Monday, August 30, 2010

Though I am Gone

I read a very sad blog article from McClathy's bureau chief, Tom Lasseter, last week:
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.

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?"

Read On

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):

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.


Ramesh said...

Wistful post Mark. Its a strange world and within a generation we shall see many many changes. Its a wild ride, but what the heck, a joyful ride nevertheless.

dujuan99 said...

I saw the film in October 2009 at the Frankfurt book fair. The room was full. The documentary was shown in many other places in Europe, too. Watching films and reading books from China that deal with contemporary history can be very powerful experiences. I like your post very much. Yesterday I read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban again. I know I should read more Chinese novels in Chinese instead. But there are many ways to write and read about trauma. If you are moved by any kind of story, poem, film etc. that deals with contemporary history, especially in countries where many events of the last 60-80 years are not publicly acknowledged, you will have felt something similar to what you felt watching Though I am Gone. Is that a comfort you could tell the old man? Probably not. But he does what he can, it's a powerful film, ad it does have some impact. Thanks again for your post.