Film series focuses on revolutionary China

“Work hard and one day machines will do all the work,” a skinny man in simple clothes screams to a crowd of workers with the Chinese Communist flag as his backdrop.

“Gate Number Six” was the first rare film screened in the Revolutionary China film series sponsored by the Asian Studies department Tuesday afternoon in the Social Work Auditorium.

“There’s a lot of revolutionary enthusiasm shown here,” said Janet Thiess, professor of Chinese history.

Movies made by Communist China in the 1950s are heavily indoctrinated with propaganda and as such have been largely ignored by film students.

But Greg Lewis, a professor of Chinese at Weber State University, has been helping translate subtitles for these movies and allowing Asian Studies students to discover them anew.

“I thought it was pretty funny,” said Josh Davis, a medical laboratory science major, of the film’s blunt messages. Soon after defeating Nationalist armies led by Chiang Kai-Shek, Chairman Mao Tse-Tung and other party leaders encouraged the formation of film studios to tell the stories of their recent victory.

These early studios were training grounds for some of China’s most talented actors and directors. Although made for propaganda purposes, films like “Gate Number Six” received critical as well as popular acclaim.

Thiess enjoys showing the films to students to help them understand the mentality and values of Chinese revolutionaries.

“These were the kind of films shown in movie theaters in the 1950s,” she said.

The film’s title, “Gate Number Six” refers to a dock where workers fought back against the oppression of their mobster bosses until they were liberated by the Communist army.

The opening shot is several men pulling three towering stacks of corn bags on small carts with ropes. The music is a folk song about strenuous forced labor. The camera emphasizes their pain, sweat and hunger.

At the end of the movie, the bosses are arrested as feudalist criminals and the dock business belongs to, and is run by, the workers. In the final scenes, the music is a lively and fast-paced patriotic song to which the men are practically tossing those same heavy bags around with pride and glee.

The entire plot is a continuous stream of messages about the evils of capitalism. In one scene, three workers are escorted into the boss’s den to supposedly wish his father a happy birthday and “apologize” that one of their sons stole grain (for which the small boy was thrown into the wheel of a cart and killed).

As the three workers wait for the boss to get off the phone, the camera pans across the luxuriously furnished room. The workers then say that they represent the starving dock workers, who haven’t been paid in weeks. They demand higher wages and immediate payment.

As the boss casually laughs at them while smoking a cigarette, the unified workers’ union surrounds the mansion demanding pay.

Later, every dock worker in the city joins the fight to help Gate Number Six workers stand up to soldiers trying to break their strike.

The gender messages in this film heavily favored men, such as when the mother of the murdered little boy is told to stop crying and make her grieving husband dinner. However, films shown later, such as “Women of the Great Leap Forward,” are different, Thiess said.

“The party encouraged women labor and involvement,” she said. “There was a kind of equality they promoted, to the degree they wanted,” she said.

A different film is scheduled to be shown every Tuesday at 3 p.m. in the Social Work Auditorium. Next week’s “The Unfailing Radio Wave,” stars one of China’s most popular actors and was well-received in theaters.

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