motherhood is an endeavor that always requires courage and conviction, but the
level exhibited by Chinese mothers resisting mandated sterilization is
something else entirely. Documentarian Xu Huijing captured the local cadres of
provincial Ma village going about their shocking business in his very personal
expose, Mothers (trailer here), which screens as
part of this year’s Documentary Fortnight at MoMA.
Xu explains in his brief opening narration, he would not be here today if the
Communist Party had had its way. He was a second child conceived in the fourth
year of the One Child campaign. Like his mother, Rong-rong has already had a
second child and paid a hefty fine as a result. She has also paid several
subsequent fines for not consenting to mandatory sterilization.
Qing-mei, Ma’s “director of women’s care,” and thug-turned village deputy Zhang
Guo-hong can no longer tolerate her disobedience. They have to meet the quota
of fourteen sterilizations handed down from high. The problem is Ma is running
out of fertile women. To make matters worse, women who voluntarily request such
a procedure do not count towards the quota. Shamelessly, in full view of Xu’s
camera, Deputy Zhang will brazenly harass Rong-rong’s grandmother and direct
the local school to expel her children to put pressure on the fugitive mother.
manner in which the Zhangs conduct “family planning” will make most jaws drop,
but the real kicker comes when they complain about the village’s dwindling
number of marriages and children enrolled in the local school. Hello McFly,
that’s what happens when you sterilize everyone. Their village is slowly dying,
yet they double-down on the very policies so obviously responsible.
Mothers clocks in just short
of seventy minutes, but it is loaded with incendiary moments. Frankly, it
brings to mind A Handmaid’s Tale,
even including the dystopian religious fervor, courtesy of Zhang Qing-mei, who
bizarrely likens Mao Zedong to a saint and a divine emperor. The mind reels.
Recently, the Communist government has promised some
flexibility in One Child enforcement, but broad reforms still seem unlikely
(just ask the great filmmaker Zhang Yimou). In any event, the policy has already
wrought tremendous emotional damage that will reverberate for decades. You can
see it clearly in Mothers. A bold work
of cinematic journalism and a gripping human interest story, Mothers is highly recommended when it
screens Monday (2/24) and Thursday (2/27) with Leslie Tai The Private Life of Fenfen (another worthy selection) during MoMA’s
2014 Doc Fortnight.
Labels: Chinese Cinema, Documentary, Documentary Fortnight '14, One Child Policy