it might have been the ardent loyalty of Jian Ping’s persecuted parents that
saved them during the Cultural Revolution.
At least, they never said anything incriminating their children would
have been forced to repeat. Yet, the
lingering trauma of the experience makes it difficult for her to relate to her
Americanized daughter, Lisa Xia. By
exploring their family history, the two women come to terms with their own
relationship in Susan Morgan Cooper’s hybrid-documentary, Mulberry Child (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York at
the Quad Cinema.
believers, Hou Kai and Gu Wenxiu met and married through the Chinese Communist
Party. They bought into the Party’s
early rhetoric, which proved to be a profound mistake during the “Anti-Rightist
Campaign.” Trying to defend a wrongfully
accused colleague, Hou only succeeded in putting himself in the Party’s
crosshairs. Despite some trying moments,
Jian’s father made it through the first reign of terror, demoted but relatively
unscathed. The Cultural Revolution would
be a different story entirely.
a school administer, Jian’s mother was directly in the line of fire. To make matters worse, her father’s history
as a one-time Japanese POW was a red flag for the empowered zealots. As the institutionalized madness escalated,
Jian’s father was imprisoned and her mother was held a de-facto captive in her
school’s boiler room, forced to write self-criticism and pressured to denounce
her husband. Largely raised by their
grandmother, the children went months without seeing either parent.
cowardly and cruel must an ideology be that it would force a seven year old
girl to condemn her father in school?
Yet, the Maoist cult continues to seduce Western academics who never had
to live through it. Somehow though,
Jian’s parents still cling to their faith, as if by acknowledging the source
the horror they lived through—the Chinese Communist Party—would make all their
suffering for naught.
and her daughter can apprise the past with more clarity, but they remain
susceptible to a romanticized vision of contemporary China. Ironically, their big coming together moment
happens during the Beijing Olympic Games, against the backdrop of the striking
Bird’s Nest stadium, designed by Ai Weiwei.
Yet, the government’s relentless campaign against the artist and teacher
ought to undermine the superficial images the Party tries to present to the
when looking backward, Mulberry is
quite forceful and moving. Combining
Jacqueline Bisset’s voice-overs with dramatized episodes from Jian’s memoir,
Morgan Cooper vividly conveys an innocent child’s perspective on an era of
state sanctioned insanity. Jody Choi and
Bruce Akoni Yong are particularly affecting as young Jian and the much abused
Hou (“The Big Traitor”), respectively. However,
the candid-style mother-daughter conversations do not carry the same dramatic
weight. Yes, there is something
universal to their generational disconnect, but it pales in comparison to her
experience visiting her father in prison—unaccompanied because only a seven
year old girl could visit a suspected enemy of the state without reprisals.
course, the difficulties survivors like Jian have expressing affection are the
least of the Cultural Revolution’s tragic legacy, but it is what most directly
affects her and her daughter. Sensitively
produced, Mulberry Child is
recommended for its up-close-and-personal insight into the chaos unleashed by
Mao’s regime (rather than its wishful thinking for today’s China) when it opens
this Friday (9/7) at New York’s Quad Cinema.
Labels: China, Cultural Revolution, Documentary, Jian Ping