Screen Narration in a Time of Bringing Order out of Chaos

In 1972, the Chinese government invited the renowned Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni to make a documentary film about the new face of the Chinese people during the Cultural Revolution. Antonioni received this invitation because he was internationally known as an active leftist. During his stay in China. Antonioni was well received by the officials and started filming in locations including Beijing. Shanghai, and Linxian County (now Linzhou City) in Henan Province. With official support, he filmed schools, factories, kindergartens, theaters, hospitals. and rural areas, as well as the leisure activities of ordinary people during the Cultural Revolution. Attempting to capture as much of the spirit of the Chinese people as possible. Antonioni reflected.

in this country, I know that the people used to live under extremely unjust feudal rule; today, they are trying to establish justice day by day. Poverty determines the courageous possibilities of survival, making people peaceful, more human than we are, and even closer to our humanist ideals.1

But the different perspectives on Antonioni’s completed film China of Chinese and foreign commentators created a great deal of political disagreement. In January 1974, the Chinese side initiated an organized critique of Antonioni and his him China (Chimg Kuo. Cina) in a campaign that lasted nearly a year. Only “some of the articles published in February and March 1974 were collected in a 200-page book entitled The Chinese People Cannot Be Humiliated: A Critique of Antonioni’s Anti-Chinese Film China (published by People’s Literature Publishing House in June 1974),"2 The most important of these critical articles was a commentary published in the People's Daily on January 30, 1974. Reflecting the aggressiveness of the Cultural Revolution, it was titled “Malicious Intentions. Despicable Methods—Criticism of Antonioni’s Anti-Chinese Film China.” The body of die article began more rationally, arguing that,

since the day the Five-Starred Red Flag was raised in Tiananmen Square and the birth of New China was announced, various political forces around the world have taken different attitudes toward the sweeping social changes that have taken place in our country and the tremendous achievements made in socialist construction.3

The article acknowledges that, when addressing “New China” as an object of observation, the observing subject will have particular subjective inclinations, but it then goes on to label these judgments as political. It states, “hundreds of millions of revolutionary people and a large number of international friends expressed praise and sympathy, while a small group of reactionary forces showed extreme fear and bitter hatred.”4 With this interpretation, the article argues China was an anti-Chinese film. The filming and screening of the film were interpreted as constituting a serious anti-Chinese incident and a provocation to the Chinese people. The key argument of the article is that the China depicted by Antonioni is very different from the China existing in the minds of tire hundreds of millions of revolutionary people, and perhaps even completely opposed to those ideas. According to the article,

the world has seen that the Chinese people, who have risen up, have undergone a great change in their mental outlook. “Do the Chinese working people still look like slaves in the past? No, they are now masters.” In our country, “never before have we seen the people in such high spirits, with such high morale and enthusiasm.”5

But how did Antonioni present it? “Antonioni, however, portrayed the Chinese people as ignorant, isolated, sad, listless, unhygienic, voracious, and confused."6

It is noteworthy that the reviewer’s article links the appearance of the film China to international perspectives, which helps us to understand prevailing international views of China at the time. The article begins by recounting the fundamental reversal of China’s international image under the leadership of Chairman Mao:

In recent years, the situation we face at home and abroad has become better and better. Chairman Mao’s revolutionary diplomatic strategy has achieved new and greater victories, and our international influence is expanding day by day. The shameful conspiracy of imperialism and social-imperialism to isolate and subvert China has been overthrown. However, our enemies will not be satisfied with their failure to defeat China. Attacking the Chinese revolution and slandering new. socialist China is designed to shape public opinion to support an attempt to bring about a counter-revolutionary restoration in China and to relegate China to a colonial and semi-colonial status . . . from Khrushchev to Brezhnev, they have made every effort to slander and attack the Chinese people. They have said that the Chinese are so poor that they drink water as soup and don’t even have pants to wear; that the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution has caused new destruction of China’s productive forces; that the Chinese people are exhausted and in severe misery while forced into a barracks-style life, and so forth.7

In detailing the China incident triggered by Antonioni, my purpose is to bring out the political significance and strategic nature of questions of China’s image. According to the public’s perception of China’s contemporary history in today’s age of open information, the statements made by ‘'imperialists” or “socialimperialists” about China during the Cultural Revolution cannot be said to be groundless accusations or rumors made up out of thin air. Instead, it should be admitted that some of the problems mentioned in these criticisms existed to varying degrees in China at the time. The real China exists, but. as soon as it is narrativized through language, especially audiovisual language, it forms a narrative text. The image of China is shaped by language and the different perspectives and narrative strategies of various political and cultural forces. As Pageaux writes, “the image has all the characteristics of language,”8 According to Lubomir Doležel, “there must be an insurmountable gap between discourse (writing, reproduction, symbols) and the real, and no symbol or reproduction can make us see the reality or ‘hook into the reality.’”9 Since there are certain differences between figurative narrative and the realities of society due to the intervention of language, uncovering the differences and searching for their inner motives becomes an important line of inquiry.

After overthrowing the Gang of Four in October 1976. the excitement of this so-called “Golden October” had to be legitimized as an epoch-making turning point and transformation that would change China’s destiny. In Iris later years. Chairman Mao Zedong felt that he was most proud of two things in his life. One was the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek, whom Mao had expelled to Taiwan while conquering Beijing and occupying the Forbidden City with little dissent. The other was the launching of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Proud as Mao was of this accomplishment, it was “something that not many people supported but many opposed. Additionally, Taiwan had never been liberated.” Ultimately,

These two tasks are not finished, they are legacies that must be passed down to the next generation. How to hand them over? We must pass them on either in a peaceful environment or in a turbulent one. If this is not done properly, only a bloody war awaits our future generations. Only God knows what will happen next.10

As a major event in China’s contemporary history, overthrowing the Gang of Four has become an important symbol of the Chinese people’s break from the Cultural Revolution. Still, the task of repairing the pain of the Cultural Revolution has proved quite arduous. The important slogan put forward at the time was “setting things right.” However, following the chaos of class straggle during the Cultural Revolution, there emerged the question: “what is right?” According to the policy declaration of the resolution of the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee in October 1978, what was “right” was to refocus on economic construction. According to understandings of that time, this meant returning to the path of socialist construction employed as standard policy in the 17 years from liberation until the Cultural Revolution. Guided by these policies, the restoration and rehabilitation of the leading cadres gradually began. Liu Shaoqi and other cadres persecuted in the Cultural Revolution were rehabilitated, and many belated memorial services were held. Persecuted cadres and Party leaders who were lucky enough to survive the Cultural Revolution, such as Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun, and Peng Zhen, took back leadership positions and returned to power after a decade of hardship. They took lull control of China's political situation after Hua Guofeng retired from his post at the Sixth Plenary Session of the 11th Communist Party of China Central Committee. These figures were victims of the Cultural Revolution and naturally held negative attitude towards it, seeing it as necessary to make political judgments about the period. According to Roderick MacFarquhar,

during the period just after the death of Chairman Mao, all the victims who had been reinstated agreed that the priority was to remove those who had gained power during the Cultural Revolution and to abolish the policies formulated during that period.11

The Communist Party of China (CPC) faced the difficult political challenge of solving the problems left by the Cultural Revolution, while still protecting Mao's image. A feasible strategy became blaming the Cultural Revolution on two antiParty groups, the clique of Lin Biao and the Gang of Four. The CPC held the “trial of the century” for the members of these two groups, punishing and blaming these former power holders in order to provide accountability to the victims of the Cultural Revolution and their families. In order to address the responsibility of Chairman Mao Zedong in the Cultural Revolution, the Party formulated “the Resolution on Certain Historical Issues of the Party since the Founding of the People’s Republic.” which officially distinguished and clarified the merits and faults of Mao Zedong in China’s revolution and construction.

It was against this background of coming to terms with the Cultural Revolution that film creation in the new era began to recover, developing rapidly and entering a period of relative prosperity.

In the Throes of Rectification: Strategies for Narrating China during the Cultural Revolution

During the Cultural Revolution, the film industry was both particularly “taken care of’ and particularly harmed owing to Jiang Qing’s personal ties to film. For example, 309 cadres of film creation and technique from the Shanghai Film Studio were persecuted and censored, among whom 16 died from persecution. Of the 108 writers, directors, actors, and photographers in the literary and art department above the sixth rank, 104 (96%) were also illegally censored.

From the Changchun Film Studio, more than 500 workers were driven away and sent to the countryside, among whom more than half were artistic, technical, and party and political cadres. The number of people who were labeled gangsters, reactionary forces, poisonous thought experts. anti-Party and anti-people capitalists, and so on, was in the hundreds. Hundreds of people were imprisoned and beaten for a long time; nine of them became ill after being beaten, and six committed suicide. Of the 880 total employees of Beijing Film Studio, 700 were purged under the pretext of decentralizing cadre schools, 200 were persecuted, 7 died from persecution, and 4 were unjustly imprisoned.12 Xia Yan, a key member of the Communist Party’s film group during the left-wing literary period and an important leader of the new Chinese film industry, was imprisoned in Qincheng prison for 8 years. In 1979, after his rehabilitation, he wrote an article looking back on the 10 years of the Cultural Revolution:

During the period when Lin Biao and the Gang of Four wielded absolute power, none of the experienced film workers of older generation, who had made great contributions to Chinese cinema, dodged the bullet. The middle-aged screenwriters and directors who had grown up after the liberation and could have made great achievements were almost all forced to stop their creative activities. The younger generation, who had just graduated from film schools and should have done more than their predecessors, wasted time in their profession for a whole decade.13

Creative workers were severely traumatized and faced the dominance of the "ten model dramas” on the art stage during the Cultural Revolution. Just as its victims had to be liberated, it was also necessary to enrich the literary life of people in a new atmosphere. The films that had been criticized, constrained, and banned during the Cultural Revolution were reviewed in an organized manner so as to be delivered to audiences as quickly as possible.14 In order to speed up the progress of lifting the bans, on August 10, 1978, the government issued the Notice of the Ministry of Culture on the Urgent Review of Films. Even before this directive, the review of films had already successfully gotten underway. From November 1977 until August 1978, 123 feature films and 21 theatrical art films had been rescreened successively. These were welcomed by the vast number of workers, peasants, and soldiers. According to tire Ministry of Culture notice:

In order to better carry out the instructions of Chairman Hua and the Party Central Committee on expanding literary and artistic programs and enriching cultural life, and to further implement the Party's policy toward intellectuals, there is an urgent need to speed up the progress of the re-screening work at present. This must be done so that more good works can meet with general audiences, and so that those films which are not politically wrong, though they might have certain problems, can be liberated as soon as possible.15

In order to complete this work as quickly as possible, the notice clearly required that the review process be completed in October 1978, though in actuality the work was delayed and did not end until 1979. Through the review, a total of around 600 films from the 17 years, such as A Revolutionary Family (Gengming Jiating. dir. Shui Hua, 1961), Red Flag (Hong Oi Pu, dir. Ling Zifeng. 1960), The Story of Liuhao (Liubao de Gushi, dir. Wang Ping, 1957), and Song of Youth (Qingchu Zhige. dir. Liu Huiai, 1959), were rescreened in theaters. In addition, some progressive films with artistic value and classic significance produced in the 1930s and 1940s were also rescreened. These included Street Angel (Malu Tianshi, dir. Yuan Muzhi, 1937), Crossroads (Shizi Jietou, dir. Shen Xiling, 1937), and The Spring River Flows East (Yijiang Chunshui Xiangdongliu. dir. Cai Chusheng, 1947). That these films, which had been classified as poisonous during the Cultural Revolution, were able to see the light of day again was an important declaration of shifting values. On the one hand, it brought an end to the extreme leftist culture that had dominated during the decade of the Cultural Revolution, giving audiences more cultural choices other than the ten model plays. On the other hand, it was also a declaration of “setting things right,” because these films and their creators had been treated cruelly during the Cultural Revolution, with some creators even losing their lives. That audiences could once again view these works was a specific negation of the Cultural Revolution, at least to a certain extent.

At the same time, the Party was rehabilitating persecuted creators and lifting bans on forbidden works, and artistic creation also was also moving forward. New creations carried new mainstream values that “set things right.” New literary works were the first creations to cause a sensation. The most popular author was Liu Xinwu who, in his work The Head Teacher (Banzhuren), wrote about the erosion of young people’s minds caused by the Cultural Revolution. Liu restated the author Lu Xun’s dictum to “save our children” in reference to the Cultural Revolution. More importantly, through its representation of the class teacher, his work finally reestablished the status of intellectuals as subjects of enlightenment possessing valuable knowledge. Liu redressed the Cultural Revolution’s treatment of intellectuals as objects of instruction, criticism, and transformation, opening up brand-new futures for intellectuals in the cultural community that gave free rein to their imagination in the new era. Another popular concept of the time was socalled “scar literature.” According to Cyril Birch, this genre:

Began with the realization that the ethical and moral reversal and chaos of the Cultural Revolution and its serious consequences left deep, and probably still deep-rooted, traces in the minds of all people, especially young people. As a result, “scar literature”, i.e., “literature of the victims”, was produced. The name came from a short story, Trauma (Shanghen), published by Lu Xinhua, a young man in his twenties, in August 1978. It is a sad story about a passionate young woman who does not have the forgiveness of her dying mother, a cadre who suffered disgrace during the period when the Gang of Four was taking control.16

This groundbreaking work, Trauma, triggered the popular concept of “humanitarianism” to become a main cultural trend of the new era. Humanitarianism involves an important focus on the concept of what it means to be human, as well as how humans can become corrupted. The Cultural Revolution’s distortion of humanity and the trampling of humanitarianism became key objects of criticism in the new period of literary and artistic creation.

Cinematic production was more or less in line with the trends in literature and art. In order to “set things right,” it was necessary to show the chaos of the Cultural Revolution onscreen. In the new era. the Cultural Revolution was defined as a disaster, and only by recounting the suffering of the Chinese people during this chaotic period could its pain be remembered. Re-experiencing the pain of the Cultural Revolution in films could effectively prevent the disaster from happening again, as well as providing narrative support for ending the Cultural Revolution. Paul Connerton argues, “much of our experience of the present depends on what we know about the past; our images about the past usually serve to legitimize the existing social order.”17 Connerton continues,

images of the past generally legitimize the social order of the present. This is an implied rule: participants in any social order must share a common memory. To what extent disagreement about the memory of past societies exists determines the extent that their members can or cannot share experiences or visions.18

To enable the smooth implementation of Reform and Opening Up, it was necessary to organize the memory of the Cultural Revolution for all people and to make them reach a high degree of consensus on memories of suffering during the period. This task presented a challenge to the art world, especially the him industry, to explore how' to reproduce the suffering experienced during the Cultural Revolution in narrative form. This task was not easy and led to disputes.

What needed to be set right? Primarily, it was the legacy of the 10-year Cultural Revolution and the irrational behaviors shaped by the ideas of that period. To set things right, it was necessary to first enable people to fully understand what occurred, because “one cannot recognize the problems since he himself is the problem.”19 Even those who had experienced the Cultural Revolution themselves did not necessarily have a full, comprehensive, and rational understanding of what happened. They also were not necessarily able to consistently align with the concepts of the Party’s new policies in this new era. Therefore, it was only by clearing up the sufferings of the Cultural Revolution that the whole nation could be mobilized to “set things right” and move into a new era. In order to make the public re-experience the suffering of the Cultural Revolution, its chaos had to be reproduced through literature and art. Here, film’s unique functions could be brought fully into play. After the monotony of the ten model plays that dominated during the Cultural Revolution, the masses were eager for cultural life, and, luckily, the golden age of cinema was coming. Additionally, the advantages of film made it an appropriate medium for representing suffering. The audience could experience, feel, and even identify with the emotions presented in film in a darkened theater, without directly undergoing that suffering themselves. The audience could experience all the inappropriate and inhumane acts of the Cultural Revolution on the screen. They could shift from victims to viewers, empathizing with the victims without personally experiencing that suffering, which could help them understand the Cultural Revolution rationally. Ultimately then, film production was ushered into the new era of trauma films, which sought to represent China in chaos.

Post-liberation China had given young people fuller space for physical and mental development. They were called the flowers of the motherland and enjoyed the brightness of a new society while growing happily, without restraint. This milieu shaped the fond memories of those who had been young during the 1950s. Mao Zedong compared them to the sun at 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning and called them the creators of the future China. They chanted “long live youth” and sang the song “Our Fields,” living exciting lives as they built the motherland. What about the young people of the Cultural Revolution? They were destroyed as people when radical policies drove them to become thugs causing social unrest. They criticized many social elites and charged them with being ghosts and monsters at mass rallies where people suffered great humiliations. The young generation had been destroyed by their own actions. After they had exhausted their usefulness, these youths, labeled Red Guards, were sent to deserts and remote mountains and forests to receive reeducation from the poor and lower-middle peasants. They spent their youths in hopelessness. These young people’s lives were mined during the 10-year Cultural Revolution. Emei Film Studio’s films such as The Maples and My Ten Classmates (Wode Shige Tongxue, dir. Ye Ming, 1979) address this social tragedy head-on.

The Maples (Feng, dir. Zhang Yi, 1980) focuses on the fate of the Red Guards. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards were the main force that promoted the course of revolution, using their unbridled youthful impulses and revolutionary loyalty to attack so-called ghosts and monsters and the Four Olds (old ideas, old culture, old habits, and old customs). After the end of the Cultural Revolution, the mainstream view of the Red Guard movement remained dichotomous. Except for a few gangsters with political ambitions, the vast majority of young Red Guards saw their loyalty abused by wrong policies or anti-Party cliques with ulterior motives. Although the Red Guards destroyed social stability, most of them were also victims and paid a heavy price for their behavior. The Maples embraces this concept. The sensationalism of the film comes from its representation of a confrontation of armed combat during the Cultural Revolution, which serves as an important narrative turn. Lu Danfeng and Li Honggang are a couple who were good students full of ideals before the Cultural Revolution. When the Cultural Revolution is in full swing, they both join the Red Guards, believing that “on the day the revolution triumphs, they will lead a happy life.” However, the revolutionary situation is very treacherous in these absurd times, and soon the lovers find themselves belonging to two Red Guard groups that are incompatible and have to resort to armed combat to settle their political differences. The couple become Romeo and Juliet figures who are lethal enemies because of the Cultural Revolution. Li Honggang, who is the chief of operations for a faction called Red Flag, decides to attack the stronghold of another faction, Jinggang Mountain, in the city. The young couple suffer, standing at the crossroads of love and loyalty. On the eve of the battle, Lu Danfeng has someone bring Li Honggang a maple leaf and a letter, hoping that he will return to the correct revolutionary line as soon as possible. Otherwise, he will only die by her gun. In the end. the couple both die in armed combat. The film begins with their teacher coming to the cemetery to mourn the young couple who sacrificed themselves to the Cultural Revolution.

Dividing people in the Cultural Revolution into four categories—perpetrators, beneficiaries, survivors, and victims20—the film cleverly transforms the identities of Li Honggang and Lu Danfeng, both Red Guards, from perpetrators into victims. Indeed, this points to a trend in the chaotic films representing the Cultural Revolution, where victims are undoubtedly the key objects of artistic creation. The ways in which these films showed victims’ suffering during the Cultural Revolution. as well as how they viewed that suffering, is a very important issue. It was deemed important for society to reach a consensus on the memory’ of the Cultural Revolution. How suffering was expressed and interpreted is a key issue pertaining to the foundations of rule for the Communist Party of China.

In the early 1980s, a touching song’s lyrics went:

In my childhood.My mother left me a song.No sadness, no sorrow.Singing it filled my heart with joy.

This is an interlude in the film Narrow Street (Xiaojie, dir. Yang Yanjin, 1981). If the lyrics are taken literally, “my childhood” refers to the 17 years of postliberation, New China, before the start of the Cultural Revolution, which was a very yearned for and memorable period. But the majority of the film is not about the 17 years, nor is it about the happy growth of teenagers in a hopeful period. Indeed, the mother never appears in the film. A girl named Yu, whose mother has been persecuted and who is treated unfairly because of her family problems, loses her beloved hair and has to pretend to be a boy. A young driver named Xia knows of her experience and takes the risk to steal a prop braid from a model opera performance team in order to help Yu find a wig. This results in a beating that nearly deprives him of his sight. The central story of the film is quite simple. It is about the miserable suffering of a young man and woman during the specific period of the Cultural Revolution. However, the narrative’s novelty lies in the way Xia meets Yu again after the Cultural Revolution. Yang designed multiple endings, making the film’s conclusion open-ended. In one of the scenes, Xia meets a girl who looks like Yu by chance at an underground ball and, according to the information provided by the film, that girl is indeed Yu. However, Xia finds that Yu has become a person who believes in immediate gratification. When the two are reunited after years of disaster, they have a lot to talk about, and Xia expresses his concerns about the current state of Yu’s life. Yu’s reply represents the typical mentality of young people who had gone through the Cultural Revolution. Yu says that she is illiterate and has no relatives or hatred towards the past. She states, “we are a redundant generation.” Xia, taking the place of her absent mother in playing a nurturing role, tells Yu that someone who is illiterate should take the initiative to learn, and that she should not forget the song her mother left to her. The film also focuses on the deprivations of the Cultural Revolution, which physically devastated Xia and Yu. Yu lost her cherished hair and became ugly, and Xia had his eyes, perhaps one’s most important organ, damaged and became disabled. Xia and Yu represent two typical states of mind of youth after the end of the Cultural Revolution. Yu says, “I have a new house, my mother got retroactive pay, and I don’t lack anything now . . . I’ve figured it out. I want to be happy and be a woman.” Xia chooses to be a wise man, "Without any hope for life, I’d rather be blind.”

It is a fact that people like Yu, who had their minds and thoughts shocked during the Cultural Revolution, existed in China. In fact, the slowly increasing tendency to go abroad in the 1980s reflected the feelings of these people. However, filmmakers were still quite cautious in representing the experiences and feelings of people like Yu. Such people were faithful to the country and the nation, even if their loyalty was confused and misguided during the Cultural Revolution. However, in the realm of artistic creation, representations of such confusion were limited to the aberrant time of the Cultural Revolution itself. During that unique time, people’s loyalty to serving the country often brought failure, disaster, and even fatal misfortunes. Film narratives unfolded in ways designed to touch the audience’s heart the most. In the film A Loyal Overseas Chinese Family (Haiwai Chizi. dir. Ou Fan and Xing Jitian, 1979), Huang Sihua’s family has been determined to serve their country since the war against Japanese. But they are battered and confused during the Cultural Revolution when they return to the motherland after all of their hardships. The film’s heroine, Huang Sihua, has great singing talent. She applies to the army’s song and dance troupe, receiving high praise from the examiners. She returns to the farm full of joy and waits for a notice to join the army, even carving her dreams of success on a rubber tree. However, during a political review, she is prevented from joining the army, and her dreams of flying high are impeded. At this time, her brother, who was living abroad, enters the country to visit the family. Given the choice between going abroad or staying, Huang Sihua is so attached to her homeland that she laments, with deep emotion, while looking at the coconut trees: "here is my hometown, with robber trees, the star lake, and the coconut trees I planted myself. Why does fate torture me so much? Why doesn’t my motherland understand my feelings for it?” Of course, in the end, under the narrative center of “setting things right.” her loyalty to the country is affirmed, and she joins the army’s song and dance troupe as she wishes, happily singing of her love of the country on stage in the stirring song “I Love You, China.”

The question of how to deal with the relationship between individual victims and the Party and the state was a problem that needed to be solved intelligently through artistic imagination. It is a fact that people were persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, and it was common for them to be confused and fluctuate wildly in their actions and perspectives. However, this confusion could only be represented in films of the time as occurring during the Cultural Revolution itself. After the end of the Cultural Revolution, the persecution should have stopped. After societal reorganization, personal grievances should have disappeared, the confusion about the Party and the country should have stopped, and all Chinese people should have united and looked forward. Some films were not created using this narrative, which naturally caused problems and eventually led to controversies around the film Unrequited Love (also known as The Sun and Me, Ku Lian, dir. Wang Tong, 1980).

For the story of this film, it is useful to quote the authoritative narrative presented in the April 20, 1981 issue of the Liberation Army Daily.

Unrequited Love is about a painter who spends his life hoping to serve his country while getting no rewards and instead finding himself trampled upon. The story begins in the summer of 1976, when the painter is being hunted down. He escapes to a reed pond and goes on to recount his experiences as a teenager and young man. The film then jumps to his tragic end. when he dies of starvation on a snowy plain. In pre-liberation China, the young man’s family was poor, but he was always taken care of by kind-hearted people and valued by those who knew his talent. A painter taught him to paint; the scientist Mr. Chen saw him as a friend: Mr. Chen’s daughter, Juanjuan, gave him a wooden carving knife with a concentric knot and sang for him the song “We Fell in Love under the Starlight (“Women Xiangai zai Xingguang xia"); and the elder of the Zen temple framed his paintings of a magnolia in a long scroll. This elder gave him a banner titled “work by Mr. Ling Chenguang,” which includes lines from Qu Yuan’s Warring States-era poem The Lament; “For the ideal that I hold dear to my heart, I’d not regret a thousand times to die.” In his youth, he is arrested by the Kuomintang and is rescued by a boat girl, Lüniang. The couple then fall in love with each other. He then joins the campaign to fight against hunger, civil war, and persecution. He is chased by secret agents and hides on a ship, eventually going abroad. In a country of the Americas, he becomes famous and settles down, living in a garden villa, with a black car to drive, a black maid to take care of him, and a studio with regulated light. He holds exhibitions and gains appreciation and respect from foreigners. In his gallery, the painter meets Lüniang again and finally marries her. After the liberation of China, the painter and his wife leave everything they had abroad and return to the motherland. When the ship sails into the territorial waters of China and the five-star red flag comes into view, Lüniang gives birth to their daughter, whom they name Star. However, in socialist China, the painter only leads a happy life for a short time owing to the catastrophe of the Cultural Revolution. In contrast to the family’s patriotism, the film focuses on the country’s apathy and malice towards them: the family is driven to a dark room with no windows, no sunlight, and even no air. On his birthday, he is beaten black and blue with a whip. The couple’s daughter, Star, feels that she cannot live in such a country and decides to leave with her boyfriend, but Ling Chenguang does not agree. At this point, Star asks her father, “You love this country, and you are suffering to stay here ... but does this country love you?” Ling Chenguang is unable to answer. He is hunted down, wondering why they have to flee while living in the socialist country. He hides in the reed pond, eating raw fish and food spoiled by rats, becoming a wilderness savage. At the end of the film, when the snow stops and the sky clears, people ran to look for the missing Ling Chenguang. However, the painter's flame has dimmed. He has used up the last of his strength to make a huge question mark by crawling through the snow. The dot of the question mark is his already cooled body. When his life is over, he does not close his eyes, but stretches his hands as far as possible toward the sky.

This is the sublime but challenging narrative presented in the film Unrequited Love.

The initial screenplay for the film, written by Bai Hua and Peng Ning, was published in the third issue of the magazine October in 1979. The Changchun Film Studio then gave a production order for director Peng Ning to direct the film. It was retitled The Sun and Me and then filmed. The making of the film was reported in the fourth issue of the magazine Film Story in 1980, which stated that the film “depicts the artistic career of Ling Chenguang, a painter with an infinite love for his country and its people.” The creators of the film wanted to depict an intellectual who was as loyal to the motherland as was Qu Yuan, and this involved the question of the relationship between the individual and the state. As an individual, Qu Yuan contributed everything he had to the country, even his life; however, how did the country pay him back? He desired to serve his country, but he was misunderstood and treated unjustly. Ultimately, he had to die to prove his ideals, representing an example of the long-standing tragedy of literati trying to prove their patriotism. Even if Ling Chenguang was a character like Qu Yuan, his loyalties were not to the former dynasty.

The film was not publicly released, but it became an iconic object of criticism for its purported endorsement of bourgeois liberalization. The military newspaper Liberation Army Daily was the first media organ to criticize the film, publishing a special review article titled The Four Fundamental Principles Cannot Be Violated: A Review of the Film Script Unrequited Love on April 20, 1981. The article starkly stated that, although the creators claimed,

The main character’s love for the motherland also represents the author’s love for the motherland, we cannot help but say that the feelings it depicts and expresses are not “love” for the motherland, but rather resentment against our party and socialist China covered up by appeals to love. This becomes apparent after watching the him as the idea of a work is always revealed by its specific plot.21

Afterwards, the special commentator analyzed and criticized the film from various perspectives and came to the following conclusion:

against the truths of history and life, the film Unrequited Love uses contrast to clearly express its main idea: new China is inferior to old China, the Communist Party is inferior to the Kuomintang, and socialism is inferior to capitalism. The socialist China is not only unlovable but also abominable and terrible.22

The critique continues:

To deny our socialist country as guided by the leadership of the party as well as the four basic principles by criticizing the mistakes the party has made is in no way a glorification of patriotism, but an insult to it. Although the film depicts the loyalty of individuals to the country, its image of pre-liberation is characterized by friendship and warmth, while the new socialist China is defined by pervasive pain and tragedy. In the old society, persecuted patriots could be rescued, but in the new China, persecuted patriots face endless persecution and cannot find a way out. The country in the Americas is full of ‘'sunshine,” while socialist China is a dark mess.23

The Liberation Army Daily commentator thus reasoned that the film depicted how Ling Chenguang loved his country to contrast how his country did not love him. Party and state leaders supported this view. On July 17, 1981, Deng Xiaoping, in a conversation with the leading comrades of the Propaganda Department of the CPC Central Committee, stated, “I saw the film The Sun and Me, which is based on Unrequited Love. Regardless of the author’s motives, after seeing it, it can only lead one to the impression that the Communist Party is bad and the socialist system is bad.”24 However, Deng Xiaoping also conveyed a message that he wanted criticism of the film to be limited to the professional and artistic levels. He explicitly instructed:

the criticism of the film Unrequited Love by the Liberation Army Daily should be turned over to the Literary and Art Newspaper, where good articles of high quality should be written. After writing them, you should publish them in the Literary and Art Newspaper and have them reprinted by the People's Daily.25

Deng Xiaoping’s suggestion was followed up by the mainstream media, including the Literary and Art Newspaper (Wenyi Bao), which invited the important critics Tang Yin and Tang Dacheng to write an article titled “The Wrong Tendency of the Film Unrequited Love." Subsequently, the People s Daily and the magazine Red Flag (Hongqi) also published articles discussing and criticizing the film. On August 8, 1981, Hu Qiaomu also severely criticized Unrequited Love at a symposium on the ideological front convened by the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the CPC, saying that the film was a typical manifestation of bourgeois liberalization.26

As a conclusion. Hu Yaobang. then the General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, made a summative statement on the problem of Unrequited Love when meeting with representatives of the National Conference on Feature Film Creation on December 27, 1981. He argued:

Why do we criticize comrade Bai Hua? It is because his film Unrequited Love is unhealthy in terms of political thought and harmful to people’s thinking. After hearing these criticisms, he has realized his mistake and made a selfcriticism, which is good. Bai Hua is still a member of the party and a writer and will continue to write. He has written some good works in the past. We hope that he will write more good works. According to this incident, people can see that the central government’s policy and practice are now very different from that of previous periods. This difference demonstrates that our party has learned and grown from its past mistakes and setbacks.27

The criticism of Unrequited Love gave guidance on the creation of trauma works in literature and art, as well as a clear directive on how to write about the Cultural Revolution. The fundamental reason for controversy surrounding Unrequited Love was that there was still significant disagreement between official and intellectual circles over how to interpret a national disaster as catastrophic as the Cultural Revolution. After the end of the Cultural Revolution, a large number of victims resmned their normal lives, including many intellectuals. These people naturally reflected on, and sorted through, the huge disasters suffered by both individuals and the country as a whole, wondering about the fundamental reason for the disaster. Both theoretical and creative circles reflected on these questions. Among these reflections, some works such as Unrequited Love sought the root of the problem; however, this approach did not match the ideological line endorsed by top officials at the time. As Hu Yaobang argued,

Some works and some comrades have unhealthy political sentiments. In what way do these issues manifest? Mainly, these people and texts ignore and even deny the great achievements of the Chinese people’s socialist cause. They attribute the mistakes made in the course of our revolution and the damage done by Lin Biao and Jiang Qing’s counter-revolutionary group to the fact that the whole Party and the state are bad, that the whole revolutionary team is bad, and that the whole socialist system is bad. This leads to the conclusion that there is no future, or that the future is bleak. This is unhealthy political thinking and, in other words, an unhealthy political mood.28

To avoid such “unhealthy” works, the special commentator from the Liberation Army Daily expressed a clear position on how to best represent the Cultural Revolution, how to view the disaster of the Cultural Revolution, and how to view the relationship between the Party, socialism, and the Cultural Revolution. The commentator wrote:

China and the Gang of Four are completely different. Likewise, the Party and the Gang of Four are also two completely different [entities]. How can a writer responsible to the people distort history so much, treating the perverse actions of the Gang of Four as if that was ruthlessness of the great motherland towards its own children, blaming the socialist system for the disasters of this ten-year-long catastrophe, and ultimately equating the Party with the Gang of Four and blaming them together? None of us have forgotten the sufferings when the country was under the total control of the Gang of Four. It was the Gang of Four who trampled on the motherland and her sons and daughters, causing great suffering for the nation and the people, as well as tremendous damage to our parly, our army, and our country. However, despite the fact that Lin Biao and the Gang of Four had usurped the power of the Party and the state, our Party members, cadres, and the masses never stopped resisting and straggling against them. In the end, it was the Party that led the people in overthrowing the rule of Lin Biao and the Gang of Four. This demonstrates that our Party and the state share the same fate as the general populace, and that our Party and socialist China belong to the people. Since overthrowing the Gang of Four, many literary and artistic works have correctly depicted the history of this period, providing inspiration, confidence, and strength by evoking distinct feelings of love and hate. For example, the film Evening Rain (Bashan Yeyu, dir. Wu Yonggang and Wu Yigong, 1980) shows that the people fundamentally opposed Lin Biao and the Gang of Four. This is not the case with Unrequited Love, which separates the Party from the people (including intellectuals) and confuses the Party and the country with Lin Biao and tire Gang of Four.29

While the film The Sun and Me could not be released because of the criticisms. Evening Rain enjoyed various honors and was awarded the Excellent Film Award by the Ministry of Culture in 1980. It also received important awards such as the Best Feature Film Award, the Best Screenplay Award, the Best Actress Award, the Best Supporting Actor Award, the Best Supporting Actress, and the Best Ensemble Award at the First Golden Rooster Awards for Chinese Cinema. In the film, the poet Qiushi's family perishes during the Cultural Revolution. With his wife dead and his daughter lost, two policemen escort him to a passenger ship on the Yangtze River, throwing him into an unpredictable future. However, detention on the ship in the river allows Qiushi to become immersed in the sea of people’s affections. Even Liu Wenying, the policeman, is deeply touched and lets him go ashore. The film ends with Qiushi and his daughter walking into a forest to face an unknowable future.

This is a poetic and romantic work because, according to common understandings, the probability of such a plot occurring in real life is very small. The work

is about a group of ordinary people, a group of good people, and a group of good people with a sense of humanity and justice. There is not a single bad person. The film avoids the most representative bloody and cruel symbols of the era, instead probing deep into the hearts and minds of people, trying to uncover the true feelings submerged in the spiritual world of the era.30

In order to represent these established emotions, the work reorganizes contradictory conflicts in the fictional space of the ship where Qiushi is a handcuffed prisoner. According to the logic of the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” the people on the boat, including the two policemen, should have monitored Qiushi’s every move. However, the fictional social space of the film creates new and contradictory relationships. The people on the ship, including the police officers on board, quickly stand up for Qiushi, while the two policemen who escorted him aboard become the target of people’s mockery and ridicule. According to power dynamics, the two policemen should be in a strong position, but, in this film, they are in a weak position. Even their prisoner, Qiushi, dares to admonish Liu Wenying, calling him a prisoner of the spirit. In the process, the film creates a lofty image of the suffering intellectuals during the Cultural Revolution that appeals to a spiritual level. Reviewed from a contemporary perspective, the film has mythical, allegorical, nonrealistic overtones. The film organizes its own social space, relying on isolation from the masses and Qiushi’s noble moral sentiments to convince Liu Wenying, who has become deeply poisoned in his thoughts, to let Qiushi go. According to the logic of cause and effect, the possibility of the work being realistic is questionable. However, according to the romantic ideas expressed in the film, the audience might accept an ending in which Liu Wenying frees Qiushi. This approach gives the him a warm but somewhat unreal atmosphere. Accordingly, the film's authenticity has been questioned since the day it was created. But tire director’s elaboration does not deny that there is a definite subjectivity in the work:

We don’t just haphazardly put together this group of people in the film without reason and make them do something meaningless. No, that is not what we are doing. As we said earlier in the section on themes, we have a purpose. That purpose is to evoke trust in life, trust in people, trust in human beauty, and trust in the good and pure love that exists forever among human beings. With all this, we will have faith, we will be united, we will inspire each other, and we will never be overcome by any evil.31

In the same year, Shanghai Film Studio produced another film, Legend ofTianyun Mountain (Tianyunshan Chuanqi, dir. Xie Jin, 1980). In this film, Luo Qun, a victim of the Cultural Revolution, meets his true love, Feng Qinglan, at a life-or-death moment. Tins became a classic scene in Chinese films known as “The Song of the Handcart.” In films such as Evening Rain and Legend of Tianyim Mountain, the artists of Shanghai Film Studio relied on their keen political judgment and artistic inspiration to establish a strategy for film narratives that met the needs of mainstream values of the time as well as reflecting the suffering caused by the Cultural Revolution. The warm stories of ordinary people served as rays of light in the nightmare of the Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution was brutal, and the people at that time were living in poverty. In such circumstances, how could people survive the long night until dawn? Addressing this issue, such film narratives sought to explain questions about the warmth of the people. An example that took the question of this warmth to tire extreme is The Herdsman (Mumaren, dir. Xie Jin, 1982).

The Herdsman and Evening Rain share a common narrative strategy: mutual support in times of hardship and the way that human warmth can defeat apathy. These simple folk ethics can overcome the bloody battles of politics. However, these warm spaces are only depicted on moving boats in the river or remote pastoral grasslands. All are marginal spaces, far away from political chaos.

In The Herdsman, Xu Lingjun, a so-called rightist, is cared for by the workers on a horse farm. This young man from the city, who almost committed suicide, finds warmth and care in remote horse farms. But, with the help of lower-class people, he finds true love, forms a family, gets married and has children, and experiences the joy of family.

Although the film does not give a complete picture of Xu Lingjun as a herdsman, and excessively depicts Li Xiuzhi’s growth and achievements, its representation of country people with beautiful hearts and stout horses on vast plains, as well as the marriage between Xu Lingjun and Li Xiuzhi, is very charming.32

At the beginning of the film, Xu Lingjun describes his feelings at Chile River ranch in a tone full of sorrow and self-pity. This formerly wealthy child, who was abandoned by society and his family, ultimately finds love, affection, and friendship while living a vagabond life. This storyline provides the keynote for the film, which is embodied by the phrase, “love prevails among people at the bottom." According to Liu Mengxi,

the film depicts the intimate relationship between intellectuals and the working masses, as well as the relationship between the people and the land that supports them. It accomplishes this mainly through the suffering, as well as the almost mythical experiences, of the main character Xu Lingjun. In so doing, it expresses a sense of noble patriotism.33

The Herdsman is a film with multiple storylines, with Xu Lingjun's life serving as the primary one. The film tells the story of how Xu Lingjun was abandoned by his father, was classified as a rightist because of his family background, escaped from the city to the remote Chile River, and integrated into the local community, ultimately getting married and having a child there. This then is the story of how an abandoned child builds his own family. However, the film does not convey only a single message. There is also a narrative line set in the present (the early 1980s) in which Xu Jingyou, the father who abandoned Xu Lingjun, returns to China to look for his lost son. This plotline naturally raises the question of how a person who suffered from the Anti-Rightist Movement as well as the Cultural Revolution would face the temptations of gifts from his father and an abundant life overseas. It asks how such a person would view the Cultural Revolution and his motherland. Xu Lingjun’s father, Xu Jingyou, is confident about bringing back his son, saying that, “no one can resist the temptations of pleasure, and they are not ascetics.” Xu Jingyou hopes that his son, who has suffered so greatly, will look forward to his rescue and admire him as a savior. Whether Xu Lingjun will leave the country or return to Chile River becomes an important test, reflecting the themes of the film. Xu Lingjun’s answer is clearly political:

in China, the relationship between country and family is too close, and the fate of the country is also the fate of the family . . . Dad, you have your own sense of honor, but for me, I value our country’s sense of honor.

Xu Jingyou, dismayed by his son’s response, feels that he has been brainwashed, telling his secretary that he wants to reform his son and reshape his values. However, these efforts ultimately prove ineffective. As Xu Lingjun says,

I have died once, but I have now come back to life, and I’ve discovered both the value and the warmth of humanity. I have found my father and my mother, and I will never forget what they gave me for the rest of my life.

Xu Jingyou gradually understands the son he abandoned. Having suffered greatly, Xu Lingjun weeps bitterly when he is rehabilitated by the government. When he becomes an elementary school teacher at the ranch, the first lesson this so-called former rightist, who has been both physically and mentally devastated, teaches is about the greatness of the motherland. Xu Jingyou then recognizes that his son loves this land and its people, with the love and the warmth of family being an important aspect of these sentiments, and the joy brought to him by Li Xiuzhi being the most important. As for whether Xu Lingjun will go to the United States, a sensitive question, Li Xiuzhi replies with full confidence,

you’re not leaving. China is already so vast, why bother with living in foreign countries? You cannot leave. You cannot leave Qilian Mountain and the prairie. There is an old saying in our hometown: the son does not mind whether his mother is ugly, as the dog does not mind whether its owner’s family is poor.

In the end, Xu Jingyou returns to the United States in frustration, without his son. His son is too attached to the Chile River ranch. Xu Jingyu says to his son: “I am a billionaire in money, but a beggar in emotions.”

The film depicts the character Xu Lingjun with this type of wide, open background. It is reasonable to think that someone like Xu, who suffered so greatly and was banished during political movements, would be filled with the same types of questions in his mind as Ling Chenguang in Unrequited Love. When he has the opportunity to leave the land that made him suffer, he faces the question of how to view his motherland? In that moment, Xu Lingjun finds beauty in the land, so he neither leaves the country nor stays in comfortable conditions in the city. Instead, he returns to the Chile River, the place where he has been exiled, because he finds the meaning of life there. From a different perspective, the suffering he has been through offers his life new value. Zhang Xianliang, the author of the original novel Body and Soul (Ling yu Rou), explained,

after the Third Plenary Session, when considering painful experiences, we recall our past pain as a warning for the future, extracting elements of beauty from those tragic experiences. After the Third Plenary Session, the route of artistic creation is to show the glorious and beautiful undertones beneath the scars shown on the screen.34

After the criticism of Unrequited Love, the high affirmation of Evening Rain, and finally the completion of The Herdsman, film production’s narrative for suffering during the Cultural Revolution had basically taken shape. The Cultural Revolution era was undoubtedly a time of disaster. But the focus of film was not on how to show the disaster, but on how people support each other after the disaster impacted their lives and their dignity. Films showed how this warmth between people overcomes the fear and anxiety of sufferers, enabling them to persevere and usher in new beginnings. It is because of life-and-death friendship that the sufferers depicted cherish the people who give them love and confidence after so much disaster. They then love the land that nurtures them, returning to the land and the people with ever-greater passion. According to these shifts in narrative perspective, the Cultural Revolution becomes a journey of discovery for the sufferers, who find in their suffering what they lacked most in life. In these narratives, all that the Cultural Revolution gave to its victims was not negative values, but, rather, the audience is encouraged to experience and reflect on the Cultural Revolution from different perspectives.

Troubles of Return: Old Cadres in the Films of the New Era

Where should China go after the Cultural Revolution? This became the focus of societal debate during the early stages of the Deng Xiaoping era. At that time, some people expressed full support for the “Two Whatevers” of Mao Zedong Thought (to resolutely uphold whatever policy decisions Chairman Mao made, and to unswervingly follow whatever instructions Chairman Mao gave), while others backed Reform and Opening Up. Of course, there were a large number of people who supported a “return to the past.” According to Su Ya and Jia Lusheng,

people who advocated returning to the past politically rejected the Cultural Revolution and theoretically negated the theory and route of the dictatorship of the proletariat to continuously lead the revolution. During the seventeen years before the Cultural Revolution, many of them had held power on different levels. However, in the Cultural Revolution they were criticized as being the “far-right” of the 17-year period. Because of personal, emotional factors and comparisons between social practices during the 17-year period and the Cultural Revolution, they advocated that China should return to the thought, theory as well as economic and political systems of the 17-year period.35

This is an analysis of researchers. But, as a matter of fact, Deng Xiaoping once publicly expressed his own opinions on the 17-year period. On March 27, 1981, during his conversation with the General Director of the General Political Department of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, Deng pointed out, “we should summarize the lessons of history from the facts. There were setbacks and mistakes during the 17-year period, but Comrade Mao Zedong is not the only one who should be blamed. All of us are accountable.” However, he also stressed that “the practices in the 17-year period before the Cultural Revolution were basically correct.”36 Associated with these ideas of returning to the past in the early stages of the new era, in cultural circles there also emerged cultural imaginations of “return.” According to Zhang Yiwu,

back then, people imagined returning to the past without the shock of the Cultural Revolution. They imaged the 17-year period as a utopia full of harmonious relations between people. Books such as The Head Teacher [Banzhuren] by Liu Xinwu. Salutation [Buli] by Wang Meng, and Manager Oiao Takes Office [Qiaochangzhang shangren ji] by Jiang Zilong, all highlight a type of pure and strong desire to return to the 17-year period. In many literary works, the purity and beauty of life during the 17-year period is contrasted with the dehumanization of endless struggle seen during the Cultural Revolution.37

The most typical example of this perspective is the film Forever Young (Qingchun wansui, dir. Huang Shuqin. 1983), which was adapted from Wang Meng's novel of the same name. Literary works represented the 17-year period through their characters. As time passed, films also made the 17-year period reappear on screen through audiovisual language. These films rebuilt lofty sentiments and idealism by depicting what were perceived as the pure personal relations of the time. In so doing, they enabled audience members who had suffered pain during the Cultural Revolution to discover the happiness of old days in dark theaters, while also allowing young people to experience the beautiful youths of elder generations through film.

These filmic imaginings of a return to the past had a strong social foundation. In reality, many people who had held powerful positions in administrative or professional fields during the 17-year period had been accused of being “capitalist roaders,” traitors, hidden betrayers, ghosts and monsters, and so on, when they were brought down and ousted during the Cultural Revolution. For example, Deng Xiaoping was exiled to Jiangxi Province to participate in production activities. After the Cultural Revolution, many of these people returned to their previous positions of power, and Deng Xiaoping would himself become the chief architect of China’s Reform and Opening Up. At the time, even though the Cultural Revolution had been completely refuted, the connections between the new era and the socialist development of the past three decades could not be fully denied. The achievements of that previous development could not be completely rejected. In this context, it was a sound policy choice to start from the rational ideas of national construction used during the 17-year period. People determine policy, and the famous and influential people of the 17-year period who were victimized during the Cultural Revolution were obviously the appropriate choice to determine policies in the new era. In the early years of the 1980s, the work of rehabilitation and scrutinizing those victimized was in full swing. At the same time, a majority of zhiqing (former sent-down youth) were returning to the cities, and another spring was vigorously flowing forth: old cadres were returning. This meant not only that they were liberated from, and acquitted of, uncommitted crimes, but also that they were being reinstated and regaining their power.

The images of old cadres on screen during the 1980s is worthy of in-depth study. In the early stages of Reform and Opening Up, old cadres played a role in guiding the Chinese people to embark on a new path to help society recover from the shadow of the Cultural Revolution. Additionally, the old age of cadres ensured they would be a generation that linked the past and the future. For example, Deng Xiaoping looked for successors shortly after regaining power in governing the country. Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang, and others also took positions of national leadership under these circumstances. In some ways, the question of the relations between old cadres and their successors in the 1980s was a sensitive one. Given both that it really existed and that it drew people’s attention, this issue was naturally projected onto mass culture. The old cadres were depicted on screen as talent scouts who could recognize and employ talent. They were represented as older, distinguished men who had the courage to step aside; as paragons of virtue who could help young cadres take positions of power and make progress; as role models who upheld the spirit of the Party and won the support of the people; and as patriarchs who provided support for people in need. Films such as An Upright Family Official (Jiawu qingguan, dir. Zhang Xiaotian, 1982), Remained Snow (Canxue, dir. Jiang Shusen, 1980), In and out of Court (Fating neiwai, dir. Lu Xiaoya and Cong Lianwen, 1980), and The Contemporary People (Dangdairen, dir. Huang Shuqin, 1981) all focus on the core issue of old cadres in a new society. While a large number of films depicted elder cadres, there was a fixed mindset about how to shape the screen image of these old cadres. According to Seryl Burch,

Wang Meng is one of the most prolific and influential writers of the literary world. In recent years, he was appointed the minister of Ministry of Culture, winning the favor of male and female scholars for Deng Xiaoping's System. What Wang Meng is mainly concerned about is still the moral status of government officials. He addresses whether they could remain morally upright and honest as well as how they could maintain or rebuild confidence in revolution through struggle, especially after the catastrophic blows of the Cultural Revolution and the persecution of the Gang of Four.38

Staunch belief in revolution and fine moral standards were the pivot for the literary and artistic works. These ideas served as the fulcrum for the audiovisual products that depicted old cadres as well as the foundation of the mainstream values that shaped the images of old cadres among ordinary people.

As senior cadres returned, their children also returned. They had once basked in the sunshine of New China during the 17-year period owing to their family backgrounds. However, their families’ social status also made them suffer greatly during the Cultural Revolution. Emerging from the pain and unbearable feelings of the past, some of them seized opportunities to improve themselves in the midst of shifting social positions, making up their minds to begin anew. Some of these people held the abnormal opinion that they should be compensated by society for the loss of their youth and other damages. Consequently, there were a number of incidents involving the children of senior cadres that had bad influences on public opinion. These incidents exerted negative impacts on old cadres who had just regained power. In order to avoid these problems, legislation and administrative measures needed to be introduced. On the other hand, it was seen as necessary to construct the images of old cadres in public opinion to transmit orthodox values throughout all of society. The majority of films from the period created an image of upright and honest senior old cadres by depicting the ways that the children of senior cadres regarded their parents’ suffering during the Cultural Revolution. They also depicted how senior cadres restrained their families after regaining power. Films such as In and out of Court, the Tenth Bullet Scar (Dishige dankong, dir. Ai Shui, 1980), Remained Snow, They Are in Love (Tamen zai xiangai, dir. Qian Jiang and Zhao Yuan, 1980), and Good Things Never Come Easy (Haoshi duomo, dir. Song Chong, 1980) all focus on these themes. The film The Young Teacher (Miaomiao, dir. Wang Junzheng, 1980) represents the lives of teachers as well as features a character who is a military commander and a parent to students. This film depicts the enlightened image of a senior cadre who cared for the next generation.

Similarly, the plot of They Are in Love also focuses on a cadre family. During tire Cultural Revolution, old cadre Chen Hao was persecuted, which had implications for his three sons. The oldest son, Chen Zhan, is sent to the frontier. The middle son is beaten until he becomes disabled because his parents were put under surveillance. Finally, the youngest son ends up on the street, becoming corrupted by vices. The heart of the story is the rehabilitation and return to an official position of Chen Hao after the Cultural Revolution. His wife hopes their eldest son, Chen Zhan, can be allowed to return from the frontier for a family reunion. But this is prevented by Chen Hao, who encourages their son to settle down in the frontier area. In the same year, Remained Snow, produced by Changchun Film Studio, addresses a similar problem. Senior cadre Zhou Feng, who was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, returns to his former position in 1977. His son, Zhou Weiguang, had been sent to a forestry station in Xinjiang owing to the accusations made against his family during the Cultural Revolution. There, he married, had children, and settled down. After being informed of his father’s return, Zhou Weiguang applies to court to divorce the wife who has accompanied him through his troubles so that he can return to Beijing. In consideration of the fact that Zhou Weiguang is from the family of a senior cadre, the judge in the Xinjiang local court rules that Zhou Weiguang can divorce. Returning to Beijing alone, Zhou Weiguang uses his father’s power to secure advantages for himself and to be assigned a position in Beijing. However, Zhou Feng receives a letter that discloses Zhou Weiguang’s behavior. The letter writer appeals to senior cadres to continue the Party’s fine tradition and make an example of Zhou Weiguang for the people. Zhou Feng feels distressed because the behavior of Zhou Weiguang has negatively impacted the relationship between cadres and the public. He kicks his son out of the house in anger, dragging his sick body to Xinjiang with his wife to conduct research and figure out the facts. On behalf of the family, Zhou Feng earnestly apologizes to his daughter-in-law Xiuyun and her family. After returning to Beijing. Zhou Feng and his wife direct their son to acknowledge his mistakes, compelling him to return to Xinjiang so that he can work to reunite his family. Zhou Feng criticizes the minister who helped Zhou Weiguang secure advantages and reassigns his former job to someone with talent in aerodynamics whom they met during their trip to Xinjiang. He arranges for this talented person to come and work in Beijing and enrich the scientific research team.

This film depicts the relations between cadres and the public during the time period immediately after the Cultural Revolution, intertwining that representation with depictions of the same relationship during wartime. It portrays the relationship between cadres, the Party, and the people as thicker than water, ascribing the worsening of that relationship to the damage caused by the Gang of Four. At the same time, the film also argues that old cadres who have recently returned to power should possess sober awareness, confidence, and the capacity of mind to rehabilitate the damaged relationship between the cadres and the public in spite of difficult circumstances.

Good Things Sever Come Easy is another film about the relationship between the problems caused by the family of a senior military cadre who has just returned to Iris position. Distinct from the serious Style of Remained Snow, with its righteous posture and sense of justice, the Shanghai filmmaker of Good Things Never Come Easy dealt with the same problems in a comedic style. The highlight of the film’s structure is the effective utilization of various misunderstandings. The film’s plot concerns Liu Fang, the daughter of a high-ranking political commissar in the Navy who was affected by her family’s downfall during the Cultural Revolution and forsaken by her boyfriend. When Liu Fang’s father, the political commissar Liu, is about to regain his status, what worries him is the delayed marriage of his daughter. The wife of the deputy commander, Xu, at the military base as well as the deputy minister of the cadre office, Wei Xia, guarantee that they can solve this problem for political commissar Liu as soon as possible. This leads to a story of a modern arranged marriage. Wei Xia wants to match Liu Fang with the navy officer Shen Zhiyuan, who is well educated and has a good personality. However, Shen is a junior officer and from a humble family, which seems to be a mismatch with a child of a senior cadre such as Liu Fang. Owing to this disparity, it is necessary to have a matchmaker holding a government office to bring them together. In actuality, Liu Fang and Shen Zhiyuan have already encountered each other in a library and have feelings for each other. In terms of their personalities and characters, they are well matched. However, because of the forced arrangements of Wei Xia, what could have been a good relationship that developed naturally is distorted. Wei Xia resorts to her power as a senior cadre to force Shen Zhiyuan to accept Liu Fang, which stuns Shen and leaves him feeling confused and burdened by the pressure, making him want to rebel. Nevertheless, Wei Xia goes so far as to ask Shen’s mother to help persuade her son to marry Liu Fang. Because of the interference of Wei Xia, a marriage that could have naturally borne fruit turns out to be poorly cooked rice. Senior leaders arrange his marriage so crudely that Shen Zhiyuan feels dubious about why the daughter of a senior cadre would marry him in such a hurry. Fueled by rumors, Shen Zhiyuan mistakenly believes that Liu Fang must have unspeakable problems and that they needed to find a scapegoat. With the dignity of a solider and the pride of a man, he leaves without saying a word. The situation gets worse, and a senior cadre is needed to solve the problem in person. Shen Zhiyuan expresses his opinion: the political commissar Liu is decent, and the deputy commander Xu is considerate, but the way the deputy minister Wei handled the situation is unacceptable. Now that Shen Zhiyuan has acknowledged the authority of the senior cadre, the situation could change. At the end of the film, the political commissar Liu apologizes to Shen Zhiyuan, and the deputy commander Xu seriously criticizes Wei Xia, making her write a self-criticism. With the intervention of these two elder military cadres, Liu Fang and Shen Zhiyuan are finally able to have a happy marriage. Through these circumstances, the film creates an onscreen image of the ability of senior cadres to set positive examples in the face of unhealthy tendencies.

Different from Good Things Never Come Easy and Remained Snow, which used martial relationships to interrogate the moral qualities and tolerant personalities of old cadres, In and out of Court posed a much more pointed challenge to old cadres. It tells the story of the how the president of the Municipal Intermediate People’s Court, Shang Qin, investigates each and every layer of a lethal car accident. She finally uncovers the truth that Xia Huan, the son of the director of the Municipal Revolutionary Committee, caused the death of Jiang Yanyan in this car accident. Xia Huan had taken advantage of his father’s fame and power to philander with women. After he fails to rape Jiang Yanyan successfully, Xia Huan plans to kill her and fabricate a story to disrupt the investigation and blame his crime on others. Meanwhile, Liu Rulian, the wife of the elder Xia and the mother of Xia Huan, visits various people, trying to use the power of the elder Xia to fight for mitigation of her son’s crime. Many people visit Shang Qin’s home, pleading, persuading, and threatening her to protect the son of the elder Xia. Shang Qin sympathizes with the suffering because Xia is her former superior and has offered to help her at a time when many influential officials are exerting pressure on her. In this context, it is a huge risk to uphold the dignity of the law. However, Shang Qin makes up her mind to uphold justice, preparing for the worst-case scenario. In the critical moment, the director, Xia, visits her. He acknowledges the wrongness of situation with Liu Rulian and encourages Shang Qin to stick to the truth and enforce the law staunchly. The strong morals of the elder Xia move Shang Qin deeply, and she says goodbye to him with tears in her eyes. Finally, Shang Qin reaches a just verdict, and Xia Huan receives his punishment.

Zhou Feng, the political commissar, Liu, and the director of the Revolutionary Committee, Xia, all play important roles in advancing various narratives. Among these, there are the controversial relationships of children who are taken care of by extraordinary means, gaining advantages from those who want to flatter their parents, or conducting themselves illegally under the protection of their parents’ power. The fundamental reason for these circumstances is that senior cadres had significant powers. Their children suffered during the Cultural Revolution and paid a painful price. After their parents were rehabilitated, some wanted to make up for the loss of their youth caused by the Cultural Revolution. Such problems did not only exist in fictional spaces; rather, these fictional spaces were made up of images that reflected the realities of China. After the Cultural Revolution, a large number of senior cadres returned to positions of power, which naturally made a great difference in the lives of their children. These children had once enjoyed the glorious sunshine of the spring of the People’s Republic of China during the 17-year period, only to then suffer greatly in the Cultural Revolution. Some were denounced and beaten or sent to the frontier areas. Some were even persecuted to the point of disability or death. After the rehabilitation of their parents, these children’s living conditions changed dramatically. Children of senior cadres quickly emerged as a special social group in the 1980s. Most of them obeyed the laws, regulations, and social and moral standards for living and working. However, some made unusual reprisals against society, demanding compensation for their losses. Some of them womanized or gambled their money. Incidents such as the children of senior cadres in Shanghai committing indecent acts were common. Some children of senior cadres even capitalized on their advantageous social positions to found companies, resell official documents, and make huge profits. The misdeeds of this relatively small group of privileged children attracted a great deal of attention in society, and they became a distinctive and sensitive problem of the 1980s. A number of films of the time referred to these issues, demonstrating that the degree of social attention paid to them was enough to create a social phenomenon. That being said, the existence of these films also revealed that filmmakers were working to accurately represent sensitive social issues. The onscreen images of senior cadres at this critical turning point were basically consistent with the needs of mainstream ideology and the public imagination, both of which had played a supportive role in the legitimization of senior cadres’ leadership during the early 1980s. If all senior cadres could manage the relationship between cadres and the public—as well as strictly restraining their children and preventing misconduct—as characters did onscreen, then the topic of their children’s behavior would hopefully not become a political issue during the social turbulence of the late 1980s.

On August 18, 1980, the Political Bureau of the CPC’s Central Committee convened an enlarged meeting and specifically discussed reform to the system of Party and state leadership. In his keynote speech, Deng Xiaoping pointed out that,

the main task is to find, elevate, and even exceptionally elevate outstanding young and middle-aged cadres. This is urgently needed to ensure the objective existence of the project of national modernization and constructing enterprises, as well as to make sure that such issues are not seized by old cadres on a whim.39

In this speech, Deng Xiaoping connected the selection of young and middle-aged cadres with the question of senior cadres. On the one hand, he argued old cadres should exhibit exemplary conduct and hand over their power for the eternal lasting enterprise of the Party. On the other hand, Deng admitted they were also endowed with the right to select and appoint their successors. He argued,

senior cadres are the precious legacy of Party and the state. They bear great responsibility and at present their primary task is to help the Party to appropriately select their successors. This is a serious duty. Younger cadres stepping to the front with senior cadres providing suggestions to support them is the major strategic measure to guarantee the continuity and stability of the proper leadership of the Party and the government.40

From then on, Deng Xiaoping repeatedly emphasized the relationship between young and middle-aged cadres, on the one hand, and senior cadres, on the other, as well as the responsibility of old cadres to select, appoint, and supervise their younger successors. Deng Xiaoping was confident in the qualifications of newly selected cadres because

the senior cadres are still here and, through top-to-bottom observation methods, their choices ought to be accurate and appropriate. Although the selection work should proceed step by step, it should not be too slow. If we miss our opportunity and senior cadres are no longer around, it will be too late and too difficult for us to solve this problem. It will become a historic mistake.41

On July 2, 1981, at a forum for CPC Provincial. Municipality, and Autonomous Region Committee secretaries, the participants discussed, “two pieces of advice from Comrade Chen Yun about the elevation and cultivation of young and middleaged cadres, as well as the departure and retirement of old cadres.” At this meeting, Deng Xiaoping delivered a speech titled “The Primary Task of Old Cadres Is to Select Young and Middle-aged Cadres for Promotion” that reiterated the question of handing over power to successors. He pointed out that this is “a strategic issue and a fateful issue,” arguing that “we old cadres should have an open mind and take the lead so as to achieve the goal of having more young cadres.”42

Through many meetings of the CPC’s Central Committee and the repeated emphasis of Deng Xiaoping, it became clear that the problem of senior cadres was a fundamental one throughout the 1980s. Problems in the process of shifting from senior cadres to young and middle-aged ones at the local government level could be limited. However, in terms of high-ranking cadres in the CPC Central Committee who held national influence, the departure of former General Secretary Hu Yaobang as well as Zhao Ziyang proved the foresight of Deng Xiaoping’s decision. The handover of power from senior to younger cadres was a “question that determines our destiny.” History has proved that there were severe and even perilous elements to the power handover situation in the 1980s. However, in literary and artistic works, especially in the imaginary space of films, the solution to the handover problem was enlightened and magnanimous.

An Upright Family Official is ostensibly about family affairs, but in fact addresses national policies. The film is set in the family of a secretary of a Municipal Party Committee. The central issue is how Yang Qingwei tries desperately to prevent her husband, Liang Yu, the secretary of the Municipal Party Committee, from retiring in response to tire directives of the Fifth Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee because she worries that she will no longer be able to take advantage of her husband’s power once he leaves office. In order to successfully retire, Liang Yu calls a family meeting and invites the mother of Yang Qingwei and the first secretary of the Municipal Party Committee, Xiao Peng, to attend. Under the supervision of the family, the executive power holder, and the influential inspiration and enlightenment of others, Yang Qingwei finally realizes her mistake, and the family’s turmoil is assuaged. The family meeting changes to a toast in celebration of Liang Yu’s retirement.

An Upright Family Official faces the question of whether senior cadres should retire or not. But, according to the vision of Deng Xiaoping, senior cadres should not only have the courage to retire, but also should bear the responsibility of selecting new cadres. As a result, senior cadres selecting successors became the focus of films such as Golden Late Autumn (Jinse de wanqiu, dir. Fu Chaowu and Xu Weijie, 1983), The Last Choice (Zuihou de xuanze, dir. Song Chong, 1983), and 5 Huayuan Street (Huayuanjie wuhao, dir. Jiang Shusen and Zhao Shi, 1984).

Through a traditional Chinese figure of speech, the film title Golden Late Autumn connotes paying tribute to the later years of a person’s life. Du Jian, the manager of Hainan Iron and Steel Group Corporation, is a seasoned senior cadre. Because he is paralyzed, he decides to appoint Su Haipeng, a young and vigorous engineer with good professional qualifications, as the director of the factory. As a result, a new conflict emerges because the promotion of Su Haipeng can only be achieved if the incumbent factory director, Chen Zhuang, retires. Chen Zhuang cannot get over this situation, and his family also opposes it. Facing all kinds of obstacles, Du Jian makes up his mind to conduct a vote to achieve the promotion of Su Haipeng. After Su Haipeng guides bold reforms, the steel factory develops rapidly, making the oppositional Chen Zhuang change his attitude. On hearing that Du Jian was also handing over all Ms power in a second round of cadre group adjustments. Chen Zhuang rashes to the factory and earnestly hands a set of keys to Su Haipeng. Thus, he joins Du Jian to enjoy the golden late autumn of senior cadres.

In The Last Choice, the deputy secretary of the Provincial Party Committee, Chen Chunzhu, returns his hometown, Qingchuan, to make an inspection. When meeting with his relatives, he declares that “it’s a year of reform and I have already handed in my retirement declaration to the CPC Central Committee to set an example.” He indicates that he has decided to settle down in Qingchuan after his retirement. However, during his inspection, Chen Chunzhu feels some remorse because there are serious problems with the Parly’s style, and he thinks he did not shoulder the responsibility of a leader. He decides to rectify the cadre group before his retirement. After difficult considerations, his last choice is between the incumbent secretary of the Municipal Party Committee, his nephew-in-law and formal subordinate Wei Zhenguo, and the deputy secretary of the Municipal Party Committee, Xu Feng. According to Huang Mei,

The Last Choice pays attention to how a cadre selects a successor and how he adjusts his opinions and thoughts to finally select a truly qualified successor. The film represents the cadres of the CPC as having high moral qualities in appointing successors by abilities instead of playing nepotism.43

If The Last Choice brims with distress, 5 Huayuan Street is defined by a sense of crisis. No. 5 Huayuan Street in Linjiang is the symbol of power in the city. Over the past five decades, the people who could determine the fate of the city have lived at this address. The fifth-generation owner of the residence is Han Tao, the first secretary of the Municipal Party Committee and the mayor of Linjiang since the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee. Han Tao is planning to retire, and his successor will be the new leader of Linjiang as well as the new owner of No. 5 Huayuan Street. The question of who his successor will be suddenly becomes the talk of the town in Linjiang. Han Tao is looking for his successor, forming his own judgments. Other senior cadres are also concerned about this problem. The most promising candidates are Liu Zhao and Ding Xiao, both of whom demonstrate their values in different ways.

Liu Zhao is a practical person. He helps the tractor factory reverse a loss and is brave enough to undertake an old and difficult construction project in a coastal village. He offers his help to a soy sauce factory to fold its way out of economic distress and searches for export opportunities for mineral water. He is a bold, resolute, and practical person with a capacity for transformation. However, Han Tao is unsure about the energetic attributes of Liu Zhao, contending that Liu is conceited and prone to overstatement. He hopes that Liu Zhao could keep his head down like a mature ear of grain. Meanwhile, the deputy mayor, Ding Xiao, schemes to become Han Tao’s successor, collecting information from everywhere and using his connections. He even sets up Liu Zhao in a way that alienates him from Han Tao. Because of this, Han Tao wavers in his attitude towards Liu Zhao. Nevertheless, Liu Zhao’s behavior and performance move Han Tao and push him to make his final choice. In his conversation with the secretary of the Provincial Party Committee, Han Tao recognizes the seriousness in selecting successors, determining to help clear obstacles standing in the way of the four modernizations. He says, with great emotion:

I want to erect one building, two buildings, three buildings. Maybe I won’t see the completion of the construction of Linjiang, but it is meaningful to add a few bricks and, if impossible, to at least clear away obstacles and stumbling blocks for future generations.

The onscreen image of these retiring cadres is that they do not stop working, even though they are leaving office. Though these films might not directly participate in the operations of cadres, they were using moral high ground to shape senior cadres. Spring Water Makes a Song (Quanshui dingdong, dir. Shi Xiaohua, 1982), produced by the Shanghai Film Studio, stars Zhang Ruifang, who plays the protagonist Grandma Tao, a retired cadre. After moving to a new community to enjoy her retirement, Grandma Tao discovers there is no kindergarten just as she is about to take a seaside vacation. Children are milling about in the yard and scuffling with each other, while parents are unable to feel relaxed at work because they are worrying about their children. Grandma Tao says, “even though we senior cadres have retired because of the old age, our goodwill to cultivate the future generation for the revolution will not fade.” Therefore, she sets up a home kindergarten to solve this problem for the people, as well as to give the children direction.

Neighbors (Linju, dir. Xu Guming and Zheng Dongtian, 1981) portrays a retired cadre, Liu Lixing, receiving wide recognition in society. The values of this film were widely acknowledged, and it won the Golden Rooster Award for Best Film. According to Zhang Mingtang:

The judges highly affirm the achievements of Neighbors, recognizing it as a great film that represents our times and depicts an image of young people in our present times. Many comrades point out that, using vibrant artistic imagery, this film appeals to a return to the Party’s fine tradition and style in daily life as opposed to severely damaged social morality. It is brave to reveal the unhealthy tendencies in real life, touching on social contradictions with in-depth descriptions, all of which is laudable. Even though the film refers to the housing problem that is a current concern of millions of Chinese people, it not only focuses on this issue, but also pays attention to changing social relations, including the relationship between cadres and the public as well as the relationship between the Party and the public, all against the background of the new social system. Through depictions that create a group portrait, the films represent these social relationships in a lively and touching manner that leaves a deep impression on the audience. A group portrait is successfully produced within the limited time and space of the film. These ordinary cadres and people reflect the industrious, unwavering, righteous, collective, and humorous features of the Chinese people. The film particularly depicts the spirit of straggle of the Chinese people that is revealed in daily life and work. This everyday spirit is by no means less radiant than people’s endeavors on the battleground or sports field. Indeed, it is the concrete embodiment of the goodness and loftiness of the Chinese people.

According to the narrator of the film, the story starts at “the third spring after the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution when every one felt hope despite the remaining troubles in daily life.” The him focuses on the housing problems of six households in the School of Construction and Engineering: the teaching assistant, Feng Weidong, and his wife; Ming Jinhua, a doctor in the school hospital; Zhang Binghua, a prominent teacher of architecture and design courses; Zhang Binghua’s daughter, little Xingxing; Xi Fengnian, a plumber living in a house accommodating three generations; Yuan Yifang, the incumbent secretary of the Party Committee; and Liu Lixing, the former secretary of the Party Committee. These six households came from different backgrounds but live on the same floor of a tube-shaped apartment. This crowded living environment made people unanimously harbor a wish: to have a public kitchen. At that time, acquiring a kitchen was a difficult task. Consequently, the focus of narration turns to the senior cadres. When the conflict caused by the scramble for the kitchen is about to explode, Liu Lixing, the retired secretary of the Party Committee, offers his new house in exchange for a public kitchen for his neighbors. He stays in the tube-shaped apartment in order to place himself in the same boat with others.

Meanwhile, the film also presents a plot closely related to the question of the return of the fine traditions of the CPC. When he was a cadre in Yan’an, Liu Lixing became acquainted with an American journalist named Anis. Anis has revisited China, wanting to pay a visit to Liu Lixing. The tube-shaped apartment seems inappropriate to receive a foreign guest, and Liu borrows an apartment that he pretends is his own home to welcome Anis. However, the awkward pretense leads Liu to easily give away his secret, and Anis figures out the truth. As a result, Liu takes her to his real home and gathers his neighbors in the tube-shaped apartment together with them. In so doing, Anis experiences the simple and lively nature of real life in China in a way she will remember. The journalist reports:

from the former soldier during the time of Yan’an and his neighbors, I feel the type of spirit through which the CPC summoned her people to her side and succeeded in the fight against the Japanese invaders and the Kuomintang. This visit has left a deep impression on me in the same way as my visit 35 years ago did. Despite the poverty in China, there is burgeoning hope here.

The scramble for a public kitchen in the first half of the story is difficult to portray through a film plot. The film shows that the neighbors are exalted when Liu Lixing offers his new house in exchange for a public kitchen. At that moment, Doctor Ming’s words strike Liu:

these people living in corridors pay such a great price for one kitchen. Don’t you think that’s sort of pathetic? Now with a public kitchen, does their life change? Could a leader like Xi live in a house accommodating three generations for life with Xiao Feng and Xiao Zhao squeezing into a small unit opposite the lavatory? How many households are still like them in the school? After the smashing of the Gang of Four, people are looking forward, but what are they looking forward to? They are hoping that someone can lead them forward instead of continuing to suffer like this.

Doctor Ming’s words awaken Liu Lixing’s sense of responsibility. He then goes to the secretary of the Municipal Party Committee, saying that even though he is leaving his position of power, he still wants to return to service. He expresses his desire to take a position as the chief of House Management so that he can build houses for people and bring them hope. However, the construction of houses for workers and staff has paused because building materials are being used to build housing for senior cadres. Upon discovering that there was an additional project to build high-end residences for cadres and well-connected people. Liu decides to talk to Fang Da, the secretary of the Municipal Party Committee. The former comrades-in-arms have a fierce but frank conversation. After Fang Da says that projects of this type follow a certain routine, Liu Living severely rebukes him: "so you are muddleheaded and bureaucratic. What type of routine? You give tacit consent to this, and they grow braver. Someday, the Municipal Committee of the CPC would be overcome by such routines under your leadership. My dear Secretary!” Fang Da takes this opportunity to explain himself:

some people say that old Liu spends all his time doing grocery shopping, buying milk, and other trivial matters. They think your revolutionary will has declined. In fact, you are not a hermit like Tao Yuanming, but a responsible citizen like Du Fu in the thatched cottage.

At that moment, Fang Da finally realizes the reality of the additional project and his lack of careful consideration, immediately deciding to stop the unnecessary work.

Meanwhile, Liu Lixing has been diagnosed with cancer and plans to travel to Beijing for medical treatment. Prior to his departure, old Liu is concerned about Doctor Ming, wanting to encourage her marriage with teacher Zhang. Touched by Liu Living’s sentiments, Doctor Ming is so moved that she is unable to control her feelings, saying: "I am so grateful for your concerns, but what about your health problems?” Liu Lixing answers, “I know my health well. Doctor Ming, you should not be alone all your life. You should receive something for your lifetime of sacrifices.” Liu Living’s sincere words touch Doctor Ming and leave her with tears in her eyes.

Ming Jinhua: Do you want to talk about your health condition?

Liu Lixing: No, this is about you.

Ming Jinhua, feeling confused, asks: About me?

They go sit on a bench and Liu Lixing asks: What do you think of teacher Zhang?

Ming Jinhua does not utter any words.

Liu Lixing says: He is the type of good comrade who is hard to find, and you are too. You are just as good as him.

Ming Jinhua turns her head. Liu Lixing sighs and says: ah, it is difficult to communicate with serious people like you.

Ming Jinhua listens with her head down.

Liu Lixing says: To speak frankly, would you like to take him into consideration? From all aspects, you two are well-matched.

Ming Jinhua: I am so grateful for your concern, but your health problems

Liu Lixing answers: I understand my health well. Doctor Ming, you should not be alone for life, and you should receive something for your lifetime of sacrifices.

Ming Jinliua tries not to sob, leaving with tears in her eyes.

In the film, the spring returns. People gather again in the kitchen, but this time it is a farewell party, because they finally have a newly built house. Meanwhile, old Liu is still in the hospital, lighting the cancer. Hearing kind messages from his former neighbors, he writes a congratulatory letter:

congratulations on your new homes. I hope that team leader Xi will no longer bump his head and that little Xingxing will no longer get too hot. I hope that the child of Feng Weidong and his wife will not have to worry about housing when he grows up. For Doctor Ming, I believe she will leave some day and when she does decide to move, I will give her a gift.

Amid this joyous atmosphere, team leader Xi’s mother-in-law bursts into tears and says, “old Liu did not say anything about himself!” At this moment, the camera’s view changes, switching to a shot that shows the lights of the entire city.

The core values of Neighbors are expressed in the context of efforts to build on the past and move into the future, at a time when society is transitioning from the old to the new. The film takes place in the context of a society where the relations between cadres and the public have almost collapsed owing to the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution. Against this background, the film uses housing issues—which make people so concerned and anxious—as a starting point for shaping a public image of senior cadres along the model of Liu Lixing. This image was consistent with people’s expectation for senior cadres. According to Chen Jianyu,

Liu Lixing represents senior cadres in a new era. This image carries meaning because it has been created from the soil of ordinary people. He suffered with people during the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution, which makes him deeply sympathize with the wishes and needs of people. In this new historical period, he is able to continuously keep in close contact with the people and draw nourishment from them. In so doing, he is able to lead the Chinese people to overcome difficulties and move forward.44

In an example of “mass film criticism,” Mao Xueyong, a worker in the Shanghai No. 1 Lock Factory, wrote:

the story of Neighbors is not unusual, the characters are all ordinary people, and their actions are also ordinary. The charm of this film is its successful portrayal of ordinary people and ordinary things, showing their spirit through subtle descriptions. The depiction of Liu Lixing accounts for the most part of the story. His depicted actions range from doing grocery shopping to answering the questions of little Xingxing; from relaxing and avoiding political duties to paying a visit to the secretary at night to make a desperate demand; from making inspections while sick to congratulating his neighbors on their new homes. The him tells different types of stories through measured, realistic, and vivid plots. Although old Liu changes as the plot develops, the spirit of being a “willing ox” who is a servant to the people runs throughout the film. Both characters’ and the audience’s love for old Liu results from his love for the people.45

Liu Lixing is used to represent a typical image of senior cadres. Through the creation of an imagined time and space, this image is designed to bring senior cadres and the audience closer together in the time of rehabilitation and return. With his steady stature, Liu Lixing serves as a moral role model for senior cadres during the 1980s. After all, Liu Lixing is an artistic image that the filmmakers created to capture the mass psychology of people, serving as a symbol for the audience’s artistic appreciation. Although the film’s image of Liu Lixing has artistic value, it lacks the power to influence reality. If thousands of Liu Lixings had really existed in the 1980s, then Chinese history during that time would have been different.


· 1 Bei Taixi, Li Hongyu, Zhangyue, "Antonioni and His China,Weekly Digest, August 14, 2007: 5.

· 2 Bei Taixi, Li Hongyu, Zhangyue, "Antonioni and His China,” Weekly Digest, August 14, 2007: 5.

· 3 Wu Di, ed., Chinese Film Research Materials (1949-1979), vol. 2 (Beijing: Culture and Art Publishing House, 2006), 270.

· 4 Wu Di, ed. "Chinese Film Research Materials (1949-1979), vol. 2 (Beijing: Culture and Art Publishing House, 2006), 270.

· 5 Wu Di ed., Chinese Film Research Materials (1949—1979), vol. 2 (Beijing: Culture and Art Publishing House, 2006), 272-273.

· 6 Wu Di. ed., Chinese Film Research Materials (1949—1979), vol. 2 (Beijing: Culture and Art Publishing House, 2006), 273.

· 7 Wu Di, ed., Chinese Film Research Materials (1949-1979), vol. 2 (Beijing: Culture and Art Publishing House, 2006), 275.

· 8 Daniel-Henri Pageaux, "Iniagologie,” ed. Meng Hua, Imagology of Comparative Literature (Beijing: Peking University Press, 2001), 157.

· 9 Lubomir Doležel, "Possible Worlds of Fiction and History,” ed. David Herman, Narratologies, trans. Ma Hailiang (Beijing: Peking University Press, 2002), 183.

· 10 Yang Shengwu, The Era of Deng Xiaoping (Central Compilation & Translation Press, 1998), 3. Wang Nianyi, A Chaotic Era (Zhengzhou: Henan People's Publishing Llouse, 2004), 600.

· 11 Roderick Lemonde MacFarquhar, ed. John King Fairbank, Cambridge History of China: The People's Republic (1966-1982), trans. Jin Guangyao (Shanghai: Shanghai People's Publishing House, 1992), 450.

· 12 The Ministry of Culture Office of the Film Bureau, "Liquidating the Crimes of Lin Biao and the Gang of Four in Undermining the Management of Film Production Enterprises”; see Wu Di, ed., Chinese Film Research Materials (1949-1979), vol. 2 (Beijing: Culture and Art Publishing House, 2006), 479.

· 13 Xia Yan, "Past Experience, If Not Forgotten, Is a Guide for the Future,” Film, Art, no. 1, 1979.

· 14 "Notice of the Ministry of Culture on the Urgent Review of Films,” Wu Di, ed., Chinese Film Research Materials (1949—1979), vol. 2 (Beijing: Culture and Art Publishing House, 2006), 496.

· 15 "Notice of the Ministry of Culture on die Urgent Review of Films,” Wu Di. ed., Chinese Film Research Materials (1949-1979), vol. 2 (Beijing: Culture and Art Publishing House, 2006), 496

· 16 Cyril Birch, Literature under Communism: The Post-Mao Era, ed. Roderick Lemonde MacFarquhar and John King Fairbank, Cambridge History of China: The People's Republic (1966-1982), trans. Jin Guangyao (Shanghai: Shanghai People's Publishing House, 1992), 914.

· 17 Paul Connerton, How Societies Remember, trans. Naribilige (Shanghai: Shanghai People's Publishing House, 2000), 3-4.

· 18 Paul Coimerton, How Societies Remember, trans. Naribilige (Shanghai: Shanghai People's Publishing House, 2000), 3-4.

· 19 Adapted from the translated version by Xu Yuanchong of Chinese poet Su Shi's poem "Written on the Wall at West Forest Temple,” the whole translated version is: It's a range viewed in face and peaks viewed from the side; / Assuming different shapes viewed from far and wide. / Of Mountain Lu we cannot make out the tme face; / For we are lost in the heart of the very place.

· 20 See the conception from Roderick Lemonde MacFarquhar, "The succession to Mao and the end of Maoism, 1969-82,” ed. Roderick Lemonde MacFarquhar and John King Fairbank, Cambridge History of China: The People's Republic (1966-1982), trans. Jin Guangyao (Shanghai: Shanghai People's Publishing House, 1992), 380, 449-450.

· 21 Special Reviewer, "The Four Fundamental Principles Cannot Be Violated: A Review of the Film Script Unrequited Love," Liberation Army Daily, April 20, 1981.

· 22 Special Reviewer, "The Four Fundamental Principles Cannot Be Violated: A Review of the Film Script Unrequited Lave," Liberation Army Daily, April 20, 1981.

· 23 Special Reviewer, "The Four Fundamental Principles Cannot Be Violated: A Review of the Film Script Unrequited Love," Liberation Army Daily, April 20, 1981.

· 24 Deng Xiaoping, "Concerning Problems on the Ideological Front,” Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, vol. 2 (Beijing: People's Publishing House, 1994), 391-393.

· 25 Deng Xiaoping, "Concerning Problems on the Ideological Front,” Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, vol. 2 (Beijing: People's Publishing House, 1994), 391-393.

· 26 Hu Qiaoniu, "Problems on the Ideological Front,” Wenyi Bao, no. 5, 1982.

· 27 Hu Yaobang, "Stick to the Dichotomy Method, Scale New Heights (Speech on the Issue of Unrequited Love in the Meeting with the Representatives of the National Conference on Feature Film Creation on December 27, 1981),” ed. Cultural Group of the Research Office of the Central Secretariat of the Communist Party of China, Comments on Literature and Art of Party and State Leaders (Beijing: Culture and Art Publishing House, 1982), 268-269.

· 28 Hu Yaobang, "Stick to the Dichotomy Method, Scale New Heights (Speech on the Issue of Unrequited Love in the Meeting with the Representatives of the National Conference on Feature Film Creation on December 27, 1981),” ed. Cultural Group of the Research Office of the Central Secretariat of the Communist Party of China, Comments on Literature and Art of Parti’ and State Leaders (Beijing: Culture and Art Publishing House, 1982), 268-269.

· 29 Special Reviewer, "The Four Fundamental Principles Cannot Be Violated: A Review of the Film Script Unrequited Love," Liberation Army Daily, April 20, 1981.

· 30 Wu Yonggang and Wu Yigong, "Review and Reflections—Artistic Summary of the Film Evening Rain," Editorial Office of Film Newsletter of the Film Bureau of the Ministry of Culture, National Film Editorial Office of China Film Press, The Exploration of Film Directors, vol. 2 (Beijing: China Film Press, 1983), 11-12.

· 31 Wu Yonggang and Wu Yigong, "Review and Reflections—Artistic Summary of the Film Evening Rain," Editorial Office of Film Newsletter of the Film Bureau of the Ministry of Culture, National Film Editorial Office of China Film Press, The Exploration of Film Directors, vol. 2 (Beijing: China Film Press, 1983), 16.

· 32 Yuan Wenshu, "A Good Sign,” Film Story, no. 1, 1983.

· 33 Liu Mengxi, "The Crossroads and Highways in the Development of the Film Industry—Impressions of Chinese Feature Films in 1981,” Film Art, no. 2, 1982, 4.

· 34 Liu Mengxi, “The Crossroads and Highways in the Development of the Film Industry— Impressions of Chinese Feature Films in 1981,” Film Art, no. 2, 1982, 4.

· 35 Su Ya and Jia Lusheng, Troubled 14 years—Retrospect and Prospect of Chinese Reform (Zhengzhou: Chinese Fanner Press, 1993), 23-24.

· 36 Deng Xiaoping, "On Opposing Wrong Ideological Tendencies,” in Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, vol. 2 (Beijing: People's Publishing House, 1994), 380.

· 37 Zhang Yiwu, New Image of New China (Jinan: Shandong Publishing House of Literature and Art, 2005), 36.

· 38 Seryl Burch, "Literature under Communism: The Post-Mao Era,” in The Cambridge History of China 1966-1982, ed. Roderick MacFarquhar and John King Fairbank, trans, Jin Guangyao (Shanghai: Shanghai People's Publishing House, 1992), 918.

· 39 Deng Xiaoping, “On the Reform of the System of Party and State Leadership,” in Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, vol. 2 (Beijing: People's Publishing House, 1994), 323.

· 40 Deng Xiaoping, "On the Reform of the System of Party and State Leadership,” in Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, vol. 2 (Beijing: People's Publishing House, 1994), 321.

· 41 Deng Xiaoping, "On the Reform of the System of Party and State Leadership,” in Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, vol. 2 (Beijing: People's Publishing House. 1994), 326-327.

· 42 Deng Xiaoping, "The Primary Task of Veteran Cadres Is to Select Young and Middleaged Cadres for Promotion,” in Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, vol. 2 (Beijing: People's Publishing House, 1994), 384-385.

· 43 Huang Mei, "Strengthen the Moral Education Power of Film Arts,” Contemporary Cinema. no. 1, 1984, 12.

· 44 Chen Jianyu, "Reproduce Artistically the Conflict in Life—Review of Neighbours,” in Collections of the Second Chinese Golden Rooster Award 1982, ed. China Film Association (Beijing: China Film Press, 1983), 56.

· 45 Mao Xueyong, "Thumb up for Neighbours," Film Story, no. 10, 1982.

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