Chinese Director: “human rights” interfere with Westerners’ performances

Lauren Ruhland, 2008 MCPP intern

A decade ago, director Zhang Yimou’s films were acclaimed in the West but frequently censored in his native China. Since then, he’s fallen back into favor with the Chinese government and directed both the opening and closing ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics.  He told the Chinese press that the Beijiing ceremonies will be difficult to top by Western performers, because their pesky human rights keep getting in the way.  As reported in the Times of London, his experience with Westerners leaves him thinking them lazy and disorganized, because they aren’t willing to sacrifice themselves to the “uniformity” that “brings beauty” to his work:

“It was so troublesome,” he said. “They only work four and a half days each week. Every day there are two coffee breaks, and no-one can suffer any discomfort because of human rights.

“You couldn’t criticize them either. They all belong to organizations – some kind of institutions, unions. We do not have that. We can work very hard, and can put up with a lot of pain.

It was hard to pull out selections of Zhang’s interview, because it’s really the whole thing that’s so unnerving.

I’ve only seen one of Zhang’s films (1994’s To Live), but I thought it was a tragicomic indictment of the Cultural Revolution.  (So did China’s censors– the film was banned there.) The venue where I saw it explicitly included it because of its criticism of Chinese bureaucracy.  It was aesthetically pleasing and featured a beautiful story, but Zhang’s comments here are going to color my perspective of it forever.


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