Storm under the Sun
Producer: S. Louisa Wei, Peng Xiaolian
Writer/Director: Peng Xiaolian, S. Louisa Wei
Editor: S. Louisa Wei, Dong Ran
Camera: S. Louisa Wei, Peng Xiaolian, Dong Ran, Jong Lin, Situ Zhixia
Art Direction: Max Willis
Animation: Max Willis, Zhang Shuyi, Karen McCann, Chen Lei, Siu-tan Fong
Composer: Robert Ellis-Geiger
Sound Design: Charles C. W. Chan
Package Design: Chen Lei
Production Manager: Wifried B. Lu
Editing Consultant: Robert C. Jones, Patrick Tam, Jimmy Choi, Situ Zhaodun
Running Time: 137 minutes
Screening Formats: BetaSP, DVD
World Distribution: Blue Queen Cultural Communication Ltd.
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This is the first feature documentary concerning Mao’s purge of writers and focuses on the 1955 Anti-Hu Feng Campaign, where set a precedent for larger scale and better known persecution of intellectuals in 1957 (Anti-Rightist Campaign). The film’s intriguing plot spans the period from 1929 to 2009 and offers an in-depth look at the tumultuous changes in recent Chinese history. The film’s first English version was made in 2007 and is 156 minutes long. A newly revised 139-minute version is currently available in both English and Chinese. At the request of a Japanese sinologist and NHK, a Japanese version, which runs 20 minutes longer than the 2009 version and includes interviews with four Japanese sinologists, was completed in 2012. It will be screened in Tokyo in December 2012.
While alive, Chairman Mao Zedong was looked upon as “the Red Sun” in China. Many regarded him as the “God” who saved the Chinese people from years of war and suffering, while remaining ignorant of that fact that his god-like position was achieved in part by destroying the autonomy of Chinese intellectuals through the implementation of a series of violent and tumultuous political campaigns. Storm under the Sun follows the persecution of Hu Feng, a renowned writer and literary theorist of the 1930s who founded the magazines July and Hope and nurtured a generation of talented poets and writers. Hu Feng was the first intellectual to be singled and directly condemned by Mao. He suffered several rounds of harsh criticisms from 1944 to 1955, followed by 24 years of imprisonment. Mao personally initiated the “Anti Hu Feng Counter-Revolutionary Group Campaign” in May 1955, which resulted in the imprisonment of 78 Chinese intellectuals, mostly poets and writers, and led to the incrimination of more than 2,100 people. This documentary is the first to revisit these events after half a century, inviting survivors of the “storm” to reveal the cruel truths that lie beneath China’s official history.
On March 17, 1967, poet Ah Long died in prison of bone marrow cancer. On April 2, 1968, my father Peng Boshan was whipped to death by the Red Guards.
The two men never met each other and had no connection. Being involved in the same case, they both died for being members of the “Hu Feng Counterrevolutionary Clique.”
In those years, death was a daily matter. Even when facing my father’s death, As a 14 year-old, I seemed quite rational. I do not know how we were so “strong.” Many years later, after I had studied and lived in New York for seven years, I began to learn about the value of a human being and to realize the meaning of family and the importance of my father to me. Looking back, it is shocking that I was once so “strong.” We were brainwashed to the extent that we did not value our lives. I had the urge to reflect upon the past. This is perhaps my initial motivation to make Storm under the Sun with S. Louisa Wei.
by Peng Xiaolian
During the past five years, I have witnessed the damages of the Hu Feng Incident on the families involved in the Case. I have gradually come to understand why my parents wanted to keep me away from the arts: in China, art has often been crushed by politics. Storm under the Sun, through its archival footages and creative materials, aims not only to present the cause and effect of a significant historical event, but to document stories of these families on the margin of history.
by S. Louisa Wei
View the Film
Duration: 136 minutes | Aspect Ratio: 16:9 |
Language: Chinese, English | Subtitles in Chinese & English
Festival and Forum Screenings
Official Selection, International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, The Netherland, December 7, 2007
Official Selection, The 33rd Hong Kong International Film Festival, Hong Kong, March 31 and April 5, 2009
Official Selection, Chinese Film Festival, Nottingham, UK, January 2010
Forum Screening, Chinese Documentary Special Series, Michigan, USA, October 2010
Forum Screening, Chinese Film Conference, University of South Carolina, USA, October 19, 2012
Forum Screening, The Fringe Festival, Shenzhen, China, December 12, 2012
Forum Screening, School of Marxist Studies, Renmin University of China, Beijing, March 5-19, 2014
Official Selection, AAS Film Expo, Philadelphia, USA, March 27, 2014
Forum Screening, Hong Kong Independent Writer’s Society, June 7, 2014
Special Screening, “Literary Dissent under the Chinese Communists: The Hu Feng Affair”—an event organized by The English Pen and Verso (publisher), London School of Economics and Political Science, UK, November 6, 2014
Zhang Longxi, Chair Professor, Comparative Literature, City University of Hong Kong
The Chairman versus a writer—one may wonder why the all-powerful would take an almost personal interest in crushing the brittle bones of the powerless. With numerous interviews, witness testimonials, and a compelling narrative based on painstaking research, this well-made documentary retraces the horrible process of the condemnation of Hu Feng and his “anti-Party and counter-revolutionary clique,” and brings us to the realization that the first large-scale persecution of writers in Mao’s New China has far-reaching significance and ramifications that form part of the recent history from whose shadow China and the Chinese today are trying very hard to step out. What S. Louisa Wei and Peng Xiaolian have done is truly important, because much of the recent history needs to be preserved and told, particularly when the power to be still chooses to repress the reality of history.
Jon Eugene von Kowallis, Head of Chinese Studies, The University of New South Wales, Australia
Xiaolian Peng and S. Louisa Wei have done world-class investigative journalism in producing a remarkable state-of-the-art documentary which provides not only the first general introduction to the Hu Feng case, the most important purge of a writer and his literary associates in modern China’s history, but also a tantalizing first glimpse for international audiences into the exciting new movement in underground documentary filmmaking going on now behind the scenes in China.
The English version of this documentary is a multilingual film narrated in English but with the original soundtrack of clearly subtitled interviews offers an exciting and accessible chance for students, scholars and the general public alike to share that clarity of perspective. The blend of graphics and archival footage is particularly effective. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in China.
Yingjin Zhang, Professor of Literature, University of California, San Diego, USA
A moving documentary featuring rare footage and perceptive analysis, Storm under the Sun revisits a dark page in socialist China that would become symptomatic of all political persecutions in Mao’s years. Hu Feng, a courageous literary critic from the 1930s, was classified as the head of an anti-Communist clique in the 1950s; he and his friends were arrested and imprisoned—many of them for decades—without due legal procedures. S. Louisa Wei and Peng Xiaolian deserve credit for providing us with a clear historical perspective and vivid eyewitness accounts on this still sensitive subject, and her skillful integration of historical footage (e.g., a smiling Mao hitting at a punch bag), interviews with survivors (e.g., Jia Zhifang), and animated sequences made this documentary a fascinating narrative as well as an effective audiovisual aid in teaching Mao’s China in a variety of disciplines such as history, sociology, political science and literature.
Stefan Landsberger, Professor of Chinese Language & Culture, Leiden University, University of Amsterdam
By revisiting and interviewing the surviving members of the so-called Hu Feng clique, by painstakingly compiling and quoting archival and visual materials, the film brilliantly follows the build-up of the campaign, all the way to the end, when Mao died, the Cultural Revolution ended and the prosecuted were rehabilitated after more than twenty years of incarceration or labor camp. It provides us with an insight in the mechanisms of ideological campaigning during the Maoist high tide. Gaining access to the survivors was helped, of course, by the fact that Peng Xiaolian’s father was one of the targets of the anti-Hu Feng campaign who did not survive the ordeal.
Storm under the Sun is a timely visual document of the inner mechanisms of the Chinese Communist Party during the period that many, both inside and out of China, see as the “golden years”. It is timely, because even during the production process, many former members of the Hu Feng coterie died of old age. Had this movie been produced ten years later, no eyewitness accounts would have been available. And it is precisely the directness of the memories of the participants that lends the documentary its vividness and urgency, which sheds light on the victims’ wretched fates and perseverance in the eye of adversity. At the same time, Storm under the Sun leaves us with many questions. How can people who have suffered so much laugh so easily about their ordeals? How can these victims of historical circumstances continue to support a political system that has destroyed their lives and those of their descendants? Why didn’t they leave China as soon as the opportunity arose?
To understand the present, one must know the past. Contemporary China, with its high-rise buildings, conspicuous consumption, grid-locked traffic and migrant workers, emerged from an era when ideological conformity, political purity and revolutionary hope and enthusiasm reigned supreme. By addressing an almost forgotten event in history, Storm under the Sun takes us back to that time that seems simpler, but was not less fraught with risk than the present.
Shelly Kraicer, Film Critic, Curator for Vancouver International Film Festival
I am very impressed with and moved by Storm under the Sun. It’s a fascinating document, and a powerful memorial, an essential educational resource, and a truly brave insertion in the debate about China’s relationship to its (buried) history. And it’s a powerful and defiant step in the essential political and cultural project of China recovering that history that it has officially denied. Without filmmakers (and historians and writers and other culture workers) doing the kind of work Xiaolian Peng and S. Louisa Wei are doing, China’s present will never be able to turn into the future it and its people need and deserve.
The film is really a massive task that the two directors have undertaken: to find the people, get them to talk, organize the material, then create an innovative work of cinema around it. I was moved by the people the filmmakers found, and the way they managed to get them to talk, openly, utterly honestly, and with a kind of relish of the rich life they lived, and a mourning for what they lost. There is so much material to digest, and individual takes on this historical event (which is, after all, a collection of individual experiences, not just an abstract theoretical-political campaign), so the time the directors give individuals to articulate, with their own voices, is essential.
Storm under the Sun is striking in its bold formal/structural innovations. Its animations and use of music contribute a level of irony, of satiric lightness that cuts against the tendency to accumulate a gloomy, pessimistic mood of mourning and despair.
Arthur Jones, Film Critic, Correspondent for Variety
For me, it is refreshing to see a rich, political story told in all its complexity, without simplifying the history for some imagined audience. Too many films these days seem to water down their content to make sure everyone understands what is going on. I suppose that means the audience will be more niche and specialized, but I don’t think that matters. The story of this remarkable group of intellectuals, writers, thinkers and journalists trapped in the political shenanigans and childish games of the ruling over-class is truly heartrending. I believe that what happened in those times is important for both Chinese and international audiences to acknowledge.
The use of archive – so often poorly done in documentaries – was inspired. The lightness of touch gave the film a real soul and sense of time. I was particularly tickled by the anti-Hu Feng cartoons: so bizarre and sinister, with their warped humor. Storm under the Sun is a thoroughly moving and rigorously intellectual examination of a hugely difficult and complicated subject.
MEDIA REVIEWS & REPORTAGES
Michiel Hulshot, “Interview with Xiaolian Peng: Dit onrecht mag niet worden vergeten” in Vrij Nederland (Holland), 24 November 2007.
Sabastian Veg, “Storm under the Sun: A Film by Peng Xiaolian and S. Louisa Wei” in China Quarterly (USA), 198, June 2009, pp. 486-8. (pp. 61-63)
Silvia Calamandrei, “Tempesta sotto il sole” in Lo Straniero, July 2009. (Italy)
Michael Berry, “Storm under the Sun (Hongri Feng Bao)” in The Moving Image (Australia), 10:1 (2010), pp.162-3. (pp. 64-65)
Finn Hultin, “Kampanjen mot Hu Feng” in Orientaliska Studier (Sweden), No. 134, 2013, pp. 62-92.
Ian Aitken and Mike Ingraham, “Storm under the Sun” within “Chapter 7—Significant Independent Documentary Films” in Hong Kong Documentary Film. Edinburgh UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2014, pp. 215-9. (pp. 66-69)