difference between going hungry and not going hungry.
Zhao: If the people are more understanding of you, it means less pressure from the people for the government. If there are 10 films like this showing on mainstream American TV, it might get 10 million mainstream audience members with views on the global economic situation; these views might be changed a little, and might in 5 years time affect trade between China and America. This is an extremely significant event for the country.
Hasn't the Ministry of Commerce already advertised on CNN? The Ministry of Commerce might have done this in order to solve the trade dispute. But what about the Ministry of Culture, the External Publicity Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, can they spend money on something of a deeper culture?
Southern Weekly: How do you think this should be done?
Fan: Getting money from abroad is equal to you having one foot in half of its mainstream media, not only can you make films, they will actively broadcast it for you.
Southern Weekly: The problem is if they want to spend 100,000 pounds. It's also possible that they want to do something that we don't want them to.
Links and Sources
Jobs in China
Henry on The Eurasian Face
Caroline W on Big in China
Michael on Julia Lovell on translating Lu Xun's complete fiction: "His is an angry, searing vision of China"
Brandon K. on Clueless academic takes on popular fantasy novels
China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
Books on China
The Eurasian Face : Blacksmith Books, a publishing house in Hong Kong, is behind The Eurasian Face, a collection of photographs by Kirsteen Zimmern. Below is an excerpt from the series:
Big in China: An adapted excerpt from Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China, just published this month. Author Alan Paul tells the story of arriving in Beijing as a trailing spouse, starting a blues band, raising kids and trying to make sense of China.
Pallavi Aiyar's Chinese Whiskers: Pallavi Aiyar's first novel, Chinese Whiskers, a modern fable set in contemporary Beijing, will be published in January 2011. Aiyar currently lives in Brussels where she writes about Europe for the Business Standard. Below she gives permissions for an excerpt.
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Korean history doesn't fly on Chinese TV screens (2007.09): SARFT puts the kibbosh on Korean historical dramas.
+ Religion and government in an uneasy mix (2008.03): Phoenix Weekly (凤凰周刊) article from October, 2007, on government influence on religious practice in Tibet.
+ David Moser on Mao impersonators (2004.10): I first became aware of this phenomenon in 1992 when I turned on a Beijing TV variety show and was jolted by the sight of "Mao Zedong" and "Zhou Enlai" playing a game of ping pong. They both gave short, rousing speeches, and then were reverently interviewed by the emcee, who thanked them profusely for taking time off from their governmental duties to appear on the show.