Jia Zhangke documents acclaimed Chinese writers' rural pasts

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, September 16, 2021
Adjust font size:

Last Monday, China's preeminent director Jia Zhangke was in Beijing for the premiere of his new documentary film, "Swimming Out Till The Sea Turns Blue," which features three highly acclaimed Chinese authors looking back at their lives and sharing personal stories intertwined with various periods in the country's history.

Director Jia Zhangke and writer Yu Hua gaze upon open waters on the set of "Swimming Out Till The Sea Turns Blue" in Haiyan, Zhejiang province, July 15, 2019. The film will be released in China on Sept. 19, 2021. [Photo courtesy of Wishart Communication]

The premier was held at the National Museum of Modern Chinese Literature and attended by more than 100 writers, literary critics and scholars including award-winning writers Wang Meng, Liang Xiaosheng and Li Er. 

"Swimming Out Till The Sea Turns Blue" is divided into 18 chapters, and primarily takes its narrative threads from three Chinese writers, Jia Pingwa, Yu Hua and Liang Hong, who were born in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, respectively. The three writers relate their own personal experiences, along with descriptions of the literary worlds they created to capture the monumental shifts in China's societal landscape throughout those defining decades. Likewise, Jia also includes snippets from several other writers as well as their descendants, to present a comprehensive yet delicate historical account of the spiritual history of the Chinese people. 

"The film is not just about the countryside, nor just about the literature. The private memories of these writers are like an emotional index to each of us. We can follow their clue and finally swim into the emotional sea of each of us," Jia said. 

Director Jia Zhangke poses for a photo with his cast and crew at the premiere of "Swimming Out Till The Sea Turns Blue" held in Beijing, Sept. 13, 2021. [Photo/China.org.cn]

Incidentally, the film was originally entitled "So Close to My Land," however, Jia was inspired to rename it after hearing a story from Yu Hua. "When I was young I often stood at the water's edge, seeing the sea was the color of yellow," Yu told him, "but in textbooks, it says the sea is blue. So at one point then, when I swam in the sea here, I wanted to swim and swim on, swimming out till the sea turns blue."

According to Jia, the words reflected these writers' life experiences of growing up in China's rural areas, only to migrate to urban cities where they achieved fame and fortune. "The film contains a changing force in China, a kindest desire for life by everyone, or a kind of tenacity – even encountering many difficulties, people still insist on moving forward," Jia explained.

The film also touches on elderly residents who are left behind in rural areas while young people move to the cities in search of a better life, reflecting significant changes to the lifestyles, traditions and communities of China's countryside.

"As the element that has the deepest impact on the spiritual structure of the Chinese people, the countryside provides a foothold and historical dimension for us to understand contemporary China," Jia said, noting writers are the best messengers, and many of them were once rural children. "They observed the countryside for a long time, and have been writing about the rural stories. Many urban problems are originated from the rural areas, we need to look back to the countryside."

A poster for Jia Zhangke's new documentary film "Swimming Out Till The Sea Turns Blue." [Image courtesy of Xstream Pictures]

Given the unprecedented rate of China's growth, Jia fears anything that doesn't get documented will be lost forever. "Oral history about people who have experienced in their life is important, we can use them as a document, a kind of witness, and a kind of testimony."

"Making this film is for resolving a mystery: what people in this country have experienced," he added. 

Follow China.org.cn on Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation.
ChinaNews App Download
Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Enter the words you see:   
    Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from China.org.cnMobileRSSNewsletter