Chinese authorities have threatened to arrest independent filmmaker Ying Liang if he returns to China. From what Tokyo-based Malaysian filmmaker Edmund Yeo has been able to glean from Ying’s Facebook updates (and thanks to the New Yorker‘s Richard Brody for the tip), authorities illegally obtained a copy of Ying’s screenplay for his current project and they are not happy with what they’ve seen. They’ve evidently been harassing Ying’s parents in Shanghai and his wife’s family in Sichuan and have tried to buy the rights to the film, part of this year’s Jeonju Digital Project—Ying, who’s run the Chongqing Independent Film and Video Festival and has won several awards at dozens of festivals, has been invited along with Filipino director Raya Martin and Sri Lankan director Vimukti Jayasundara.
According to Edmund Yeo, this project, When Night Falls, is “possibly a fictionalized (?) account about the case of Yang Jia (a guy who got executed in 2008 for murdering six policemen with a knife in a Shanghai police station after being arrested and beaten for riding an unlicensed bicycle. Mr. Yang became a hero among many Chinese…).” The film also focuses on Yang’s mother, “who disappeared after being taken to the police station for questioning prior to her son’s trial, and, well, reappeared months later in a psychiatric hospital with a different name.”
Yeo has more, including Ying’s letter to his parents, urging them to resist the authorities and support his struggle for his rights. Noting that we can follow Ying on Twitter, he adds, “I don’t know what will happen next. Hang in there, Ying Liang.”
This is happening at an extraordinary time in the history of contemporary China. “Some observers have argued that the dismissal of Bo Xilai, the party secretary of Chongqing, is the most important political event in China since 1989,” notes Wang Hui in the current issue of the London Review of Books. And then, hot on the heels of that scandal, civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng escaped from house arrest and fled to the US Embassy in Beijing, setting off an international diplomatic scramble. At the moment, it looks as if a deal may have been reached which would allow Chen and his family to travel to the United States, but as Evan Osnos says in the New Yorker‘s most recent Political Scene podcast, “In a sense, you have these two almost once-a-decade political dramas, and they’ve just happened back to back. And so, the government is reeling, frankly. It’s overwhelmed by trying to manage public opinion, trying to suppress all this discussion from the Internet, and then also, of course, trying to manage its own house. Behind each of these issues… are intense political struggles. They’re less ideological than they are personal.”
Which makes the situation for those like Ying Liang who have fallen out of favor all the more volatile.
Update, 5/7: The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody writes today that “Ying has a seemingly instinctive eye for incisive angles—there’s something amazingly relaxed and spontaneous about his cannily expressive compositions—as well as a naturally analytical grasp of revealing situations and moments. His stories are straightforward and simple, but they make contact with the most sensitive points of Chinese life, which he views with a quiet, stoic, almost ironic outrage—until his narratives burst forth with grand-scale catastrophes (filmed documentary-style, on scant budgets). His apocalyptic imagination has an inescapably sociopolitical and gloriously metaphorical dimension. I’ve written in the magazine about his first three features (Taking Father Home, The Other Half [watch it here on Fandor], and Good Cats), as well as his short film Condolences and, for that matter, about Ying himself, whom I met when he came to town in 2009.” Further in, he adds that “Ying Liang tweeted yesterday that he’s teaching in Hong Kong and added, ‘my family are ok.'”