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My Take
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2012, 3:20am

China plot twists behind the big screen


Alex Lo is a senior writer at the South China Morning Post. He writes editorials and the daily “My Take” column on page 2. He also edits the weekly science and technology page in Sunday Morning Post.

Movies say a lot about politics and the state of the world, though often not in ways the filmmakers have intended. Consider two new films: Red Dawn and 1942.

Both movies say something about China and the world today, though perhaps inadvertently.

Red Dawn is a remake of the 1984 cult film of the same name. The original was a highly enjoyable red-neck paranoid vision of hell in the United States after it was invaded by evil Soviet troops. The cold war was still on then and the world was bipolar, with two superpowers armed to the teeth with thermonuclear missiles aimed at each other. The movie was an instant hit.

Fast-forward 28 years. This time in the new movie, the US is invaded by evil Chinese troops. Or at least that was how the movie was made. But some suits in a US studio suddenly wised up during post-production. China, by this time, is Hollywood's fastest growing market. Its audiences may not take too kindly to their portrayal and the censors will almost certainly ban the movie. So voila, the Chinese villains have been digitally transformed into North Korean troops. This shouldn't be too difficult as many Americans probably can't tell a Chinese from a Korean.

To many Americans, China may be evil like the Soviet Union, but they realise it owns most of their national debt and produces their beloved Apple products. The Soviet collapse meant new markets for American capitalists; a China collapse would spell the end of the world, or at least the world economy.

Meanwhile, after spending 18 years fighting bureaucrats and censors, mainland director Feng Xiaogang has finally brought 1942 to the screen - about the famine that killed three million Chinese due to a drought and neglect by the nationalist government and the invading Japanese troops.

Why did officials discourage the making of a movie that would make the Japanese and the Nationalists look bad? Well, they may be dogmatic but they are not stupid. If you allow people to watch a movie about the famine in 1942, they will inevitably ask about what happened with the far worse famine from 1958 to 1961 when the death toll is estimated to be 10 times that in 1942.

I wonder if we will ever see a movie about Mao's great famine.


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This article is now closed to comments

Remitting Prosperity
It is nit-picking to say that because there was no massacre in the Square itself (which you keep on emphasising), that hundreds or more likely thousands were not killed by the Chinese army, which after all is supposed to defend its citizens, not murder them. It is a lie to say there was no massacre in Beijing.
Iraq and the race riots are another matter. No one denies them, and they were extensively reported in the Western media. The CPC however says that on 4th June 1989, nothing happened at all. Is it not very tragic for the Chinese people that many of the younger generation know nothing about it?
Yes. It is true that many of the 20-year olds in China do not know about 4th of June (many know for sure). However, how many 20 year old Americans remember Waco 1993, the LA riot 1992, and the Detroit riot 1967? Those who want to know will and do know, whether they are Chinese or American. And, to my knowledge, no Chinese government denied that close to 400 residents died in the incident. But calling the incident a massacre is one's personal choice. How many would call the Waco incident a massacre? Or is 75 qualitatively different from 350?
Remitting Prosperity
To say that there was no massacre in Tiananmen Square may be strictly accurate, but it is really nit-picking. The massacre actually took place in Muxidi. Nobody is sure exactly how many people died because the Chinese government isn't that keen on revealing the true facts, unsurprisingly. So their propagandists can get away with saying that there is no definite evidence that anyone was shot in the square itself.
The ambiguity is increased by the fact that we refer to this event as the Tiananmen Massacre in English, whereas the Chinese themselves calls it the 4th June Incident (liu si). No one can deny that people were shot down in the streets of Beijing on 4th June 1989.
It's not nitpicking. Killing students has the highest propaganda value. Just as monotheism in Abrahamic faith, the Democracy religion needs myths and lies to sustain its missionaries and mindless, lobotomized zombies.
No sane people would dispute hundreds killed on that day. Just days before, soldiers were fraternizing at Tian An Men Square with students. That was seen all over TV. A few soldiers were murdered by mob beatings and Molotov cocktails. Then the tanks moved in. We saw on TV a lone demonstrator stood in the path of a tank. The tank commander zigged and zagged around him. Sorry, no minced meat pie to feed your holiday fantasies.
Free press correspondents staying in their hotels saw nothing. They filed their reports anyway because morons needed badly fabricated stories to feed their hate passions. Canadian and US Embassies reported no killing of students at the Square. So did an article published by a Columbia University academic.
Sure it was a terrible tragedy. But it ranked no higher than killings in US race riots in Los Angeles, Newark, Detroit during the 60s.
If you want to get yourself aroused, try to be enraged over millions of innocents slaughtered in Vietnam war. The recent Iraqi war killed tens of thousands - 10 times that much by Johns Hopkins cluster counting. 4 million Iraqis were displaced.
The Western media are barking up the wrong tree.
"I wonder if we will ever see a movie about Mao's great famine." Fat chance!
Indeed, owning up to this monstrous act of tyranny is a cleansing act not only for the CCP, but also for the soul of China with past tyrannies going all the way back to Shi Huangdi.
There is another bonus. To go with this admission, CCP could also bare all the facts about Tian An Men on June 4. Let the Chinese people judge whether the China nation has the right to survive in a turbulent transition in 1989. But will it close the chapter to endless tissues of lies about student massacre by the malicious Western media?
I doubt it. I read a very detailed investigative report about Li Wangyang's death. It describes many consistent accounts of eyewitnesses, fellow patients, health workers at the hospital who were with Li for days on end, not to mention the official reports of a few coroners. Yet the fabricated account by Hong Kong's shameless activists who showed up for a day visit is one frequently referred to. Foul play is still the most persistent term in SCMP columns.
Remember the Hong Kong student who lied about tanks firing at students and making minced meat out of them at Tian An Men and later retracted his story? This same lie had been told and retold at sessions of the US Congress.
are you suggesting there was no massacre of students at tian an men in june 1989?
It seems there was no massacre of sturdents but some killings of the people indeed even though it might be the choice of the bad with the worse.
wow. this is some revisionist history. you guys are all hardcore commie propagandists.
I don't think whymak is a propagandist. He certainly isn't sparing Mao or the CCP from any criticism. Stop jumping all over everyone who isn't drinking the kool-aid and swallowing every single line sold by democracy activists verbatim. You don't think they're capable of exaggeration? They have their own propaganda that they use to puff up their position and counter CCP propaganda.
whymak - you are barking on the wrong site. try the people's daily. you will an honorary medal from the pla for denying a massacre on june 4, 1989. i guess you guys along with bluechinagroup are just laying the a nice paper trail so that when the communists come marching in you can tell them you were a good red soldier. collaborateurs... sad...


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