From Chung Kuo to China is a new documentary series that is based on the several foreign directors’ documentaries filmed in China during the 1970s. This new series has filmed the same locations as the old ones and follows the stories. It vividly and directly observes the changes and developments of China during the past four decades. "Seeking Chung Kuo" is one of the episode of the doc serie "From Chung Kuo to China".
Michelangelo Antonioni, a famous Italian director was invited by the Chinese government to film and he created Chung Kuo-Cina. He observed and followed Chinese families and social lives in this film, which represent his view of China, but at the time was not accepted by the Chinese.
Gabriele Battaglia, Italian journalist who has lived in China for years, as an exploration of the film followed Antonioni’s old path to Beijing, Anyang, Nanjing, Suzhou and Shenzhen City, re-visiting people who appeared in the old film. The differences and comparisons between China then and nowadays will be revealed, along with the altered attitude towards the original film Chung Kuo-Cina emerging as the documentary unfolds. Gabriele sees a comprehensively changing and developing China.
Ma Yongxi and Ma Dongcheng, they both think there is a continuity from Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping through Deng Xiaoping while in the West we tend to think today's China is the opposite of the Cultural Revolution China. The buzzword here is Chinese socialism as a “development theory” or “developmentalism”. Ma Dongcheng says, “in the days of Mao, Mao was fine, today Xi is fine”, meaning that there is no contradiction, today's development has its roots in that “poor” China. And Ma Yongxi can see this thread of history with his eyes: “I was born in a house of mud, then I moved to a village house made of bricks and after chunjie I will be given 3 brand new apartments in a high-rise modern building”. He's 81 and he can still see the future. This is something that makes the difference between today's Chinese and we westerners. There are many problems, a huge problem of social equality for instance, but on average they can still see the future: “A sesame stalk puts forth blossoms notch by notch, higher and higher”.
Zhao Guolin. He agreed in being filmed when Xiao Yu went there one month before. Now he doesn't welcome us, he doesn't want us, and he screams that, in order to make all the other people around to hear. Why? In the end he says that many people from different media went there, nobody left anything behind, just came and went. It's not a matter of money, but the people of the village think he gets money from all those media guys and they are jealous, this disrupts his guanxi and his status in the village. Village life is the same everywhere: people talk behind your back. We think there is a community, a social life, a mutual help, but this reciprocal control is the price to pay.
Then, when we leave, I shake his hand and he is smiling to me. He doesn't hate me, but the village guanxi is more important than me.
Everybody keeps saying “bianhua hen da” which is something I used to hear from our elders when I was a kid: “Tutto è cambiato” (everything has changed) said with happiness or melancholy by people who really experienced the big change on their skins, from the second world war to modern society. After Beijing hutongs have been “modified” in the last two years I have heard also young Chinese people saying “Beijing bianhua hen da”. Back in Europe nobody says “bianhua hen da” recently, it is as if time has stopped while in China keeps going.
There is a common trait between Antonioni's China and today's China, a "mania" that also affects my relationship with power in the journalistic work: the idea that we must show the "beautiful things", better not to show "bad stuff". It is not just a paranoia of the cultural revolution, it's still alive and kicking. When we went at Ouyang Juanjuan's, there were heaps of abandoned things in the compound yard: furniture and other waste. We filmed a scene there and then I heard that Ouyang asked the condominium administration to take everything away precisely because we filmed it. And they did it right away, because it was shameful. For us there is no such shame: there is the ugly and there is beauty, there is also a beauty within the ugly; and chaos, conflict, contradiction give us a thrill. The Chinese love harmony instead. Fortunately, they are human and therefore they cannot harmonize everything: chaos - and what an amazing chaos! - always comes out. And that's where China is beautiful at most, it's creative. Even when I talk to Foreign Ministry officials who in charge of "helping" (controlling) the foreign journalists, they always tell me that we need to show some nice things and some bad things, as if we should stick to an invisible weight scale. And I see that they are making an extreme concession in allowing me to show "a bit of bad stuff".
After all, 老外不懂 (foreigners won't understand).
Length: 47 min
Director: Zhu Yun, Liu Weifu
Panda Films contributed to this project leading cooperation between Italian star Gabriele Battaglia and the production team SDT.
We also worked as a content consultant and producer during the shooting process of the Italian episode, Seeking Chung Kuo.
Panda Films was put in charge of media relations for this film, including a comprehensive backstage story report about the production shown at the Italian screening at the Cultural Institute of the Embassy of Italy in China.