Political Film Review #46

XIU XIU NOMINATED FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD
The Cultural Revolution (1967-1976) was perhaps the cruelest period of modern Chinese history. Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl, the latest portrayal of the ruthlessness of the People’s Republic of China in trampling on the individual during the Cultural Revolution, is based on Yan Geling’s novella Heavenly Bath (Tian Yu), which in turn is adapted for the screen and directed by China-born actress Joan Chen. The film focuses on fifteen-year-old Wen Xiu (played by Lu Lu), nicknamed Xiu Xiu, who is from an educated working class family in the city of Chengdu. All 7.5 million educated teenagers, according to the Communist Party, must be sent down to the provinces to become “educated” by hard labor alongside the poorest of the poor about the wisdom of the Communist utopia. Whereas her boyfriend (played by Luoyong Wang) has political connections and avoids being sent to the provinces, she boards a bus for an unknown destination, believing that she will return home after the usual year of service. After successful months in one of the provinces, Wen Xui is transferred to learn horse and yak herding for a few months, and she is promised that her new knowledge will enable her to be later transferred to a prestigious cavalry unit for educated girls. When she arrives on the Tibetan steppes, in a desolate location far from Chinese culture, she is quite unhappy as the tent-mate of laconic, uneducated Tibetan Lao Jin (played by Lop Sang). Castrated for opposing Chinese domination of his motherland, middle-aged Lao Jin has respectfully entertained other sent-down girls before, and tries to be as gentle as possible, but acid-tongued Wen Xiu does not show Lao Jin respect, a well-known character fault of the arrogant educated class that the Communist Party was obviously trying to correct. The summer comes and goes, but Wen Xiu is not transferred as promised. An itinerant peddler informs her that the cavalry unit has been disbanded due to a riot among the educated girls. The Party, in short, did not devise an alternative plan for Wen Xiu, who is thus left in limbo. Although Lao Jin offers to take Wen Xiu to a bus station so that she can return to Chengdu, Wen Xiu replies that without proper approval, such action would result in her death. When the merchant returns, he perfidiously offers to assist Wen Xiu in securing approval for her to go home in exchange for sexual favors, and she loses her virginity. Thereafter, a series of visitors rape her, at first unwillingly and then willingly, as her desperation turns into hopelessness. Inevitably, she bears a child, goes to the village hospital, is branded as a whore, and has an abortion. Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the film is what is not spoken—the eyes of Lao Jin, who would like to help and protect immature Wen Xiu but who expresses in deeds but not in words his compassion for her. In the end, she dies in the snow, Lao Jin returns to his horses and yaks alone, and we can safely speculate that her family well knows the human costs of the misnamed “Cultural Revolution.” Similar to the suppressed but upbeat Farewell My Concubine (1993) and To Live (1990), which also portray aspects of the Cultural Revolution, Xiu Xiu has achieved a special notoriety—it is banned in China. Joan Chen, moreover, is prohibited from making any more films in the territory of the People’s Republic. In so doing, the government in Beijing has thus given approval to the excesses of the Cultural Revolution and thereby has indicted itself of an arrogant, mindless, and undemocratic perception of the masses as expendable ciphers, whereas the film is an eloquent statement about the need for greater respect by the government of the rights of children, families, peasants, and indeed for cultural rights. Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated Xiu Xiu for an award in the category among nominees for best film on human rights in 1999.