Film Review of “The Beginning of the Great Revival”

Synopsis: The Beginning of the Great Revival portrays the period in China’s history starting with the Revolution of 1911 that overthrew the Qing Dynasty and ending with the founding congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921, attended by Mao Zedong and 11 other delegates. In contrast with The Founding of a Republic, which chronicled the years leading up to the 1949 declaration of the People’s Republic of China, this movie depicts a time when monarchists and warlords hold sway over the country and revolutionaries are only beginning to contend for power. The movie outlines Mao’s youth as a soldier, student, and burgeoning political leader. It shows the intellectual debates in the universities between contending schools of thought: Confucianism, philosophical pragmatism, and Marxism (the latter represented by Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao). The movie climaxes with the May 4th Movement, when patriotic Chinese students, women, and workers mobilize in mass demonstrations in Beijing against imperialism and feudalism.

“The Founding of the Party”, otherwise known as “The Beginning of the Great Revival” internationally, was produced to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. However, the international name glorifies pre-Maoist China and its present-day status as a supposed nation of wealth and power – not its socialist era.  The $12 million film includes celebrities from mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, which symbolically shows that the historical relationship between China, Taiwan, and the US is changing. It is not surprising that the US has its fat, grubby fingers involved. The US bailed out Shanghai GM in its 2009 financial crisis and now Cadillac, a General Motors subsidiary, is one of the main sponsors of the film. You would think that this pricey joint venture could do better than tack on an ending that a parrot could repeat and a senselessly long scene of a woman sitting on a boat as the founding CCP members are having their meeting. 

Students in the May 4th Movement

Despite the tasteless ending and title, the scenes from May 4th Movement are worthwhile to look at, especially for Asians in the US. Here’s a description of the May 4th Movement from a book entitled The Morning Deluge by Han Suyin (pages 66 and 72):

“The first cultural revolution of China’s twentieth century began with the May 4, 1919 movement…. This first cultural revolution was a precursor of the Communist Revolution, in which Mao Tsetung was to play such a leading role, and his political radicalization was hastened by it… Attacks on all superstition, all tradition went on throughout 1919. Intellectuals launched campaigns for social service; girls cut their hair short; free marriage was advocated; opium smoking and foot binding were denounced even in remote provinces… New books and translations, of Marxist and socialist content, were published in far larger quantities than ever before…”  

In the film, students rose up like a mighty storm. They were bold and courageous enough to confront the so-called “leaders” that sold the people out by signing the Treaty of Versailles. The confrontation was not a simple thing: a student was climbing over the estate of a representative of the government while tens of thousands of his peers were cheering him on. Just as he was about to climb down to the other side, he looked below and saw the army with their guns pointed at him.  That didn’t discourage the students though. They spoke to the army through the chain doors, persuading them to unite with the students against the traitors and imperialists.  Yeah, rub your eyes again! Those were a bunch of angry but organized, door-busting Chinese people that made their point loud and clear: the compradors will be thrown into a sea of flames.  

It was refreshing to see militant Chinese people because they are rare in the US. There are three major underlying forces that contribute to the lack of all-up-in-your-faceness: (1) feudal values that are enforced by the family; (2) the Asian American model minority myth that US society uses to divide Asians from other oppressed nationalities (and Asians buy into it, believing that they are better off than Black and Latino peoples), and (3), at the international level more recently, with China as the seemingly rising power, Chinese people may point to China as an example of rugged individualism.

Students and youth, especially those who are female, are hit the hardest by feudal values. They are not supposed to talk about politics (I’m not even going to mention getting involved with politics). They are not supposed to speak up. They are not supposed to be argumentative or confrontational. All these things are not “womanly” – whatever that’s supposed to mean. The three major forces add up during student and youth organizing in the US.  

By the time students get to college, they feel that they’ve achieved some sort of success. All they want to do is celebrate their “culture”, so they create Asian student unions to put on cultural and social events. The few progressive students might get involved in NGOs and continue to do the same thing after they graduate. But it is unusual for them to ever go beyond NGO organizing, because it would mean that they would have to challenge how they have been socialized to think and act. It would also mean that they would have to change how they relate to others: family, apolitical friends, other oppressed nationalities, and white people. With NGO organizing they are banking on the Ford Foundation to fund their work.  Would revolutionaries ask JP Morgan to fund the revolution? Did the students in the film march to the imperialists and demand that they support the May 4th Movement? These are the lessons people can take away from the film. Mao in the Revolutionary Army

Mao in the Revolutionary Army

The film depicts Mao as a goofy young man and touches on his early political life. However, it is clear by the end of the film that the filmmakers were selling an image of Mao, not the politics of Mao. It was convenient for the filmmakers to focus on Mao’s youth, because the line struggles between Mao and the revisionists were not developed or apparent at that time.

— Ah Ching

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