Into China

Source: Claude Roy, Into China (London: McKibbon & Kee, 1955), pp. 283-284, trans. Mervyn Savill from Clefs pour la Chine (Paris, 1953), reproduced in Jay Leyda, Dianying: An Acount of Films and the Film Audience in China (Cambridge, Mass./London: The MIT Press, 1972), p. 187

Text: In China I saw an amazing film whose beauty seemed to challenge all the esthetic rules of the game between film stock and light. For the first quarter hour in this long documentary on prostitution and its suppression, the camera did not move away from the ordinary and very distressing face of a young woman who only told her life story. A french audience probably would have been annoyed by this fifteen-minute-long passage in which the camera remains immobile and where nothing happens – except the reflection on one face of a whole destiny of humiliation and servility. I can imagine how a French audience would have sought release either in laughter, no matter how tense and nervous, or in flight from the theater. What was most moving for me in this film showing was not merely the nakedness and authenticity of the woman’s testimony, it was the attitude of the audience. The hundreds of spectators in this Chinese cinema did not give the usual impression of being spectators, of being on the other side of a mirror that stretched across this great space of a face and a life. An almost concrete link was established between them and the screen – nor was this merely uneasy curiosity or pharisaical hostility. No fear of ridicule, no enjoyment of indiscretion, no contemptuous withdrawal broke the equality between the woman who laid her burden before all of us and the “spectators” who received it without irony and without scorn – I might even say, without pity. At least without that pity which is already a judgment in its condescension. Each one felt that it could have happened to him. That is all. That is enormous.

Comments: Claude Roy (1915-1997) was a French poet, autobiographer and travel writer. The film described here is Stand up, Sisters! aka Peking Prostitutes Liberated (China 1950 d. Shih Hui).