Why I Made 'Three Days in Wukan'

A filmmaker describes her motivation to document the actions of a rebellious Chinese village.
2012-03-29
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A Wukan villager scolds the camera in a YouTube screengrab from the film 'Three Days in Wukan.'
RFA

Guangzhou-based filmmaker and Zhongshan University professor Ai Xiaoming is at the cutting edge of Chinese documentary film. A veteran member of China's civil rights community, Ai has made films that expose the underground blood-selling trade in poverty-stricken Henan province, as well as the armed crackdown on a campaign by Guangdong's Taishi village to have their local Communist Party boss removed amid allegations of corruption linked to land sales. Ai's most recent feature-length film is a behind-the-scenes look at grassroots activism in China, investigating a recent rebellion by the small Guangdong fishing village of Wukan. Ai gets into the village, which is besieged by police and guarded by the villagers' own roadblocks, to find a highly organized and structured campaign by villagers to avoid bloodshed and win back their land. Wukan has since been allowed to elect former protest leaders to run the village Communist Party committee, but they have a long hard struggle ahead of them to regain land that was sold for development. Here, Ai tells RFA's Mandarin service what prompted her to film "Three Days in Wukan":

We thought, all those foreigners are getting in [to Wukan], we would be ashamed if we didn't even go there when we are already right here in [nearby] Guangzhou. So I thought, "I absolutely must try to go there at least once, come what may." I didn't go to the incident in Yueqing in Zhejiang, because it was too far. Neither did I go to Linyi in Shandong where a lot of friends have tried to visit Chen Guangcheng at his home in Dongshigu village. These places are all pretty far away. But I felt that I would be letting down documentary filmmaking as a profession if I didn't go to Wukan. So I decided to make the trip. I didn't plan a whole lot, for example the things I was going to shoot, or exactly what we must do when we got there. I just wanted to go there and take a look. I thought that I could forgive myself if I got there and was unable to get anything at all.

We did [experience some interference from the police]. The security chief at my university is still trying to catch up with me. I expect that they know that I went to the village, so they have been trying to meet with me. That's why I have turned off my cellphone. They would come to my door and leave a note every day right up until Lunar New Year, asking me not to make anything public online relating to the Wukan incident. Actually, in any incident where there is a high degree of transparency, things tend to develop in a favorable direction. If things aren't transparent, this can actually be very dangerous. Ordinary Chinese people probably don't know the truth of what went on there, they might actually have a negative image of the villagers. From the point of view of the villagers, they didn't give way in the face of a very hardline attitude on the part of the government, and they were ready to fight till the end. Of course, as everyone can now see, things actually turned out rather well. I think the government underwent a change in its thinking, and that is very meaningful.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.