I wasn't sure why at first, but this moment lingered longer than the rest: Wang Jingyao sat at a small breakfast table in his apartment and stared at me for several seconds. Two small plastic fans whirled next to the wall. There was a bouquet of fake flowers, a collection of cookie tins, and some old apples in a bowl.The first ten sections of the movie, Though I am Gone, can be seen here. I'll go ahead and embed the first one if anyone care to begin viewing (the movie is in Mandarin but has English subtitles):
We'd been talking for a while and sipping tea, working our way slowly to the subject of his wife, who was mercilessly beaten to death during the Cultural Revolution. I thought that Wang, 89, was just gathering his thoughts. The old man, wearing shorts and a white T-shirt, was in fact thinking over a question before asking it.
He'd been the central character in a 2006 documentary about the murder of his wife, Bian Zhongyun. It is a powerful piece of film in which Wang repeatedly looks straight into the camera's eye and talks plainly about Bian, a mother of four, being bludgeoned by teenage girls until she died in a mess of her own blood, urine and excrement in 1966.
So now he had a question for me: "How much influence has this movie had in America?"
Several of the books I've read in recent weeks have delved into these dark chapters of contemporary Chinese history. All of the information I've taken in, including this movie above, has been eye-opening and disturbing.
I love China. I'm fascinated by the country. I'm trying my best to wrap my mind around the Leninist-capitalist amalgamation that is every day wielding more power across the globe. But aside from macro-economic and geo-political trends that I enjoy following, I also am trying to understand the people and culture of China better.
My wife is Chinese. I lived in China for more than three years. I met scores of wonderful people in China who have affected me greatly. I've invested a lot of time, energy, and, honestly, my heart into the country. It is very possible that Qian and I would want to live in China again in the future.
All of these stories on recent Chinese history, such as the one above, strike very close to home for me.
When my parents were being moved by speeches from Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, witnessing men land on the moon, and listening to Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis, my wife's parents were living through the insanity of Maoist China.
Now, nearly a half-century later, a decade into the twenty-first century, Qian's parents are the ones living in the country who's economy is developing at unprecedented rates while my parents' country is the one stagnating (more than just economically). My parents dream of retirement. Qian's parents (who are a few years younger than my parents) are about to start their pensions.
The world is a crazy place. Looking at China as an American can be strange. I apologize if this blog is often contradictory, rambling, and/or nonsensical. I'm just trying my best to make sense of it all.