Film

Exploitation and The Blood of Yingzhou District

JDM070303yingzhou.jpg
Little noticed in China last year, the AIDS orphan documentary short The Blood of Yingzhou District gained the attention of the Chinese press by virtue of its Oscar nomination and eventual win (see the China Daily report or the Beijing Review feature).

Not everyone is enthusiastic. After viewing the film at a symposium hosted by the National Press Foundation's Journalist to Journalist program last August, Xiong Lei, a former senior editor with Xinhua, posted a harsh review on her blog, calling the film redundant, narratively weak, and unbearably boring. This lackluster reception, wrote Xiong, was shared by most of the Chinese journalists in attendance, and stood in remarkable contrast to the excitement of foreign journalists who fell over each other praising the film.

The first comment to the blog post was a point-by-point rebuttal by someone claiming to be the film's cinematographer, Qu Jiangtao.

Both pieces appear below courtesy of Polish blogger Sinodrom (Sinodrom: Chiny), who supplied Danwei with the translations through the Chinese Content wiki.

Watching The Blood of Yingzhou District in Toronto

by Xiong Lei

A forty-minute documentary called The Blood of Yingzhou District attracted completely different views from foreign and Chinese journalists.

This documentary reports on the situation of Anhui Province, Fuyang District's AIDS orphans from the countryside. The producer is an American, the director is an American of Hong Kong origin.

It is said that we, almost a hundred journalists who had come from all over the world to attend the 16th AIDS Conference pre-conference training session, were the second group of spectators to have seen the documentary, which hadn't been shown to the public yet.

But this lauded work actually didn't appeal to me. There were a few kids in the film, but didn't narrate the complete story. In substitution, a woman who had adopted them told the story. Her name is Zhang Ying.

Pointing at a child, Zhang Ying said that he had never spoken before and that he was much better now. But in the movie, he still didn't speak. Pointing at another child, Zhang Ying said that he was really fortunate - an old lady from America supplied him with medicine, so his health wasn't bad all along. The kid didn't speak as well, and I don't know if he feels "fortunate" himself.

Not having even watched up to 30 minutes, I had already taken a few naps. Finally, I couldn't bear it and went out before time was up. There were a few more colleagues from China who had dozed off and one of them slept from beginning to end.

For the discussion, I went back to the meeting, unable to stop myself from saying that the story in the film wasn't told well, that it made me drowsy, that I didn't like it. When talking about AIDS orphans, the kids said too little, Zhang Ying said too much.

But almost all of the foreign journalists said that this film was really good, that it really moved them. Some of them said that as minors, it was hard for the kids to express themselves.

Seeing those orphans' helplessness, everyone would probably be moved. This kind of emotion doesn't necessarily mean that the film was well made.

Moreover, only because making films on subjects such as this isn't easy, adding country scenery, the primitive way of life of the peasants, it was really easy to move foreigners who don't understand China.

Saying that the orphans haven't grown up, so they can't express their feelings and thoughts, just isn't convincing. My colleagues and I have interviewed many children, including AIDS infected minors. As long as the reporter can interact with them in an equal manner, gain their trust, they are all able to express their views very well, and don't need a spokesperson.

Out of the 40 Chinese journalist taking part in the training session, only a few could identify with the film.

There were some domestic colleagues who couldn't accept it because of that Zhang Ying person - one can call her a bit controversial. But professor Li Xiguang from Qinghua University praised her, saying that she had adopted so many AIDS orphans, did so much for them, and it all wasn't easy.

I don't understand Zhang Ying. I dislike The Blood of Yingzhou District not because of her - it's all because I think that the film itself was badly shot, the story was told with no clear reason whatsoever, and what's more, the children were never given the right to express themselves.

Some of foreign colleagues erroneously believed that the Chinese journalists didn't like the film because it reveals China's dark side. All of the Chinese reporters present on the spot disagreed with this interpretation - the problems of AIDS orphans has been reported by the Chinese media many times, and similar topics have appeared in special reports on TV; the mainland has made many films which are more touching than this one. But it was the film made by those two that won a prize abroad. Evidently that's just what foreign prizes are like.

As for the disagreement about the film, it attracted the attention of Bob Myers, head of the National Press Foundation, which hosted the training session. Today, he found some more time to let everyone see the film again, from a journalistic angle this time. Some colleagues pointed out that from a journalistic perspective, the film only relied on one source, and that's Zhang Ying. Zhang Ying, leading a film crew, came in and out of various AIDS contracted patients relatives' homes, and the film showed her orphan adoption issue. Moreover, on the whole it was her who spoke in behalf of the children. This makes it hard to avoid a single person perspective, making people think that the film is giving Zhang Ying publicity, even though the staff repeatedly claimed that they weren't doing publicity for anyone, just talking about a social phenomena, a social problem.

Some people said, that when making a documentary about AIDS, using a single source wasn't wrong.

This thought is very unsettling. The film talked about the biased view of fellow villagers towards the sufferers. But didn't let the healthy villagers talk about the problem. So the opinion about the village isn't objective and true, provoking one's doubts.

And then there are the AIDS orphans appearing in the film, all of them with real names, their faces uncovered. When filming, was their genuine agreement given? Were they informed that the showing of the film could affect their lives? I don't know.

Theres a scene in the film, where a HIV-positive girl concealing the truth about her infection gets married. Asked if shes going tell the truth after the wedding, she says no, that she intends to hide the truth for a long time. But the film is made in such a way, that won't her real situation be revealed after the broadcast? Someone asked the director about it, and the answer given was, that actually before holding the wedding, frankly, the girl told about her situation. In that case, why did the finished movie show the girl hiding away the truth? Isn't it lying to the audience?

During this training session, we understood that in the modern world the capital invested in HIV is huge, and there are many people living off of it.

Considering this film, it is indeed like that.


The first comment to this post was from someone who claimed to be the cinematographer:

*
I'm The Blood of Yingzhou District cameraman. Actually the time when I got involved was before the director went back to the country. It's been two years already, I shot almost every scene in the film, you can say that I ought to know better than you what happened there!

Zhang Ying said, that he had never spoken before and that he was much better now. But in the movie, he still didn't speak. Pointing at another child, Zhang Ying said, that he was really fortunate - an old lady from America supplied him with medicine, so his health wasn't bad all along. The kid didn't speak as well, and I don't know if he feels fortunate himself.
The child who wasn't speaking is called Gao Jun, he livens up at the end of the film; the other one's name is Nannan, she's at least lived to be fourteen thanks to the help of the old American lady, she's probably the worlds longest living child born with AIDS, can't you tell if she's happy or not?

The film talked about the biased view of fellow villagers towards the sufferers. But didn't let the healthy villagers talk about the problem. So the opinion about the village isn't objective and true, provoking one's doubts.
It seems that you must have been tired out the first night to doze off not long after the start of the film!

And then there are the AIDS orphans appearing in the film, all of them with real names, their faces uncovered. When filming, was their genuine agreement given? Were they informed that the showing of the film could affect their lives? I don't know.
I know - each and every child and person who was filmed had been given a document to sign that they agree to be filmed, and for the film to be screened.

There's a scene in the film, where a HIV-positive girl concealing the truth about her infection gets married.
The girl is Nannan's older sister - she's healthy!

During this training session, we understood that in the modern world the capital invested in HIV is huge, and there are many people living off of it. Considering this film, it is indeed like that.
Or is it that you're sore because you haven't had a taste?

the problems of AIDS orphans has been reported by the Chinese media many times, and similar topics have appeared in special reports on TV; the Mainland has made many films which are more touching than this one. But it was the film made by those two that won a prize abroad. Evidently that's just what foreign prizes are like. My colleagues and I have interviewed many children, including AIDS infected minors. As long as the reporter can interact with them in an equal manner, gain their trust, they are all able to express their views very well, and don't need a spokesperson.
If it's really like that, that you went to interview them, achieved mutual and equal relations, so much that it's even more moving, where is your stuff? Please give an example. I've been to Fuyang more than ten times; I spent last year's Spring Festival making dumplings with AIDS patients. Have you ever tried that? How can one gain your trust? After you receive your wage, do they stop leaving the life they used to live? A spokesperson was needed, Zhang Ying was there, the director and screenwriter were there, and they've changed their lives and fate a lot.

For the discussion, I went back to the meeting, unable to stop myself from saying that the story in the film wasn't told well, that it made me drowsy, that I didn't like it.
It's a documentary! It's not for you to find stimulating amusement! It speaks about the suffering of so many children, yet you've summed it up as a film story!

Not having even watched up to 30 minutes, I had already taken a few naps. Finally, I couldn't bear it and went out before time was up. There were a few more colleagues from China who had dozed off and one of them slept from beginning to end.
Is it apathy or cold blood? Or is it that you and your friends were really tired the night before? Leaving aside etiquette - taking a nap while watching the film - you still have the nerve to sum it up on a blog....I've begun to doubt your humanity and personal integrity!


Also, a report on the dispute by science journalist Li Hujun. "An AIDS orphan documentary sets off an argument" (excerpts, also translated by Sinodrom):

The film had not yet finished when Xinhua journalist Xiong Lei declared she was walking out. Soon afterwards, a feud erupted between Chinese and American journalists. During the fierce battle, Qinghua University professor Li Xiguang was openly confronted by his students.

But many of the present Chinese reporters didn't like the movie. Among them, Xinhua News Agency's Xiong Lei's attitude was especially fierce. When the discussion started, she spoke first, saying that the film was bad, too boring.

When filming, thanks to Qinghua University's professor Jing Jun, Yang Ziye found Fuyang AIDS Orphan Salvation Association’s president - Mrs Zhang Ying. After that, almost the whole journey was made in her accompaniment, following the steps of a few AIDS orphans. So Zhang Ying is a controversial character. According to my co-worker You Shanshan's article titled "Double faced 'AIDS mothers'?" Zhang Ying receives fierce comments in the AIDS circle.

When Qinghua University News Academy professor Li Xiguang presented the film's background in English, he mentioned that Chinese media have distorted Zhang Ying's image. I immediately asked for the floor: Isn't it too early to draw the conclusion that the Chinese media have distorted Zhang Ying's image?

My colleague Liu Jianqiang is Li Xiguang's student. He also spoke, challenging his own teacher, saying a lot of HIV infected as well as doctor Gao Yaojie and other AIDS activists don’t trust Zhang Ying. (Jianqiang added that this open dispute did not affect the student-teacher relationship.)

Links and Sources
There are currently 15 Comments for Exploitation and The Blood of Yingzhou District.

Comments on Exploitation and The Blood of Yingzhou District

Is it just me, or is this Xiong Lei person completely uncompassionate about the genuine plight of the orphans in the documentary? Perhaps this Xiong Lei person isn't familiar with the concept of the documentary. The purpose of a documentary isn't necessarily to entertain but to inform the audience about real live events. I think this Xiong Lei person is completely stupid.

I haven't seen the The Blood of Yingzhou, but I'm not surprised that it's a bad film. Academy Award has been given time and time again to bad, boring and weak films. The selection of a film for the Oscar is as much a political event as the selection of the US president. Dull films don't deserve to win Oscars, no matter how important their content.

Having said that, Xiong Lei's reaction to it also smacks of politics. Her vituperative tone and the distortions she seems to have included in her review appear intended to defame the filmmakers rather than criticize their film. I was made especially suspicious by her objection to revealing the children's identity without their consent, and when she claimed that an HIV+ woman was shown getting married while concealing her infection from her husband. These are both serious ethical issues for the filmmakers to deal with (if true), but when pitched in an essay alongside this-

Not having even watched up to 30 minutes, I had already taken a few naps. Finally, I couldn't bear it and went out before time was up. There were a few more colleagues from China who had dozed off and one of them slept from beginning to end.

I have to believe that they are appeals to emotion rather than reason. "Criticism" like this is just naked character assassination, and censorious in the extreme.

I find it funny that many chinese find ways to find fault with the works of foreign chinese just because it got worldwide acclaim. Maybe it takes foreigners who are naive about China to see things for what they really are. Look at all the chinese criticisms Ang Lee after Crouching Tiger won worldwide praise...look what happened when Chinese directors themselves tried to make a blockbuster period piece from the Banquet to the Curse of the Golden Flower...some are ok but few had the power or innovation of Crouching Tiger.

Why is anyone surprised? Xiong Lei is a hack and an apologist for the government and has been for years. Li Xiguang attacks the US then accepts invitations to speak there, where he makes nice with all the opinion-makers who then write editorials extolling the Chinese media. Both of them travel overseas frequently, are up to their necks in consulting contracts with foreign firms, speak English, and love to talk to the uninitiated and naive about how China is more open. They have one purpose and one only: to curry favor. Only when you read their Chinese essays do you understand who they are and what they represent--the uncaring side of present-day China where the third apartment, the second mistress, and the third car is all important.

Excellent reporting by Joel; he is one of the few reasons to continue to read Danwei these days, once you wade through the ads that are used as fillers between articles and essays.


if someone is interested there is another documentary about the same issue:
好死不如赖活着
to live is better than die *bad english traslation*, anyway, it came out in 2003, 陈为军 is the director.

ciao.


Thanks for the vote of confidence, SinaSources, but I didn't actually write this post.

I'm not familiar with other of Xiong Lei's works, and at least from the way she describes events at the symposium, it doesn't look like she was exactly currying favor with the NPF.

I don't think her criticism of the film is necessarily out of line, and I do think that there is at least one valid point in her screed - Some of foreign colleagues erroneously believed that the Chinese journalists didn't like the film because it reveals China's dark side. This sort of talk gets batted around quite a bit, and I think it's worthwhile to point out that stories touching the "dark side" do make it to air in the mainland. It's possible that Xiong Lei's reaction is sour grapes, like the cinematographer suggests, but it could also just be a simple difference of opinion - look at all of the different emotions your standard Michael Moore doc kicks up.

However, setting up the domestic/foreign audience dichotomy is a bit disingenuous. A number of comments to Xiong Lei's blog post echoed frank's comment, and asked why it is that once something is lauded overseas, there is a chorus of domestic voices that dismiss it as unremarkable.

Thanks for the recommendation, yilian.

Joel, your name is on the post but you did not write it?

I'm sorry, but then why is your name on it?

What's going on here?

[[EDITOR'S NOTE (JDM): Sorry for the confusion. I posted this piece, but the translation legwork was done by Sinodrom. I just wrote up an introduction to it.]]

OK, that's clear now. Thank you.

One wonders how much of the translation is done by the writers whose name appears and how much by, say, Chinese staff in your employ. Perhaps in the future, you might be well-served to indicate this.

[[EDITOR'S NOTE (JDM): One shouldn't have to wonder. Unless otherwise noted, translations are the work of the bylined author. In this post, paragraph 4 credits Polish blogger Sinodrom (Sinodrom: Chiny), who supplied Danwei with the translations through the Chinese Content wiki.]]

With due respect and all, wouldn't it be a good idea to indicate that on the website for application to all posts? So, the most recent post I am seeing from Jeremy--is that his translation from sina.com or someone else's or wiki or something else?

Or is it so indicated as a general policy on the website and I am just not seeing it? My apologies if the latter is the case.

Thanks.

SinaSource, Your initial assumption was basically correct. We make a note when the facts are otherwise (here, for example, or this category).

We could put "Unless otherwise noted, posted content and translations are the work of the bylined author" on the About page, but I personally am not convinced that it would make much difference, particularly when naming the translator twice in the post itself is apparently insufficient.

I'd be happy to continue this conversation by email if you have a specific suggestion.

It's Sinodrom here, I'd like to help in clarifying the situation.
The story behind the post is rather simple, really. A week ago or so, I wanted to see if had the skills to translate a fairly long text into English (I'm no English native-speaker, nor Chinese). At the same time I was interested in Chinese netizens' and the media's opinion about 'Yingzhou'. So I went for Xiong Lei's essay.
I was just wandering if I would build up the guts to send it to someone (well, I was thinking of Danwei since I'm their great fan), when I noticed that Joel was asking on ChinCon if anyone had translated it. This was a great chance to send my first translation to someone who's been doing it for a long time. And it was Danwei.

Eventually, my work was good enough to be submitted (Joel brushed it up a bit and wrote the introduction). Joel suggested putting in a link to my Polish blog as a thank you for the contribution, which was very nice and everything was, and is OK. SinaSource: there's no problem really. I've been credited. Sometimes, us, the readers, get used to the fact, that 'he, who submits is the writer', but if you look closely, you'll notice that it says: 'Posted by Joel Martinsen', not 'Written by'. Blogs aren't that flexible when it comes to featured writers, sure. But than again, it's ours - the reader's - fault that we don't pay attention to the details, which aren't that hard to notice.

I am sorry but I have problems with this explanation.

Careful--or uncareful--readers are not to praise or blame here. If something reads "posted by", the assumption is that it is written by the person named or translated by them. I find no mention on the website that translations are frequently done by a software program or a staff member.

The reason why there is confusion here--and inconsistency--is because that is not indicated. and I am using the term "confusion", while others might employ another.

Just how many languages do you speak, Sinodrom? ;)

Hey Feng,

My apologies for not replying earlier. Well, I speak Polish (mother tongue), English (I hope!) and I've been studying Chinese for some time. I'd mention German but it's on a "I'll survive in a restaurant" sort of level ;)

I viewed this documentary on our MAORI station 10 October 2010. I honestly have to say I was very moved by this short film. I quess those who have had negative viewpoints on your site do not have compassion. I cried, it upset me so much, the children did not have to say a lot, I could feel their pain, and when they spoke - in tears - I could feel their deep loss. I've been there with the tragic loss of both my parents in a car accident, but this was different; these children had no love, were living in horrendously poor conditions and who was there to cuddle them and comfort them......who was there to love them. I do not care what anyone says, I heard and felt everything they felt. We know how many of the Chinese live, and obviously there is little care for this kind of "disease", if the government cared for their people, no one would be in such a state of "poverty" that they have to sell their blood!

China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
laomo2010x80.jpg
From 2008
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Culture and corporate propaganda in Soho Xiaobao (2007.11): Mid-2007 issues of Soho Xiaobao (SOHO小报), illustrating the complicated identity of in-house magazines run by real estate companies.
+ Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship (2010.03): Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship at an officially sanctioned meeting in Shenzhen.
+ Crowd-sourced cheating on the 2010 gaokao (2010.06): A student in Sichuan seeks help with the ancient Chinese section of this year's college entrance exam -- while the test is going on!
Danwei Archives