“Maybe being powerful means to be fragile.” – Ai Weiwei
This quote came up my mind when I was watching “University City Savages 大學城野人” at the 2nd Chinese Visual Festival in London. It’s such a high impact documentary talking about a forgotten group in South China, I have quoted the part of content from the Director WANG Bang’s website below so that you can have a better idea of her original inspiration.
In 2001, the Party Secretary of Guangdong Province in South China launched a project to build a major university City in Guangzhou. Construction began in 2003. This project, covering a total area of 17 square kilometers, was built in an area where farmers and fishermen lived . The provincial government expropriated their land, brutally evicted them and demolished their homes. There are only two small shanty towns there now, inhabited by ‘illegal’ squatters who refuse to accept the government’s meager compensation. Instead, they demand an apology and proper process of law. Some people call the squatters: The Savages.
Wang Bang’s original intention
My mom always says to me, ‘You should not waste any rice in the bowl, because the farmers are labouring and suffering to produce it!’ I really believe that, especially in China, where the farmers are the bottom-most class. If the power-holders decided to rob land from the middle class or the rich people, they know they would have to deal with many difficult circumstances: to haggle over price, to find the best deal. In Chinese, we say, ‘Before you beat the dog, you have to see the owner’s face’. But farmers are considered to be without a face, their lives perhaps worth even less than a dog.
So they deserve to be robbed, to be destroyed, to be the sacrificial lambs of the developers. The respect for the farmers has disappeared gradually after my MOM’S generation. ‘You are poor so you are nothing’: this kind of thought seems to be becoming more and more the mainstream value of the whole society. Before I was just angry about people wasting so much rice in their bowls. But after seeing the university city savages .I realized that anger is not enough. So I started to make this film in early 2005. As you have seen, this is just a simple and endless story. For the media, this is not ‘news’ and has little or no news value at all. For the majority, this is just common life, part of daily life. If we screen it on CCTV, China’s national broadcaster, I guess not many people will pay attention to really look at it. They might think, ‘Yeah, what a pity, but what are we supposed to do? This kind of thing happens everyday, everywhere…’ So after dinner when they change the channel to the fashion shows or the court drama in the Qing dynasty, they might just forget it automatically. Until one day, all of a sudden, things happen to them.
However, I believe some people will remember them forever. I will never forget them. They are our heroes, and they give us enough courage to face the darkness of the world. We appreciate their inspiration very much. I hope through this film, I have found some respect and I have given it back to the farmers.
What happens next…
On 22 November, 2009..On that day, the villagers climbed to the top of the Canton Technology University teaching building and threatened to jump off. Some fire trucks with thick mattresses, waiting for them.When some women and children needed to go to the toilet, they were caught by the police. Some students of the Fine Arts college who were taking pictures, had their cameras seized.The situation continued throughout the day. During the same time, the police continued the destruction of the huts. No one was hurt or arrested except for one villager who was taken to jail for a week.
With nowhere to live, the villagers slept on the ground outside of the University hospital. All of the squatters’ shelters were destroyed and now there is no place for them to live. It is certain that the government wanted to ‘clean up’ the area before the Asian Games, further disregarding the farmers’ claims to their land.
Food for thought
I was used to be one of those ignorant people described by Wang Bang, taking the rights and freedom I have for granted and thinking there’s nothing much I can do to change the system. However, it’s actually the first time for me to feel that close to the prosecution of dictatorship when I saw the documentary. It is so strong visually and simply speaks for itself. I was lucky enough to be able to meet the Director at the Q&A session in London but it’s sad that she need to flee from China to Hong Kong then to the United Kingdom after directing the documentary and that it can only be shown publicly outside China. I believe China can only be better when more people become aware of issues like this. If you ask me again how one can help, I’d say sharing is the most basic action to take.
Source: China/ 2009/ 88mins
Language: Cantonese, Mandarin w/ Chi & Eng subtitles
Director: WANG Bang
Song: “Never” by Blackbird (Hong Kong)
– Chinese Documentary Festival 2009(HK)
– China Independent Film Festival 2009(Nanjin)