Wary China Allows Production of Two Films Based on '37 Nanjing Massacre
Saturday, May 26, 2007
HONG KONG -- For decades, Chinese filmmakers haven't made a major feature film about one of the biggest wartime atrocities suffered by their country: the Nanjing massacre of 1937. Now two directors are preparing to make movies set against the Japanese military's brutal killings in the former Chinese capital.
Historians say that at least 150,000 civilians were slaughtered and tens of thousands of women were raped in the Japanese rampage.
Trying to tell the Nanjing story on the big screen has been hard for Hong Kong director Yim Ho and his Chinese counterpart, Lu Chuan. They have gone through tough vetting by the Chinese government that reflects the conflicting agendas of Chinese nationalism and good diplomatic relations with Japan.
Yim, a respected art-house director who made the 2001 movie "Pavilion of Women" featuring Willem Dafoe, said his script was rejected by China's Film Bureau several years ago but won approval this year on a second try.
Lu, a rising Chinese director, said the approval process for his movie, titled "Nanking Nanking," took five months.
The Chinese government's careful handling of the two movies is apparently motivated in part by the desire to maintain strong ties with economically important Japan in a year that marks two sensitive anniversaries -- the 70th anniversary of the massacre and the 35th anniversary of Sino-Japanese diplomatic ties.
Highlighting Japanese atrocities is historically important because it evokes the success of China's ruling communists, said Phil Deans, a scholar on Sino-Japanese relations at Temple University's Japan campus.
The Japanese invasion of China helped expose the failures of the then-ruling Nationalist Party, he said.
Although Chinese officials don't mind a certain level of anti-Japanese sentiment, they're worried about it getting out of control and scaring away crucial Japanese investment, or snowballing into a greater anti-government movement.
Anti-Japanese feeling over the Nanjing atrocities among the general Chinese public remains strong. Demonstrators vandalized Japanese shops and smashed windows at Japanese diplomatic offices in Shanghai and Beijing in April 2005 to protest alleged whitewashing of atrocities in Japanese textbooks.
Yim's movie may have drawn especially intense scrutiny because of its potentially international audience. It's a $35 million English-language production with Hollywood investment. The Hong Kong director's movie, called "Nanking Xmas 1937," revolves around a group of foreigners who sheltered locals from Japanese brutality.