As a famous director, playwright and photographer with China Film Group Co., Feng Xiaoning won many distinguished awards for his movies, such as The War Meridian, Red River Valley, Loverís Grief over the Yellow River, and Purple Sunset, all covering the memorable period when China was fighting against foreign invasion. As the general director of these award winning films, Feng Xiaoning also won the Huabiao award as Excellent Director, Best Playwright, Best Photographer; at the same time, he was honored for Best Stunt Techniques for the Rooster Award and Xia Yan Literature Award.
Born in XiíAn in 1954, Feng Xiaoning grew up in a teachersí family. He attended the primary school attached to the Beijing Petroleum University and the Middle School attached to the Beijing Iron & Steel Institute (later renamed as Beijing Science and Technology University). After graduating from middle school, he became a worker for a time. In 1978, as soon as China resumed its entrance examination system, Feng was able to enter Beijing Film Academy with a good record.
Here follows is an interview between a correspondent from the Guangming Daily and Feng Xiaoning:
Correspondent: Your series of anti-war films in the past decade have left people with a very deep impression, especially Purple Sunset, which was honored as best picture for the 21st Hawaii International Film Festival. However, some source reported that when this film was shown in China, many students even laughed at what they saw, which is absolutely abnormal.
Feng: It was in May last year. When it came to the scene that a Japanese solider bound a woman farmer against a tree and made her a target for his training, and her son screamed when seeing her being tortured in such a cruel way before dying, some pupils just couldnít help laughing. Even worse, such an abnormal response was aroused by some other parts of this film. Besides these naÔve pupils, some college students and graduate students also felt confused when facing such cruel scenes; they just couldnít believe Japanese soldiers could be so cruel. Some of these college students were even concerned whether such film would hurt the Japanese peopleís feeling, or would harm Sino-Japanese relations especially after Chinaís WTO entry. After seeing the movie Loverís Grief over the Yellow River, a college student once asked ďis it meaningful to shoot such bloody movies with war as its main theme nowadays?Ē But her questioning was drowned out by many angry voices, one of which came from a Korean girl, ďI think that it is not too much that we have revealed these atrocities committed by Japanese fascists, and, in fact, it is even far from adequate. We should keep on talking about it, and never ever let these crimes just slip away without any impression on our offspring.Ē As the Chinese and Korean people were both branded as colonial slaves in history, why does such a strong voice with passion and hatred only come from the Koreans, but not from Chinese? When the Purple Sunset was shown in Japan, many Japanese audiences couldnít help crying, so whatís wrong with our children?
Correspondent: In the old days, when we saw the Japanese soldiers slaughtering the Chinese people in the film called Little Soldier -- Zhang Ga, we cried and we were full of anger.
Feng: It is because our generation knew something about that period of history, so the national feeling is deeply rooted in our hearts. However, in sharp contrast, todayís children know little about our past, and that kind of national feeling that would otherwise be cherished in their heart is lost, which make us feel painful and worried. Lu Xun, a very reputed master author in China, quit his profession as a doctor and became a professional writer after seeing a movie in which, when a Chinese farmer was killed cruelly by Japanese soldiers, many of the Chinese audience laughed. Deeply hurt by peopleís numbness and indifference, Lu Xun began to use his pen to wake up those Chinese people who were lacking in basic national feelings.
Today, although our children are not grown-up, the resistance war against Japan is a common-sense knowledge that should be known by everyone, just like a person should know who is his father or grandfather. Surely, these laughing children do not represent a majority of the young in China. In some places where the movie was shown, there was nobody laughing at all. It demonstrated that even for basic education, it differs between different schools and different environments.
Correspondent: As far as you analyze, what signals have been shown in those abnormal actions mentioned above?
Feng: First of all, I think that such abnormal response is due to childrenís ignorance of the truth. Although there are history and society classes in schools, they donít have opportunity to really understand the truth involved in history. Last year, my son was going to take the college entrance examination, however he seldom performed well in his history tests. When I finally took a look at his textbook, I could not concentrate on it either. The examination required students to memorize all kinds of treaties and items precisely. Itís hard to imagine how such tedious, boring and doctrinal materials could trigger studentsí interest in history. As for low-grade students, the purpose of education is to disseminate knowledge. It is quite unnecessary to make the education material so extensive and encompassing as many aspects as possible. If our history education still goes like this, then even a high school student like my son would feel fed up with it.
High-school studentsí bad performance in history tests and college studentsí ignorance and indifference towards history mainly result from the education they received in primary school. If the resistance war against Japan is told in a boring way, then children are not willing to learn about it. History is very visual. However our textbooks have made history so static and dogmatic. Generally, children know what is the resistance war against Japan, but there is no depth that can penetrate childrenís hearts. As soon as the exam is over, nobody will care about history any longer, neither do they really understand what is a concentration camp and who were called Chinese laborers.
Japanese people altered their textbooks in order to conceal this history in front of their offspring. What surprised me is that we never changed our textbooks, but our children still donít have a clear idea of that period of history. In this regard, we are shamed to face our 35 million victims, and our ancestors.
In the movie Purple Sunset, one of the main characters is played by an 18-year-old Japanese girl. During shooting, to help her deeply understand this film and the role she plays, her mother mailed her many materials about the real history of that war. It shows that most Japanese people still respect history, and are willing to let their children become familiar with it. On the contrary, it seems that the education in China is to give children sweet dates. I understand the difficulties involved in textbook compilation, but we cannot see our children growing up and being indifferent to our sorrow-filled history. Itís not bad to give them videotapes that record truthfully Japanís invasion of China, and tell them the truth. We should not only teach our children to love, but also teach them to hate. Only when they can hate the evil can they deeply cherish those beautiful things as well as our honorable heroes. To re-tell the story of Japanís invasion and their atrocities is like vaccinating our children. Vaccination attacks a virus, and one injection will solve the problem sometimes for the entire life.
Secondly, supposing if we were children ourselves, we find another reason hiding behind their abnormal behavior. Children today are not interested in the boring textbooks, so what are interested in? The answer is electronic games. Nowadays, there are few children who have never played electronic games. When playing with their game console, they continuously kill their rivals with their own control and operation, at the same time, a kind of great feeling rises in their heart when they have conquered their enemies. In their eyes, those who killed the most are heroes. So the plot of a person being killed by another in the movie just reminds them of the game they once played, and they laugh even with a sense of achievement, which can be compared with the feeling they obtained in playing games. In other words, if the movie is about Hitlerís cruel killing of Jews, then they will still laugh.
Correspondent: Then, subconsciously, are you intending to make films with the purpose of educating people?
Feng: As far as I am concerned, everyone has the responsibility to tell their offspring the historic truth. People always ask me why I like to make anti-war movies. However, as for myself, I am just telling stories about modern history, and for China, her modern history is destined to be a history of war. Looking back on my past tenís years of movie production, I never stopped raising the same question, ďwhy should human beings kill each other?Ē As for those warmongers, if we donít keep on nailing them to historyís humiliating pillar, who can guarantee that they wonít revive one day in the future. It is very imperative for China to teach her youth generation to love life, and to do good things for their people.
(光明日报 [Guangming Daily] translated by Feng Shu for China.org.cn, July 13, 2002)