News / Asia

Historic Chinese Drama Sparks Debate About More Recent Past

Adrian Brody in "Back to 1942" (Photo Courtesy China Lion Film Distribution)
Adrian Brody in "Back to 1942" (Photo Courtesy China Lion Film Distribution)
VOA News
A recently released movie in China that focuses on a devastating famine the country experienced before the Communist Party came to power is triggering discussions online about a more recent tragedy.

Back to 1942, a grim film by Chinese director Feng Xiaogang, tells the story of a terrible drought in Henan province during the WWII that occurred at a time when the Japanese army was closing in to conquer central China.

Released in theaters around the country last week, the movie follows the hopeless march of millions of Henan residents as they flee their homes in search of shelter and food.



Although the movie focuses on how refugees from Henan were abandoned by Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government and betrayed by corrupt local officials, many on China’s Twitter-like microblogging service Weibo are focusing on another famine, one that occurred when China’s Mao Zedong was in power.

Murong Xuecun (pen name of Hao Qun), a popular Chinese writer and active blogger, draws a parallel between the events depicted in the movie and another famine, more severe but not as documented within China.

 “We all know that the famine in 1942 was not the most severe [in recent times], the most severe was the 1959-1962 years," he says, "but I can understand very well why Feng Xiaogang did not portray the famine of the 1960s.”

Progress

In the 1950s Mao Zedong launched a campaign, known as the "Great Leap  Forward", which brutally collectivized agriculture and largely halted farm work, in an effort to industrialize the country and raise China up to join the ranks of other developed nations.

The results were disastrous for hundreds of millions of people in the countryside, who had to give up the little grain they had to city dwellers. The famine, which within China is explained as caused by a combination of factors including “political errors,” killed an estimated 36 million people. But Mao is still revered as modern China's founding father and so the famine remains a taboo subject for books of modern history, let alone movies.

Murong says that if Feng were to set his movie during what is remembered as the “great famine,” it would not have passed the test of censors.

“I believe that if this were a free and open environment he would have definitely chosen to make a movie about 1959-1962,” says Murong.

Censorship

Chinese books, movies and news publications must undergo a strict screening by the State Administration for Radio Film and Television, and the General Administration for Press Publication, that are the main enactors of media censorship and often ban work whose content does not conform with the Communist party's line.

Censors have clamped down on various attempts to publicly debate sensitive times in China's history, but online, where people tend to share more candid views about their country, many users caught the opportunity of this movie to talk about the famine caused by Mao Zedong's economic policies.

“Why did so many more people die in 1962 as compared to 1942” read a thread on Weibo, China’s most popular twitter like service.

“The famine in 1942 was a natural disaster, the one in 1962 was man-made,” said one user named “Old Brother Zhang.”

Criticism

Journalists and popular online commentator Li Yong, who goes by the name “Ten Years Chopping Wood” and has more than 200,000 followers on Weibo, remarked that all governments must be criticized and monitored.

“The nationalist government cannot use the excuse that Henan was situated in a war zone to avoid responsibility for the problems in relief efforts,” Li writes on his account. “For the same reason, and even more so, people should look back at the great famine of 1959-1962 that took place in the central plains, as well as in the entire country, during times of peace.”

Some on Weibo followed up their comments with reading suggestions about the Great Leap Forward.

“I watched the movie and, as a result, I went and downloaded the book about the 1959 famine Tombstone,” a user from Xian wrote on Weibo that after reading one chapter of the book it was almost too hard for her to continue, given the horrible conditions people faced.

Chinese journalist Yang Jisheng's book Tombstone is the most detailed account to date of what happened in China's rural areas during the Great Leap Forward. Although Yang used official Communist party archives and documents for his research, the book is banned in China.

Yang was a child during the "Great Leap Forward" and a personal witness to the tragedy.

Reaction

Despite the connections made online between the movie Back to 1942 and the more deadly famine of the 1960s, it is unclear when the party will allow a more open discussion on its own history.

Earlier this year, a senior journalist at a state news agency angered many netizens after he denied the gravity of the great famine in a post on his Weibo account.

Lin Zhibo, head of the Gansu branch of the party's mouthpiece People's Daily, had to apologize for his comment that “very few people died of starvation at the time.”

As a result of Lin's comment,  many people started to post memories online, including accounts and photographs of their families' sufferings, breaking a taboo on what memories people in China are allowed to share in public.

In the last few minutes of Back to 1942 the narrator reveals that a little girl depicted at the end of the movie is his mother.

“Years later, because of an interview that I was preparing about the famine, I asked her questions about 1942,” the narrator explains. “I do not remember,” the mother responds, “why do you keep asking?”

You May Like

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Wangchuk from: NYC
December 07, 2012 10:41 AM
The Chinese Communist Party censors books, films, newspapers & Internet in China so that people will not learn of the atrocities the Party has committed since 1949. Hundreds of thousands died during the Anti-Rightist Campaign of the 1950s, millions died during the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution & hundreds were murdered by the PLA at the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. You won't read about these events in Chinese history books b/c of Party censorship. The CCP is raising Chinese people ignorant of their own history.


by: Sun from: Taipei
December 06, 2012 4:56 AM
Chinese journalists must tell the truth of Great Massacre (not Great Leap Forward) to the people in the world. I have learned from this VOA news that China Mainland is such a country where even a slaughterer (Mao) can be worshiped as a Great leader.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid