his confirmation hearing, our current ambassador to China, former Sen. Max
Baucus, admitted: “I’m no real expert on China.” At least he was being honest.
In contrast, his predecessor’s predecessor certainly was. A former Ambassador
to Singapore, Gov. Jon Huntsman was familiar with the region and fluent in
Mandarin. However, his greatest asset was probably his adopted daughter Gracie
Mei Huntsman. Vanessa Hope chronicles their posting to Beijing in All Eyes and Ears (trailer here), which screens
during the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.
nomination was a bit of a surprise in 2009, especially considering Huntsman was
still widely seen as a conservative at the time. He would leave the Utah Governor’s
Mansion with high marks from the Cato Institute, after having signed an ambition
school voucher program into law. However, it was fortunate America had an experienced
adult serving as ambassador during Huntsman’s eventful tenure, which would
include the aborted Jasmine Revolution and the diplomatic crisis arising from blind
dissident attorney Chen Guangcheng’s request for asylum.
All Eyes follows Huntsman’s term of
service from three perspectives: that of the diplomat, his adopted daughter,
and the so-called “Barefoot Lawyer.” While braiding the three threads can get a
little unwieldy, it is crucial to have Chen’s viewpoint, because it often acts
as a corrective to Communist Party’s narrative. As a diplomat, Huntsman acts scrupulously
diplomatic, whereas young Gracie Huntsman has a very personal reaction to the
the three vantage points, Hope arguably favors hers—and it is easy to see why.
She is clearly a “good kid” with remarkable poise. Commentators in the film
make the point probably no other Chinese adoptee will ever return to their
birthplace under similar circumstances. Most likely, this is true, but Hope
never really delves into what Gracie Huntsman truly represents to the Chinese
people. She documents the Huntsman family’s return to the orphanage she was adopted
from, which all parties clearly find quite moving. However, China’s One Child policies
were very likely a major reason why her name is now Huntsman, yet they are only
mentioned in passing. Likewise, the widening gap between the oligarchical urban
haves and the provincial have-nots are a direct cause of other children getting
put up for adoption. Only Chen talks about these issues in the film, which is
why it is so important to have him there.
Frankly, so many significant events transpired
during Huntsman’s stint and Hope’s three primary POV figures are so compelling,
All Eyes could easily be expanded to
a longer form series, which reportedly might be in the works. Yet, somewhat
ironically, Hope’s short doc China in Three Words (also featuring the Huntsmans) is even more incisive and grabby. Still, Chen Guangcheng and Gracie
Huntsman definitely deserve your full attention (but some of the old China
hands, not so much). Recommended as a reflection of a good deal of contemporary
Chinese reality and the often awkward messiness of diplomacy, All Eyes and Ears screens again tonight
(4/24), at the reasonably located Chelsea Bowtie, as part of this year’s
Tribeca Film Festival.
Labels: Chen Guangcheng. Jon Huntsman, China, Documentary, Gracie Huntsman, Tribeca '15