You will see this movie and critics will write glowing reviews — or else

I already wrote about the 28 movies commissioned by the Chinese government to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the CCP, a date that will live in infamy for all of us to cherish. Now, as the premiere approaches, we get to see just how far they will go to make sure Chinese citizens watch it, guaranteeing in advance it will be a blockbuster success without a single negative review in Mainland China.

This month China’s great masses are being mobilized by their leaders for an unusual purpose. Employees at state-owned companies and at all levels of government are joining students from grade school to universities as they leave their homes, head out into the heat and do their duty: ensure the financial success of the government’s latest propaganda film, “Beginning of the Great Revival.”

The movie, which opened on Wednesday on almost all of the country’s 6,200 screens, is part of a campaign to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party next Friday. It is also playing in 29 American theaters, including ones in New York and Los Angeles.

Newspapers and television are barred from being critical of the movie, and caustic online reviews have been erased by censors. (Unfortunately for the filmmakers and the government, that edict does not cross borders; in a review in The New York Times, Andy Webster said the movie “demonstrates that mainstream Chinese cinema can be as guilty of self-indulgent overstatement as anything out of the West.)

How ironic can you possibly get? A film celebrating China’s liberation that the Chinese are essentially forced to see. A government effort that squelches critics’ freedom to write what they choose. An exercise in such blatant propaganda that most of the world blushes in embarrassment. A movie designed to snap the people back to their senses and force them to love their authoritarian government. A movie that defy common sense.

As the party moves ever further from its roots – the new film is co-sponsored by Cadilllac – it exploits them to bolster its relentless, Leninist grip on political power.

“This is an absurd era,” Professor He Bing of the China University of Politics and Law told graduates in a bold speech this month.

They encourage you to sing revolutionary songs, but do not encourage you to make revolution; they encourage you to watch [the new movie] The Great Achievement of Founding The Party, but they do not encourage you to establish a party.

Needless to say Beginning of the Great Revival deifies Mao, “portrayed in soft-focus lighting as a trim, dewy-eyed and idealistic young man prone to slow-motion frolicking with his beloved in the snow.” It sounds like your typical CCTV fare, protracted to ensure maximum mind numbness.

And what does the CCP stand for today? What about it should we celebrate? Despite some of the good it has brought to China since opening up, it nevertheless remains a giant squid, tentacles reaching across the nation to restrict all aspects of life in the land it liberated, silencing opposing voices and existing solely for its own perpetuation. Celebrate away, while people who know real freedom snicker. The CCP has outdone itself this time, and once again has made a laughingstock of itself.

______________

Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 38 Comments

Richard, if you’re going to use the word “mainland,” don’t capitalize it — it’s a geographic term, not a place name. Better still would be just to call China “China.”

June 26, 2011 @ 1:03 am | Comment

Typo, written in haste. Will correct, along with some other typos.

June 26, 2011 @ 1:05 am | Comment

Actually, I’ve seen plenty of cases where writers capitalized “Mainland China.” Seems to be down to individual preference, though I suppose one could probably dissect the political ramifications of capitalization for days.

There are no user reviews permitted for “Revival” on Douban, the arts-centric SNS that usually allows users to review and rate books, films, and albums. Sina’s censors have supposedly been deleting bad reviews of the film — the day it came out, my wife (who is not only nonpolitical but actively antipolitical) remarked that “Sina moderators are going to be busy today.” And yet, if I recall correctly, the English edition of the Global Times carried a (moderately) negative review of the movie.

It’s a shame — the story of the early CCP is a fascinating one, with lots of great characters and genuine heroes, and it could make for a great TV series if the people producing it could stay away from the post-facto hagiographic bullshit that passes for history here. Unfortunately, this means that there’s zero chance of it happening in China for the foreseeable future. There are exceptions — Xiao Ke’s memoir of his days in the Red Army is, as far as I know, still in publication, and it’s well worth a read — but for the time being, it looks like ve vill all be likink zis movie. And the rest of the movies that they’ll be squirting out later this year.

June 26, 2011 @ 1:50 am | Comment

@Tim Maddog – Actually, there is 100% absolutely nothing wrong with writing Mainland China, any more than there is with writing Mainland Europe, or the Middle East, or Eastern Siberia, or Western Ukraine, or North Africa, etc. etc. All of these are proper names for places, and so all can be capitalised. This style guide also agrees:

http://www.libraryonline.com/default.asp?pID=48

Now, it may be that some on the Taiwan blogs have become so insanely sensitive to anything that looks like saying that Taiwan is part of China (like, say, having signs everywhere declaring the place to be the Republic Of China, like they do in Taiwan) that this term has become taboo. However, even from this angle, when talking about political affairs such as censorship in Mainland China it is still 100% correct to refer to them as taking place in Mainland China. This is for the very good reason that 99% of the things spoken about in pieces such as the one above do not count for Hong Kong and Macao.

Seriously, it really gets my goat when people suddenly render perfectly servicable terms politically incorrect, even if (believe it or not) I am actually very sympathetic with their viewpoint. I first learned Chinese when I lived in Taiwan back in 2001. Back then nobody had any problems referring to the PRC as the Mainland, this included even my most ultra-pro-independence friends. Now I find myself getting criticised simply for using a term everyone uses in Taiwan. I want to ask just why anyone feels justified in doing so whilst Taiwan is still officially the ROC? It seems like a lame stab at wish-fulfillment.

@Richard –

“How ironic can you possibly get? A film celebrating China’s liberation that the Chinese are essentially forced to see. A government effort that squelches critics’ freedom to write what they choose. An exercise in such blatant propaganda that most of the world blushes in embarrassment.”

I didn’t see any actual fully-fledged co-ercion described in the article, just the classic stacking-the-decks that the CCP loves to employ to get the masses out for their chosen occasions. The people who really should be ashamed (other than the corrupt CCP clique, that is) are Cadillac, who should have known better than to sponsor this abysmal totalitarian propaganda.

June 26, 2011 @ 4:41 am | Comment

I have no problem with Mainland China. Sometimes I worry that the pro-Taiwan independence contingent can get nearly as hysterical as their pro-”reunification” counterparts.

FOARP, I was careful to write that people are being “essentially forced” as opposed to literally forced. If you don’t go see it, you are perceived as “not doing your duty.”

June 26, 2011 @ 4:55 am | Comment

People often like to remark that personal freedoms in China are increasing, as long as you avoid the “red lines”. I guess these days, certain movie critiques fall into the area protected by the “red lines”. I’m not sure if that used to be the case. If the “red line” regions are undergoing an expansionist overhaul, I wonder if that will have any ramifications on the personal freedoms that remain.

I don’t think anyone is being forced at gun-point to see these movies. But they are being “encouraged”…and that’s encouragement in the nudge-nudge-wink-wink sense. Maybe not outright malicious, but also probably not totatlly benign either.

June 26, 2011 @ 5:04 am | Comment

A realistic early history of the CCP, like its Soviet counterpart, would film like an extended episode of the Sopranos: people ending up in car boots for a variety of ideological and personal animosity reasons and on a very regular basis.

Fascinating certainly, just like the US cinema and book trades’ fascination with the Mafia over the past 40 years.

June 26, 2011 @ 5:21 am | Comment

@Richard – Essentially forced v. literally forced. Hmmm. I guess my problem was that, at least from what is described in the article, people are still free to choose not to see the films even if they work in a government office without anything in the way of real sanction.

On a different note, this film was everywhere on the Mainland when I was there last week. Take the kind of hype that attends the average Michael Bay film and treble it to get how this film is being publicised. I couldn’t even escape adverts for it on the plane out.

June 26, 2011 @ 5:26 am | Comment

@KT – The BBC and HBO did a joint production telling the life of Saddam Hussein in the gangster-flick style that was particularly excellent a few years back. Maybe one day an HK studio will do the same for Mao, but it won’t be any time soon.

June 26, 2011 @ 5:29 am | Comment

S.K.Cheung. You are being a bit hardline here. Compared to 30/40 years ago, people DO enjoy a wide range of personal freedoms which hitherto did not exist, and they are exercising these non-political freedoms on a daily basis.

To be sure there is a major drive to reeducate folk politically – provide them with moral reasons to love the Party – but that does not mean that people are buying it deep in their psyche, and when they encounter food inflation and shelter issues on a daily basis. They are just following the reflexive cultural tendency to follow workplace and other directives. Human beings in any culture are a bundle of contradictions.

June 26, 2011 @ 5:43 am | Comment

To KT:
no doubt Chinese people have more personal freedoms than they once did, overt or implied obligations to view cheesy films notwithstanding. If this new-found obligation is a one-off phenomenon, then it is of no significance. Time will tell as to whether this is the pattern, or the exception.

June 26, 2011 @ 6:37 am | Comment

I wonder if Math and his peeps were first in line for the midnight screening of “Beginning…” on opening night on this side of the pond. You would think they would feel duty-bound to represent.

June 26, 2011 @ 6:41 am | Comment

Math probably stars in it.

June 26, 2011 @ 7:00 am | Comment

Drainland the Mainland Veinland. I’m essentially hungry. I think it’s inappropriate to be critical of the commies, i mean, look how far theyve come. (by the way, i think thats a racist idea, its like youre saying ‘chinks cant be expected to do any better.’) (and i put ‘chink’ in quotation marks so i’m allowed to say it.) (‘clit’).

June 26, 2011 @ 7:03 am | Comment

Vambix, I’m a little dense and your last comment went right over my head. You aren’t trolling, are you?

June 26, 2011 @ 7:13 am | Comment

It seems to me that the horde of inveterate critics of the CCP that populate this site misses one important point-the undoubted sincerity of the CCP leaders to act for the good of China and Chinese. Whatever strong armed tactics, edicts, policies, arrests, etc which are employed by the CCP leaders are clearly undertaken with this aim in mind which overrides all other considerations. Shouldn’t we be a little more tolerant?

June 26, 2011 @ 7:34 am | Comment

I’ve given the CCP a lot of praise over the years, when I’ve felt it was due. In this case — prohibiting negative movie reviews, creating an absurd propaganda spectacle to pump itself up, portraying the revolution through the lens of hyper-nationalism, etc. — they deserve some criticism. Do you honestly believe in your heart of hearts that this is a sincere effort, that the films’ creators truly believe in the concept of revolution and of the people’s right to rise up and create the government they desire? Do they really stand for political choice? Because that’s what these movies depict — a falsehood. I believe this project has zero sincerity and abundant cynicism. Even some prominent Chinese have ridiculed this project as patently absurd.

June 26, 2011 @ 7:43 am | Comment

@Richard

You do realize you are debating with someone who just claimed “the undoubted sincerity of the CCP leaders to act for the good of China and Chinese” was real and not a fantasy cooked up by the government to validate all their actions.

When someone believes in God, it is futile to convince them otherwise. Same thing with people that believe this mythology that the CCP is full of do-gooders looking out SOLELY for China’s interests. Of course,when you have complete control over the public definition of those “interests” I guess it make it pretty easy to keep up that appearance.

June 26, 2011 @ 8:59 am | Comment

I have no doubt about the sincerity of CCP leaders to act for the good of the CCP. As for whether they act in the best interests of those other entities, I am much less convinced.

I enjoyed Andy’s likening of the CCP to a religion.

June 26, 2011 @ 9:14 am | Comment

Don’t worry, not everybody here is like them. I am pro Taiwan, but I don’t care about these things. Taiwanese can’t ignore their Chinese identity and connection with the Mainland. It would be too simplistic to completely separate these two entities just to make a point for Taiwan’s independence. There are 1000 more reasons for Taiwan to remain independent and people here can feel as Chinese, Mainlanders, Islanders, Formosans, Taiwanese, Hakkas… whatever. It doesn’t matter. I hate these overly zealous expats, who think they’re the only ones who know what’s best for Taiwan.

June 26, 2011 @ 9:50 am | Comment

S.K.Cheung. The points made by you, Richard and AndyR are perfectly non-controversial. I’m thinking of the punters willingly or unwillingly nudged into the theatre to watch this drivel.

Bit like bloody office parties the world over. Some believe in the get-together gig, while the unwilling bite their tongues (think of great alternatives like weeding the garden, vegetating on the sofa) and attend for the sake of peace and quiet.

It does not mean the flic will have its desired effect. In fact, quite the opposite may take place for many.

Anyway, with the power outages at the moment, an air conned theatre may just be the place to be for a few hours, and I’m sure Chinese pragmaticism will take this into account.

This is a China Media-Party story and it is worthy of attention. However, the audience reviews have yet to assessed, and I for one think this Ben Hur magnus opus will be seen today and forgotten before dinner tonight.

They may simply shut out the Party message altogether, and come away with comments that this or that actor is looking a bit over hill.

June 26, 2011 @ 9:54 am | Comment

Andy and Laowai, thanks for your excellent comments above.

KT, you have a point. Most viewers will probably be thinking of things like their shopping lists by the time the credits roll. Still, this is a vintage case study of CCP ham-fistedness, and its gnawing obsession with portraying itself as the people’s savior, lest anyone gets the notion there could be a substitute for the Party.

June 26, 2011 @ 12:14 pm | Comment

trolling, no. i was abstractly doodling. but then i had a serious thought, about how crazy it is to offer comments like tubby’s “compared to 30/40 years ago…” or cheung’s “no doubt…” i mean, at face value it’s correct, but, being positive about china’s political situation because it’s improving, it doesnt seem to give sufficient acknowledgement to 1. 40 years ago there was a damn holocaust afoot… 2. things are totally unacceptable today. 3. (more debatable but i stick by it) all this poison is coming up from some deep root of evil that hasn’t budged one bit – there’s a hard cold dark thing hidden beneath the surface of changing china that’s not changing at all.
and i dont like the word chink but if someone is being racist with sparkly positive language, i like to be able to paraphrase it with words like chink cos that’s a succinct way to point out ye problem. i mean, you never hear that the germans or russians or americans or australians have come a long way so good on them…not with the same attitude you hear it said of the chinese…

June 26, 2011 @ 6:08 pm | Comment

i mean, humor me:

“man, the german political-economic complex is bullying greece”
“yeah but 25 years ago germany didn’t even exist, there were two separate states, and look how they’ve integrated so successfully. You have to give the german government credit where it’s due. they’ve done remarkably well given the hand they’ve been dealt.”

“50% of america’s prison population is blafro-americkan. it’s clearly a racist state.”
“i prefer to think of the glass as half full. a hundred years ago they were hanging blacks off trees and setting them on fire. i have every confidence and hereby do solemnly do declare that they shall verily get there in the endahh.”

“ricky ponting-what a nightmare”
“yeah but the abos”

“british underclass”
“british empire”

“ai weiwei”
“great leap forward”

June 26, 2011 @ 6:39 pm | Comment

If you haven’t seen some of the now deleted reactions of Chinese netizens to the film, this is well worth a look–some of these are an absolute hoot.

And…wait, “the undoubted sincerity of the CCP leaders to act for the good of China and Chinese”? Wow. Yeah, the GLF, the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the CR, all actions of an undoubtedly sincere, not to mention monolithic CCP leadership!

June 27, 2011 @ 4:09 am | Comment

@vambix. Your aphorisms are beyond me and most others I suspect. I know the English language is a bit of a challenge, so a couple of short sentences making your point would bring us up to speed. Okay. Or are you Math in a totally different guise?

What is the relationship between Ricky Ponting and indigeneous policy? Is this some sub-textual call for the return of Shane Warne, a comment on the efficacy of blonde streaks, sexting, etc?

@Other Lisa. I think you illustrated my point. Analysing the film and the audiences take on the film are two very separate 101 exercises.

June 27, 2011 @ 5:33 am | Comment

“Sometimes I worry that the pro-Taiwan independence contingent can get nearly as hysterical as their pro-”reunification” counterparts.”

LOL, exactly. It’s too easy to become exactly the same as that which you criticize.

June 27, 2011 @ 11:15 am | Comment

To Vambix:
I am not sure if I understand you correctly. By noting that the situation in China is improving, are you suggesting that such a statement constitutes something akin to “bigotry of low expectations”?

June 27, 2011 @ 1:09 pm | Comment

Is ‘improving’ even the right word for whats going on in china? I forget the name of the guy who delivered this year’s reischauer lectures, but one of his key points was that how you frame historical events determines how you interpret them. So, for a rise of china narrative, you need to start things off in 1978 at the latest, if youre a westerner. Chinese could at a stretch take it back to 1949. Same applies to the similar notion of china’s improving human rights situation: you have to frame it right or your interpretation will completely fall apart. And so, how about this idea: lets frame china’s economic story of the past 30 years in terms of its natural and built environments: very bleak narrative. Or, if you frame the story of china’s political development in terms of the entire past century, i dont see how you could see a general trend of improvements. And, my point in my previous post was to show how absurd it is to frame up an improvement narrative for china by applying a similar frame to other national histories. We just dont do that with other countries, so why do it with china? At the moment i can think of three reasons: 1. We like to think well of others, especially those unfamiliar to us. 2. We’ve bought the ccp’s propaganda (remember the role that framing, or anchoring, plays in negotiation strategy) 3. We’re late modernists (which entails that we’re also late capitalists). Anyway. Apologies for lack of clarity. I’m not practiced in communicating about deep stuff.

June 27, 2011 @ 4:53 pm | Comment

# 29. Now this is getting both readable and interesting.

Picking a point.
“And so, how about this idea: lets frame china’s economic story of the past 30 years in terms of its natural and built environments: very bleak narrative”.

Unsustainable in terms of water and electricity supplies in a few years to come.
The plan to urbanise even more millions of rural folk in the near future is one major strategic mistake.

June 27, 2011 @ 5:08 pm | Comment

To vambix:
I agree with the concept that things may appear differently when viewed through different prisms. On the other hand, I’m not sure there is a “right” prism and a “wrong” one; they are merely different.

On this thread, I am primarily referring to personal freedoms. On that metric, I think things have improved. Ultimately, the collective opinion that matters belongs to Chinese people in PRC. This metric is not applied to other countries like the US or Australia because it’s not a very relevant one. However, suggesting that things have improved in China is not to say that they are now better than the US etc. In fact, it would be entirely internally consistent to say that personal freedoms in China have improved, but are still terrible. And such a statement is independent of any assessment of the political or economic realms, which may require other metrics, and other prisms.

June 28, 2011 @ 4:08 am | Comment

“Encouraged” in China can have two results, depending on public mood. Remember a few years ago when the thing to do on your chat program was “I *heart* China”? In the beginning it was voluntary but after awhile it was socially mandatory and if you didn’t do it, you were perceived to be unpatriotic. The pressure came from other Chinese, not the government.

My guess is that this “encouragement” has no peer pressure equivalent so the only possible penalty might be if you worked for a government institution and didn’t bother to attend. I’m going to make a couple of phone calls to people working there and see what they’ve encountered. It’ll probably be something similar to attendance at the Shanghai Expo but you never know. At the very least it’s a good topic for a blog post.

June 28, 2011 @ 5:44 am | Comment

personal freedoms… independent of economic and political freedoms… why would you want to conceptualise such a type of freedom…

…relevance… so is china the only country that’s improving, or that needed to?

of course prisms matter… just like food, it’s good to know or at least be able to trust where your ideas came from…

June 28, 2011 @ 10:23 pm | Comment

“why would you want to conceptualise such a type of freedom”
—because that is the type of freedom that impacts people 24/7. It’s what initially keeps people appeased. Those other aspects of “freedom” are also important, and the CCP would be wise to address those as well, either within her current system or in another one. So once again, it depends on your prism of choice. If it is “all-encompassing freedom in all its shapes and forms”, then the CCP hasn’t gone very far. But few people seem to use that standard, nor was it the theme of this thread.

“so is china the only country that’s improving, or that needed to?”
—probably not. But as I said, noting that “CHina has improved” is strictly a comparison of China today to China yesterday. Whether other countries have improved, or need to, is irrelevant to that observation.

Prisms do matter. It should simply be noted that there is more than one, and not all prisms are for everyone. To each their own.

June 28, 2011 @ 11:12 pm | Comment

my last comment on this:

i guess my point is that your ideas make no sense.

you’d have to be some sort of thatcherite… the idea that there are personal freedoms which can be considered independently of economic or political freedoms… i mean, that sort of morality leads you to be a stock trader…

and the idea that prisms are a matter of choice, not compulsion based on hard bought character formation/philosophical inquiry…. is dodgy

and… i dont see china improving. unless youre urban rich… and even then, the improvements that these people are experiencing are coming at a steep future cost. i can see how you might think that things are getting better for migrant workers but… i’d prefer to look at their outlook as shakey…

June 29, 2011 @ 11:07 pm | Comment

Your ideas make no sense to me either, but you are free to espouse them as you wish.

You seem to be the all-or-nothing dichotomy type, where, unless you have complete freedom in everything, you have no freedom at all. As I always say, whatever floats your boat.

It is interesting that you feel that there can only be one prism, and it needs to be the one you approve of. As I say again, whatever floats your boat…but I’m glad I’m not in it.

Ultimately, whether you see China improving or not, or whether I see China improving or not, matters not one iota. I’m more interested in seeing how Chinese people feel about it anyway.

June 30, 2011 @ 3:08 am | Comment

I caught the Beginning of the Great Revival on June 30 in an entirely empty theater in a Maryland suburb of Washington, DC that is home to a large Chinese community. I was the sole viewer. Oddly, the multiplex theater marketed the film with the pinyin title Jian Dang Wei Ye.

One needs to be a historian of the 1911-21 early ROC period to evaluate what liberties the filmmakers might have taken with events and personages of that time. One problem is that they crammed far too many historical figures into the film, an endless parade of people making only a fleeting appearance, and this left no time for any character development. The plot was minimal. I expected a more xenophobic treatment of the Western powers, given the usual PRC historical output and the period in question, but the film was relatively restrained — less chauvinistic than the typical Chinese reader comment on threads at The Economist or Wall Street Journal.

The only heavy-handed CCP propaganda is largely clipped on at the very end as an epilogue that read like one of Merp/Ferin/Yourfriend/CookieMonster’s stock non sequiturs here.

It was an earnest but utterly dull film that doesn’t travel well outside china.

July 6, 2011 @ 8:32 pm | Comment

Given today’s reports in the HK media, and Jiang Zemin’s no-show at the 90th anniversary celebrations, you have to ask – presuming that it is eventually confirmed, has Jiang’s death not been reported to avoid casting a pall over the CCP’s 90th anniversary celebrations?

July 6, 2011 @ 11:10 pm | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.