Jia Zhangke And His Denouncer

This began with an essay by the film director Jia Zhangke (贾樟柯).

A Perplexing Incident.  By Jia Zhangke.

[in translation]

Amidst the perplexity, I was thinking:
It may be cool to let the perplexity

On January 13, 1999, I was supposed to attend a meeting at the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television.  I was 29 years old at the time, and I had not visited many government offices. On the way, my heart kept pounding.  I made some detours before I was finally able to see the white-lettered black sign of the SARFT inside a certain hutong in the East Fourth Ring.  I studied the sign carefully and I was about to enter when suddenly seven or eight middle-aged men (one of whom I knew) came out of the front door.  I stepped aside to stand by the wall and I looked at them.  The acquaintance was a certain fifth-generation master and he was hanging out with these cultured officials with arms around each others' shoulders.  Under the low hanging eaves in front of the entrance in this isolated Ming-Qing dynasty hutong, it was like olden times.  I was perplexed, because a master who was supposed to live like the gods away from mankind was somehow very much at home at a government office.

The crowd then dispersed as the fumes from the jeep of the master dissipated in the air.  In the silence of the hutong, I only blamed myself for my ignorance.  The folks at the government offices are not ghouls with green faces and fiendish fangs.  Instead, they are cultured like the aged Zhao Wen.

I entered the gate and saw that this was a vast building with a big courtyard.  The guard gave a loud shout at me and that interrupted my train of thought and heightened my nervousness.  I explained the purpose of my meeting to the guard and he gave me the directions.  I went through the corridors and then I found the office.  I knocked on the door and it was the aged Zhao Wen who came out to meet me.  Life is full of coincidences that must have been arranged by the heavens.  It turned out that he was the one who called me to set up the meeting.  Old Zhao was in no hurry to talk to me and he took me into the courtyard and told me that this was the minister Liu Luoguo's old residence.  I was reminded of Li Baotian's comedy and I laughed.

We went back into the house and sat down.  Old Zhao offered me tea.  Then he said that he had to go out for a short while and he let me wait by myself in his office.  He told me to make myself at home.  After he left, I glanced around the office like a camera.  My eyes caught a photocopied document on his desk.  The document appeared to have my name in it.  So I was as ecstatic as Jiang Kan stealing the book.  I made sure that there was no one around and I picked up the document to read.  The photocopied document is a report in Taiwan's Dachang newspaper about my movie <Xiao Wu>.  That was not surprising.  What really astonished me was that someone wrote a few lines next to the original article: "The bureau leaders should pay attention to this matter.  A movie like that cannot be allowed to affect our nation's normal cultural exchange with the outside world."

After I read those lines, I was filled with rage.  I steadied myself and I read the signature underneath the denunciation: "XX" (叉叉).  "XX" is the literary planner for the fifth-generation director that I had just seen outside.  I could not believe my eyes.  What was this to him?  We were both in the same industry, so why should he get me into trouble?  People should be kind and honest, so why say bad things about one's peers?  I was perplexed!  Perplexed!  I put the document back and I sat stunned in the seat.  I heard myself emit a long sigh and the tears came out from my heart -- not for myself but for my denouncer.  I thought about the words of Romain Rolland: "Today, I have only infinite sympathy and pity for them!"  On this, I felt that I was morally superior.

Old Zhao then returned with a smile on his face and he said: "Do you know why you were invited here?"  I said: "I know."  Old Zhao then picked up a document and announced: "As for today, Jia Zhangke will lose the right to make drama films."  Then we became silent.  Finally, Old Zhao picked up the letter of denunciation from the desk and then hit it hard against the desk.  He sighed: "We don't want to sanction you.  But it was your peer and your senior who has denounced you."

I left the office in a daze with the document that contained the decision against me.  I walked down the hutong that was divided by the sun into brightness and darkness!  People are so mysterious and complicated to understand.  Amidst the perplexity, I was thinking: It may be cool to let the perplexity stay.

(yWeekend)  Who "Framed" Jia Zhangke?  By Lu Yuan (吕媛)  June 7, 2007.

After "the affair of the denunciation" was disclosed, some people thought that Jia Zhangke may not have been a perfect gentleman when he peeked sneakily into the document and discovered the identity of his denouncer.  But more people were interested in the identity of that denouncer.

When this reporter went to the Soho Mini-Report web page, she found out that <A Perplexing Incident> was published on May 9 under the signature of Jia Zhangke himself.

When Soho Mini-Report editor Li Nan was contacted, she said: "This case was very simple.  I asked Jia Zhangke to contribute an article."  According to Li Nan, Soho Mini-Report has a special theme each week.  For that particular week, the theme was "Perplexity."  "We had worked with director Jia Zhangke before and he has written articles for us before.  So this was not our first collaboration and it was easy to communicate.  At the time, I said : We had such a theme and we hoped that you can help by contributing an article.  You can write anything as long as it is about 'perplexity.'  It can be about your personal experience or the film industry or you can just ignore movies altogether and deal with society as a whole."

After receiving the article, Li Nan said: "We published the original article of Jia Zhangke.  The editor did not add or delete anything.  We definitely do not edit anything related to factual incidents.  He was able to write what he thought."  As for the "XX" that was mentioned in the article, did the editors did anything to conceal the real name?  Li Nan replied: "Jia Zhangke wrote down 'XX.'  I understand that he decided not to write down the real name."

Zhang Xianmin is a professor in the Department of Literature of the Beijing Film Academy.  In the December 2002 issue of Phoenix Weekly, he published the essay <The History of Film Censorship in China after 1990>.  The article mentioned that Jia Zhangke had been banned from making films by SARFT.  So who denounced Jia Zhangke back then?  Zhang Xianmin said: "We all know who it was.  But it is best for you to ask the principal directly.  At the time, the SARFT leaders in charge were Wang Gengnian and Wu Ke.  Wang Gengnian is now the director of China Radio International while Wu Ke is the deputy director of a certain center within SARFT.  They were the principals."

"Actually, incidents in which SARFT sought to talk to directors are not isolated.  This is not the exclusive rights of the older generations.  The fourth and fifth generations also encountered these situations.  The denouncer may have done so for certain personal interests, but you should ask the principals about the details."

In Zhang Xianmin's essay <The History of Film Censorship in China after 1990>, the relevant explanation of the ban on Jia Zhangke was: "Since the affair of the seven gentlemen, the relevant departments issued documents to criticize certain individuals periodically, even to the point of banning them from making films for a certain number of years.  Jiang Wen, Jia Zhangke and others had the experience.  Jia Zhangke got banned as a result of the movie <Xiao Wu>.  <Xiao Wu> was a hastily made film, and Jia Zhangke treated the more ambitious <The Platform> as his film debut.  When Jia Zhangke was writing the script for that movie, he thought that it would be meaningless if it could not be exhibited inside China."

"Because of <Xiao Wu>, the official production organizations in China were interested in Jia Zhangke.  Furthermore, Jia Zhangke procured his own financing, so that the production company did not have to invest any money.  The Shanghai Film Production Company became his partner.  Their literary planning department revised the script repeatedly with Jia Zhangke.  Jia Zhangke also contacted various experts and asked his friends to contact other people for feedback.  The Shanghai Film Production Company tried very hard with their contacts and finally submitted a script that they considered to be very clean for review.  They asked the superiors to rescind the previous ban order on Jia Zhangke."

"During the period, the supervisory department called Jia Zhangke several times and asked him to come in to write self-criticisms and guarantees.  This process went on for about two years until Jia Zhangke decided that he had to make this film.  He went ahead to do it by himself, and so <The Platform> is a banned film.  Later, when he wrote the script for <Free At Will>, he did not even show the script to the relevant department for review ..."

Zhang Xianmin had said: "We all know who made the denunciation."  So the reporter called up another sixth generation director Wang Xiaoshuai who had also been banned.

Q: Have you heard about the matter of Jia Zhangke being denounced back then?
A: No.  I don't know about it.  Who wrote the article?

Q: It was Jia Zhangke himself.  Right now, there is a columnist who says that the denouncer is fifth generation director Zhang Yimou's literary planner Wang Bin.
A: Hmmm ... in my movie industry experience, all the fifth generation directors such as Tian Zhuangzhuang, Kaige, Yimou, including Wang Bin ... we are all very good friends.  Wang Bin has been particularly helpful to me, because he helped me script <The Dream Country Garden>.  From my point of view, they have all been helpful to me.  I don't understand what you are telling me.

Q: From your personal viewpoint, could Wang Bin have done this?
A: First, I have not read what Little Jia wrote.  I can only say that if his article did not spell out a specific name, then there is no need for outsiders to speculate.  Each of us should have a good motive.  Anyway, I will not speak from a skeptical position.

Q: When your film was banned, were you told why?
A: The reason that was given was somewhat abstract.  At the time, the Berlin Film Festival was getting close.  The investors put in the money and looked for returns.  So we entered the Berlin Film Festival.  Since the timing was tight, there was a misunderstanding.  Everything is resolved now.  At the time, we were at a stage when planned economy was making a transition to the market economy.  Therefore, (the type of banning) is what the directors of our generation were bound to go through."

Hu Qiming is the producer of the movie <Curiosity Kills The Cat> and he knows many film directors.  When the reporter posed this puzzle to him, he said that he had not read the report.  When the subject came to the literary planner of a fifth generation master, Hu Qiming's reaction was: "Is that Wang Bin?"

"I feel that directors like Wang Xiaoshuai and Jia Zhangke do not know how to communicate.  Actually, the present SARFT leaders are easy to deal with.  The key is to communicate.  You have to let them have their say.  They are often just relaying the message.  When their bosses come down on them, they need to make a persuasive case."  Hu Qiming said, "Therefore, communication is a good method.  If you won't communicate, then misunderstandings arise.  In the movie <The Sky Tower>, the subject was about human communications.  In our movie <Curiosity Kills the Cat>, the passionate scene between Carina Lau and the security person had too much body contact and it was supposed to be excised.  We went to see the bureau chief and said: If we did that, the plot would be broken and the ending cannot be done.  The bureau chief used to be a scriptwriter and he was open-minded.  He let us add it back in."

Who Is "Framing" Wang Bin?  By Wang Huan (王媛).  June 7, 2007.

Jia Zhangke pointed out that the person who framed him was the literary planner for a fifth generation master director.  Based upon the analysis of Wang Xiaoshan, "this person is the official literary planner Wang Bin for Zhang Yimou."  With respect to this, Wang Bin was emotionally worked up over the telephone: "I never imagined that this kind of dispute would end up being an attack on me!"

In his blog, Wang Bin wrote that media workers had been bothering him recently to ask whether he had denounced Jia Zhangke.  Wang Bin told the reporters that this affair bothered him greatly.  "When Jia Zhangke wrote the article <A Perplexing Incident> in Soho Mini-Report, it is impossible for people not to target me.  First, he said that the person who denounced him was '"XX"' (note: which can be taken to be 'XX') and so the person has a two-word name.  Secondly, he wrote: 'the literary planner for a fifth generation master.'  We note that there are not many literary planners for fifth generation masters and I am one of them.  When I read it, I did not want to respond because Jia Zhangke did not name me and I don't want people to think that I want to hype this.  I just want to put a stop to this by not saying anything.

Who would imagine that two days later, Wang Bin was finally enraged by a telephone call: "One day, a reporter told me that a columnist named Wang Bin at Southern Metropolis Daily wrote in an essay that the 'XX' in Jia Zhangke's <A Perplexing Incident> was Wang Bin.  Frankly speaking, I was very angry at the time.  If Wang Xiaoshan is doing this because he was morally outraged, I can understand.  Otherwise, I think that he is just trying to sow discord.  I checked out Wang Xiaoshan and I saw that he used to be a reporter.  Reporters should have a basic respect for the facts.  Why couldn't he just call me and ask?  I also found an earlier piece on the Internet, in which a reporter called up Wang Xiaoshan to ask: 'Who is the person that Jia Zhangke said made the denunciation?'  Wang Xiaoshan laughed when he heard that and said: 'The literary planner for the fifth generation director is Wang Bin.  The masters of the fifth generation are Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige.  Everybody knows that Chen Kaige does not use a literary planner.  Therefore it is Wang Bin for sure.'  Actually, he did not know that Chen Kaige did have a literary planner.  He was not well known, but his family name was also Wang and his given name also consists of one character."  Wang Bin believes that there was no basis to make that deduction. 

After this affair became public, Wang Bin has been analyzing it.  A netizen left a comment for him to ask whether Jia Zhangke's article is a blend of truth and fiction?  Wang Bin had similar doubts: "Why the coincidence?  He (=Jia Zhangke) encountered the fifth generation director at the front gate.  Afterwards, he saw this letter of denunciation and the signature was the literary planner of the fifth generation director that he had just seen.  If this was fictional, Jia Zhangke should state that this is a fictional story so that people would not misunderstand.  But when he was interviewed, he explained: 'This was an occasional piece not directed at any particular person.'"

"The article by Jia Zhangke has damaged me.  Shouldn't he explain?  Doesn't he need to tell us who wrote the letter of denunciation?  I have met Jia Zhangke but we have not communicated.  I am asking now for him to make a statement for justice, because only he can clarify this matter.  Here are the good reasons why he should speak out: First, he has let us seen that there has been some awful things happening in our circle and this can warn others; secondly, the movie industry can drawn some lessons from this incident, because many people are looking at this farce among the people in the Chinese movie industry."

Even as Wang Bin clarified that he had not made the denunciation, he also "offered advice" on investigating this affair.  He said: "Jia Zhangke said that he saw the handwritten opinion of the denouncer.  Then it should be easy to investigate whether I did it or not.  SARFT must have a copy of this report in its files.  If SARFT cannot tell the name of the denouncer, then they should at least tell people that Wang Bin was not the denouncer.  It is necessary to eradicate this culture of denunciation and to make the informants feel ashamed."

Concerning Jia Zhangke's <Xiao Wu>, Wang Bin admitted that he did not have a high opinion of this movie and Jia Zhangke should know about those views.

"At the time, a chief editor from the French <Cahiers du Cinema> had written a long essay in praise of <Xiao Wu>.  He came to Beijing at one time and the interpreter for this chief editor called me up to say that the chief editor wanted to chat about contemporary Chinese films and culture.  I chatted with him for more than two hours.  During those two plus hours, 80% of the time was spent on discussion Jia Zhangke's <Xiao Wu>.  We held a vigorous debate."

Wang Bin said that his views of <Xiao Wu> were: There is no problem with a movie being concerned with the lives of ordinary people and the narrative has many good features.  But he disagreed with the high opinion of the chief editor towards the movie.  An important reason for the disagreement was this: in the movie, the bicycle thief was forced by fate to steal bicycles, but Wang Bin did not see how the present fate was being forced upon the bicycle thief.  He believes that the film had insufficient social depth and personal depth and it also lacked a critical stance against bicycle thieves.  Therefore, he had a vigorous debate with the chief editor.

Although Wang Bin did not have a high opinion about <Xiao Wu>, he said that he would never denounce it to the SARFT.  When he was younger, he had also been denounced by others.  "Back during the initial days of the reforms, I wrote an essay that someone thought had gone off the track.  So someone wrote a letter to the Ministry of Culture.  The leader at the Ministry of Culture read the letter of denunciation and criticized me sternly."  Wang Bin continued: "Since I had been framed by a denouncer, I hate such people now.  So how could I do anything like that?  Actually, Zhang Yimou's movies had been denounced numerous times even though he does not speak about that.  <To Live> is a typical example.  After someone denounced it to SARFT, <To Live> is still banned even today.  We do not know who these denouncers are or what they were thinking about.  But Jia Zhangke's <Xiao Wu> was a flop back then and so it is strange that anyone would denounce it.  If there was a denunciation, then I suspect that it came from someone of his own generation."

So who "framed" Wang Bin?  When the reporter posed this last question to Wang Bin, he said without hesitation: "That person named Wang Xiaoshan!"  According to Wang Bin, he had never dealt with Wang Xiaoshan before, they have never crossed each other's paths in business or personal lives and he does not even know who Wang Xiaoshan is.  "Wang Xiaoshan has read <A Perplexing Incident>.  The person who made that denunciation has done a terrible thing.  This person named Wang Xiaoshan held me responsible for that evil deed.  I find it unacceptable."  Wang Bin said: "I have asked a lawyer to send a letter to Southern Metropolitan Daily about this Wang Xiaoshan who libeled me.  I want him apologize publicly to me.  If he apologizes, then everything is cool.  I am not the type to bear a grudge forever and I will not pursue this any further.  If he refuses to apologize, then I will use all legal means to restore my innocence.  This affair has caused too much damage to my reputation."

Media worker Wang Xiaoshan wrote in his Southern Metropolis Daily column that the "XX" in Jia Zhangke's <A Perplexing Incident> was the literary planner Wang Bin for Zhang Yimou.

When a certain reporter contacted Wang Xiaoshan, he laughed and said that it was easy to solve Jia Zhangke's puzzle: "There are only two fifth generation masters: Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige.  Since Chen Kaige does not have a literary planner, only one person remains."

When Wang Bin was interviewed, he said that Wang Xiaoshan framed him.  The reporter then called Wang Xiaoshan, who declined to be interviewed.  He only said, "When I wrote my article, I had no ulterior motive."  He said that he will not comment on this matter.  However, Wang Xiaoshan admitted that he has received a lawyer's letter and was ready to "meet in court."  Finally he said, "it will be cleared up immediately in court whether the evidence is there."