contend the greatest degree of corruption in American government happens at the
local level, because that is where most land use decisions are made.
Apparently, it is the same in China, but more lethally so. The late Qian Yunhui
was a rare breed—a village chief who actually protested the government’s land
appropriation schemes. That may very well be why he is now the late Qian
Yunhui. Ai Weiwei and his filmmaking team investigate the suspicious
circumstances surrounding his death in Ping’an
which screens as part of Cinema on the Edge, a retrospective tribute to the
Beijing Independent Film Festival now playing in New York at Anthology Film Archives.
you were still unclear how independent the Beijing Independent festival was and
why the Communist government so resented their maverick programming, just start
watching Ping’an Yueqing. Sadly, the
village of Yueqing is anything but “peaceful.” Qian was imprisoned for over
four years, but the village refused to elect another headman, because he was
faithfully representing their concerns. Then one morning, Qian was conveniently
struck and killed by a heavy truck owned and operated by the local power
an unseemly short investigation, Qian death was ruled an accident and his two
deputies were arrested for obstruction of justice. Sensing a cover-up, the
internet quickly took up the case. As the citizen investigators explain to Ai
Weiwei, the traffic surveillance camera was ever so strangely offline for maintenance
exactly during the so-called accident. However, video recorded by Qian’s
smart-watch device (like his own, personal Zapruder film) did not match the
description of the scene in police reports. The few eye witnesses willing to
testify also contradict the official story in various ways. Yet, perhaps the
most damning circumstantial evidence is the pattern of troublesome Zhejiang
officials who were previously done in by similar traffic accidents.
Ai and his team do their best to put the dissembling officials on the spot. It
is not always pretty, but the state mouthpieces generally conduct themselves more
shrewdly than the apparatchiks in his classic Disturbing the Peace and So Sorry. However, the most disturbing sequences are the dozens of Yueqing
villagers who tell Ai’s camera crews “if I talk to you, they will make me
disappear tonight,” in exactly those terms. Regardless of the Qian case, this
is obviously a profoundly ailing community, suffering from oppressive
Ping’an uses the same straight,
unfiltered approach as seen in other Ai Weiwei documentaries, but in this
particularly complicated case, it would have been helpful to have an on-camera
presence to help marshal the often contradicting testimony and to occasionally provide
context. Of course, Teacher Ai would have been perfect for such a role, but he
is not inclined to inject himself into other people’s stories.
is a courageous example of independent filmmaking and investigative journalism.
It shines a searing spotlight on a tawdry episode the Party would love the
world to forget. Yet, thanks to Ai Weiwei and the Beijing Independent fest, cineastes
who have never heard of Qian Yunhui will keep revisiting the events in Yueqing.
A bold and chilling work of non-fiction filmmaking, Ping’an Yueqing is highly recommended for anyone who really wants
to see what speaking truth to power really looks like when it screens tonight
(8/9) and Thursday (8/13) at the Anthology Film Archives and as part of the forthcoming
tour of the Cinema on the Edge retrospective.
Labels: Ai Weiwei, Chinese Cinema, Cinema on the Edge, Documentary, Qian Yunhui