The East State Wind Farm (China, 2009)

The East State Wind Farm,​ a documentary using interviews as primary sources, interspersed with animated sequence, continues Hu Jie’s mission to expose the horrors and lasting legacy of Maoist China. In this entry, the testimony of Chinese citizens, some exiled and some apparently still living in China, who were imprisoned in a state-run agricultural farm serves as primary evidence. Roughly, the farm went through two stages: the late 1950s through the 1960s when mostly well-educated party members and professionals were labeled as “Rightists,” and the early 1970s when “send-down youth” were included in the mix of those framed by the state as problematic.

For students and scholars of 20th century China, this documentary is invaluable. The first analytical task is to unpack the fraud that those singled out, removed from their lives and jobs were actually “Rightists.” The collective testimony of the former “Rightists” offers first-hand evidence of Maoist practice as ideologically empty, chaotic and without principle or real plan for state-building. The process for identifying “Rightists” was merely a show trial-like purge of party loyalists. Hu’s perspective, and what he uncovers in practice, is consistent with the general theory of leftist revolution, that the early stages of Marxism required authoritarian tyranny, at least temporarily. Yet, the documentation of decades of practice shows very perseverance of this competence that lasted almost two decades until the death of Mao in 1976.

Students of politics would benefit from synthesizing this film with other sources to further understand that traditional leftist movements and revolutions often start with, or descend into, authoritarianism. Therein, the Maoist/Chinese model of Communist, like its Stalinist/Russian counterpart, was not so much a break with the Jacobin model of revolution but a not-so-distant cousin. The term of derision, “Rightist,” placed on the farm victims raises the further issue of how in practice the Chinese Revolution created such an illogical spectrum of ideology without principle. To follow the twisted logic of the Maoists, framing some loyal to their cause as “Rightists,” threats to a people’s movement, advanced their development of the state, making examples of them for the rest of the party and society. The invention of a crude hierarchy dividing “Rightists” from “Mid-rightists,” creates an even more quixotic spectrum.

Critical examination of the authoritarianism of the left therein points to a meeting of a the far left with revolutions that actually were rightists, fascism and Nazism, for the result was the same, tyranny and terrorism of one’s own nation by means of official organs of the state. Furthermore, Hu’s subjects present no evidence that the “Rightists” sought to undermine the Chinese Community Party. The “Rightists” were actually doctors, teachers, and veterans of the struggle, a struggle to which many professed loyalty. Therein, these interview as primary evidence points not to a credible Communist ideology but crude and incompetent methods of divide and conquer in place of any professed people’s movement. In particular, Hu’s interview with Headmaster Yang, headmaster of one of the elementary schools on the East State Wind Farm, is perhaps the most damning evidence of the sadism within the ranks of leadership, and one can only cringe at Yang’s excitement in playing the victims of the farms against each other.

To the victims their experiences are akin to that of slaves or survivors of concentrations camps. Rather than the typical route of filming reconstructions of past events, Hu employs black ink drawings, jerkily animated to convey the horrors from a first person perspective of the victims, a technique that is devastatingly effective without the need to shock the audience with the vividly grotesque. The animated sequences presents a dichotomy between the dystopic reality, as evidenced by the interviews, and the utopic and romantic imagery and music of the state propaganda campaign, clips of which are also interspersed in the documentary.

At least among some survivors, feelings of victimhood are nuanced by a genuine sense of belonging, either through the facade of struggle or the shared trauma of the “Rightist” experience. The opening scenes of the film, the reciting of patriotic songs by a former “Rightist,” speaks to this point. There’s also some regret. A former head of the farm honestly rational to the point of regret about this chapter of history. The varied narratives add weight to the ethos of Hu’s effort in searching for truth and not merely dissent or controversy (Hu’s films are banned in China).

The value of The East Wind State Farm for students and academics of Chinese history, social science, and psychology is immense. It’s the intersection of documentary and qualitative research, and the art of constructing a film under less than ideal conditions, not to mention sheer political courage. Students of media and journalism will take note of how the rhetoric of the state compares to the evidence. Studies that pull the facade off of grandiose ideologies to expose the propaganda machines that supports them are essential. Authoritarianism is the commonality that fills the hollow centers of the extreme left and right, true of both east and west.

The East State Wind Farm is available as part of the dGenerate Films Collection from Icarus Films.