Morning Sun | Reviews

Tony Rayns, Sight and Sound:

Nobody will ever fully understand what happened in China's Cultural Revolution, the decade-long upheaval that plunged the world's most populous country into chaos and reduced a billion people's culture to one little red book and eight "model revolutionary works." The politics of it are clear enough: it was sparked deliberately by Mao Zedong as a means of toppling his supposedly right-wing enemies in the communist party and reclaiming full power for himself. But the forces it unleashed were beyond anyone's expectations and beyond the rest of the world's comprehension. All teenage urban school kids were encouraged to devote themselves blindly to Mao by rebelling against all other authority figures. Mao likened these kids, who ran out of control for nearly three years, to the "morning sun."

Carma Hinton and her colleagues (directors of the brilliant Gate of Heavenly Peace , on the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre) don't pretend to "explain" the Cultural Revolution, but do make a huge contribution to our understanding of what was going on in the minds of those teenage Red Guards. They trace the impulse to rebel back to various pop-culture favourites (including the novel Monkey , which glorifies disobedience, and a Russian adaptation of the English Victorian novel The Gadfly , in which a son turns against his "bad father"). They show previously unseen documentary footage of Red Guards destroying "feudal" relics shot by Zhao Likui. They interview people who have never spoken on the record before, such as Liu Shaoqi's widow and daughter and the Red Guard leader Luo Xiaohai. And they assemble all of this material with such intelligence and precision that they illuminate an entire period in modern Chinese history with a clarity never seen before.

 

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