Bitter Love: A Silenced Movie of China and Its Implication
BY ANTONY OU | MARCH 06, 2012
A Movie of an Unrequited Patriot
History… a series of genuine history! I didn’t let anyone rape her, and that is why I am now impoverished… This is a book that will not be published until after hundreds of years. By that time, archaeologists will dig out my bones and discover this manuscript. The only thing that I wish for is that, after reading this manuscript, they will say, “Ah! I can’t believe that in 1976AD there was such an honest old chap! A Miracle indeed!” Enough! I will keep my mouth shut in Hell and be silent for ten thousands of years…
— Bitter Love, Bai Hua
Ling Chenguang, a gifted artist without a father, endured hardships during his childhood with the help of benevolent people. During his adolescence at the time of the Japanese occupation, he was forced to join the army of Kumingtang (KMT). He was saved by a young lady named Lu from a fisherman’s family who later became his wife. After joining an anti-government movement, Ling was warranted by agents of KMT and consequently escaped to a foreign country. He eventually became a successful painter who lived as a bourgeoisie. When the New Modern China was born, he and his wife forwent the comfort of their past and went back to their motherland with patriotic aspirations.
All the hopes were gradually gone when the Anti-Rightist Movement and Cultural Revolution came. As a former bourgeois and a “revisionist” who deviated from Mao’s orthodoxy, Ling’s family became political outcast. Together with their daughter, they were confined and secluded in a tiny windowless house with no sunlight and countless spider webs. The painter was even severely beaten up during his birthday. When his daughter grew up, he ran away with her boyfriend. She left him after asking, “You are bitterly loving this country, however, does this country return your love?”
After all the misfortunes, Ling exiled himself into the wilderness of snow. The hermit finally used his last footsteps to paint a huge question mark on the snow, and he finished it with his freezing body as the dot.
Bitter Love: A Movie of Controversy
Waves of political and social movements have suffocated millions of common people’s lives after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China since 1949. The Land Reformation, the Anti-Rightist Movement, and the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) had all created devastating political, economic, cultural and environmental disasters. However, the Great Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), also known as “Calamity of Ten Years”, had redefined the conception of political chaos— a further advancement of Maoist orthodoxy that eventually led to almost complete collapses of political institutions, social norms and cultural artefacts, of which were replaced by lies, ignorance and greed.
Bai Hua (白樺, 1930- ), a Chinese intellectual and former dedicated CCP member, became a “rightist” from 1958 to 1976. During that time, he had been deprived of his chances to write basically anything. His conviction has been removed by Deng Xiaoping in 1979 and his play manuscript Bitter Love (苦戀, originally known as Sun and Man) was firstly published by the same year. It was subsequently re-published in a Hong Kong leftist newspaper as well. The short novel was considered to be one of the pioneers of Scar Literature (傷痕文學): a new fiction genre that was fermented specifically right after the waves of Maoist political movements from the end of 1977 to 1979. It was considered as a cultural blossom of the “Second Hundred Flowers Movement”.
The work had then been made into a movie, directed by Pang Ning and screen played by Bai Hua and the director himself. Before the actual movie could be possibly shown to the public, a sample of the movie has been previewed by the Secretariat of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the Committee strongly opposed it unless the screenplay was heavily redrafted. Nonetheless, from 1981 onwards, the movie has received an overwhelming support by intellectuals, directors, movie critics and screenwriters. For the People’s Liberation Army General Political Department and the Central Party School, the feelings of their members were mixed but the majority was against it. The situation exacerbated by the fact that the Newspaper of the People’s Liberation Army reminded the intellectuals that there were four types of principles that writers should be abided by them. Together with tens of other government-controlled newspaper and radio broadcasts, Bai Hua and his screenplay Bitter Love were severely criticized. Consequently, the movie was banned to show anyone in public. Yet, according to Bai Hua, the original copy of the movie was stored in good condition at Changchun Film Group Corporation. One should be noted that there was a Taiwanese version (1982) of the movie, known as “Portrait of a Fanatic” in English, can now be bought easily. Thanks to the Internet, one can also freely download and synchronously looped somewhere on the web with no English subtitles.