China should have films on Cultural Revolution, says Feng


China’s most popular film director, Feng Xiaogang, has told the country’s annual parliament it is vital that film-makers produce movies about the Cultural Revolution so that young people understand what happened in that time of turmoil.

The Cultural Revolution was a period of ideological frenzy between 1966 and 1976 when chairman Mao Zedong declared war on bourgeois culture, so-called “capitalist roaders” and class enemies. Thousands of lives were destroyed during the period.

“Young people don’t know anything about the Cultural Revolution,” Feng told an advisory panel at the National People’s Congress.

Several leading cineastes are acting as advisers to the congress this year.

If young people do not learn about that period, and the disaster caused by the Red Guards, then the next time there is upheaval, people will use bricks and stones to do their talking,Feng said.

The period ended with the death of Mao in 1976. The Communist Party, which still rules China, has described the Cultural Revolution as a “10-year disaster”. But Mao’s portrait still gazes over Tiananmen Square and adorns every bank note.

Public debate about what took place is largely forbidden, but there are growing calls for some kind of assessment of what happened.

Feng has a magic touch when it comes to commercial cinema. Lighthearted films such as Big Shot’s Funeral and Cell Phone are how he made his name in China, where his fame is equivalent to that of Steven Spielberg in the US.

However, in his last few movies he has turned his attention to more serious topics, including the 1976 Tangshan earthquake in Aftershock, which makes indirect references to the Cultural Revolution, and his latest film, Back to 1942, an epic about a wartime famine in central China.

Censorship critic

While fiercely patriotic, Feng is a regular champion of freedom of expression. He frequently bemoans China’s draconian censorship system because he believes it makes it harder for Chinese films to compete with Hollywood imports.

The Cultural Revolution has been much in the news lately, after an elderly man was put on trial for a murder committed in 1967.

Other Chinese filmmakers have difficulty balancing a need to reassess the past with getting their films screened.

One of the great films about China’s recent history is Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine (1993). Chen was a Red Guard who denounced his father, Chen Huai’ai, also a well-known film director, during the Cultural Revolution, and he has spoken of his regret since then.