To remember history
April 5, 2007 4:26 AM   Subscribe

Although I Am Dead (YouTube) (Parts 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10) Compelling documentary by Hu Jie (胡杰) on the death during the Cultural Revolution of Bian Zhongyun (卞仲耘), recalled by her now octogenarian husband. He photographed her corpse after she was beaten to death by Red Guards, students at the middle school of which she was deputy principal. The film's inclusion in the documentary section of YunFest has apparently led to the authorities shutting down the event. (Via)
posted by Abiezer (19 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
The film has English subtitles, which aren't brilliant, but get the job done.
posted by Abiezer at 4:30 AM on April 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

posted by Shanachie at 5:20 AM on April 5, 2007

Shhhhhhh. Chinese labor exploitation gets us lower prices at Walmart.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:55 AM on April 5, 2007

Thanks for the post, Abiezer. Just saw part one, looks really interesting.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:43 AM on April 5, 2007

No one (in the West at least) has ever tried to play down the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. What does labor exploitation have to do with this? Do you mean that we still deal with China despite atrocities it has committed and the violations it continues to allow?
posted by Sangermaine at 7:44 AM on April 5, 2007

Spoilers in this comment

I wept at several points during the film.
When Mr Wang (Ms Bian's husband) was moved to tears, I couldn't help but have my heart go out to his. When he recalled his youthful idealism, and reiterated his abiding faith in his dreams, I was gone too.
Then there's the points where he has the picture, surreptitiously taken, of the puff of smoke from the cemetery chimney as they burn Bian Zhongyun's broken corpse, or the window where he and their daughters would still look for her returning long after she was taken from them.
To watch a man of great dignity and courage unpack the carefully preserved (through forty years, through what vicissitudes) paper parcels which have the blood-stained cotton swabs pulled from his dead wife's mouth, her shit-stained trousers cut from her battered body, the shirt still marked with the slogan condemning her...
posted by Abiezer at 8:00 AM on April 5, 2007

God, that was devastating.
The 'revolution' in China always evokes
Lord of the Flies on a grand scale for me.
Great post. Well worth the time.
posted by squidfartz at 8:06 AM on April 5, 2007

"No one (in the West at least) has ever tried to play down the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. What does labor exploitation have to do with this? Do you mean that we still deal with China despite atrocities it has committed and the violations it continues to allow?"

Not to mention that the Cultural Revolution was a long time ago and has been repudiated by China's leaders since 1981. I haven't watched the documentary, but I don't see how this would be censored unless the film blames Mao for it.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:21 AM on April 5, 2007

EB - it is still a very sensitive matter here. On the 40th anniversary (last year - as per the dedication at the end of this film) those few public reminiscences and discussions mysteriously disappeared from Internet search results and no media marked the date. This really is a ground-breaking work.
The film does directly link the Cultural Revolution to Mao, using archive radio and footage. One particularly telling part is the account of his meeting a young girl Red Guard, who brings him flowers. He asks her name, she tells him. Chinese has a lot of homophones, so he asks if it's a character that means 'refined and gentle' (IIRC); when she replies, "yes it does," he tells her she needs to be more violent. It would have been girls of her age who beat Bian Zhongyun to death.
Despite having repudiated the Cultural Revolution, the Party is still unwilling to allow independent historical inquiry into issues it fears will impact on its claim to legitimacy.
posted by Abiezer at 8:36 AM on April 5, 2007

Do you mean that we still deal with China despite atrocities it has committed and the violations it continues to allow?
posted by Sangermaine at 10:44 AM on April 5

I was being sarcastic, but yes we still deal with China despite all these things (many of which are recent) because there's money to be made. If there wasn't any money to be made there, the US would isolate itself from China.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:47 AM on April 5, 2007

Ah. That's interesting and thanks for explaining it, Abiezer!
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:00 AM on April 5, 2007

Interesting, Pastabagel. Would you say that labor exploitation is due to their communism, or to our capitalism?

That was a great film. Could have done without the exploration of the clothing she was wearing when she was beaten to death, but all the same, it was a very moving story.
posted by not_bitter at 9:18 AM on April 5, 2007

I thought that was necessary not_bitter - these were the artefacts preserved of a death and a time of horror that he is supposed to forget and that succeeding generations know of only in broad-brush, sanitised outline. He is keeping it all, to bear witness to a life and its end, and when then time comes, for it to take its place in a public memorial.
posted by Abiezer at 10:20 AM on April 5, 2007

Abiezer, thank you for this powerful post and your added commentary. It's both a very touching human story and an important historical narrative of a terrible time. I agree with you about the significance of the segment with her clothing. I hope now that her husband has told her story he can find some peace.

The article about Hu Jie and what it is like to be a documentary film maker in China is pretty fascinating. I would like to see more of his work.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:43 AM on April 5, 2007

For those interested in some more context, this is an excellent (long-ish) piece by noted Sinologist Geremie R. Barmé. That site also has a post on this film.
posted by Abiezer at 3:28 PM on April 5, 2007

That was an amazing and moving documentary. Thanks for posting Abiezer. It is impossible to imagine atrocities being committed by school age girls but the fact that it happened makes me wonder what it was in the social and psychological climate that spawned these hellish events.
posted by storybored at 7:56 PM on April 5, 2007

From Abiezer's article supplying more context:

That fucking shit of a class monitor came and put on this big act of reading the big-character posters. I couldn't stand her, so I went over and gave the cunt a few slaps around the face. After all, there she was, presenting herself to me on a platter. You could get away with beating up anyone, like it was for free, as long as they were class enemies. You could beat them to death and no one would care. She didn't have a fucking clue why I'd hit her, and she caved in immediately. ‘I'll confess, I'll confess. I'm guilty, I'm guilty. But it wasn't me who made you repeat a year; it was so and so. He didn't let you pass. It wasn't up to me.’ She was scared shitless, and started selling out other people just like that. Typical fucking intellectual. As soon as I hit her all these other people gathered round. Some of them hated her too, for other reasons, so they got stuck into her as well. We struggled her for a while before we let her go home.

Even now I don't feel bad about it. Big deal. That slut had treated me badly in the past, always punishing me, and making me stand for hours in detention. I still wouldn't apologize. She was over forty then, so I guess she'd be long gone by now. I was only doing my job. If she wants to pay me back she can complain to the manager, Chairman Mao. Anyway, I did my ten-year stint in the countryside after that. About the only thing I didn't experience was death. And, damn it, but those old poor peasants were mean bastards. They really fucked me over. I reckon ten years in the countryside evens the score.

This makes me think that Marxism failed not for political or economic reasons but for psychological ones. You can't preach revolution without bringing out the worst in some people. Because destruction is fun.
posted by storybored at 8:17 PM on April 5, 2007

I am amazed and touched. Thank you for this post, Abiezer.
posted by Zack_Replica at 8:55 PM on April 5, 2007

storybored, there's an amazing quote in the first testimony Barmé translates:
Those who weren't didn't sign. Some of them were strongly opposed to our point of view—real hardcore opposition—and they put up their own big-character posters attacking us.
They were pretty cutting, things like, ‘We are more than aware of what type of people you are and what you are really up to. You have been secretly engaged in underground activities for ages, hatching furtive plots and plans. You Red Guards are wildly ambitious and your real aim is to overthrow the party committee’, and so on and so forth.
(One of the things these people said left a deep impression on me. It was: ‘You have repeatedly claimed that there is an ever-present danger that the bourgeoisie will stage a comeback in China. You're absolutely correct, and you people are the cause of the danger’.)
posted by Abiezer at 1:43 AM on April 8, 2007

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