Fengming: A Chinese Memoir


The old woman, He Fengming, treks through the snow, enters her apartment, sits down in a leather armchair, and proceeds to tell us her story. As a student in the late 1940s, caught up in the fervor of Mao’s revolution, she abandoned her plans to study English at Lanzhou University and took a job at a provincial daily newspaper. But after Fengming’s journalist husband published several texts critical of Party bureaucracy, the couple was pegged as subversive “rightists,” separated from their young children (and each other), and sent off to separate re-education camps, thereby beginning a decades-long journey toward hoped-for “rehabilitation.” Speaking in what is essentially one breathless monologue, interrupted only by a phone call, a bathroom break, and a few elegant fades to black, Fengming recounts those years as if they were still unfolding right before her eyes (which they may well be)—a devastating odyssey of false accusations, starvation, and youthful idealism shattered by experience. In his masterful, nine-hour documentary, West of the Tracks (which surfaced at Anthology last year), director Wang Bing used a rural freight railway as a conduit into China’s uneasy transition from a planned to a market economy. In this equally remarkable follow-up, he finds in a single room, and in He Fengming’s harrowed eyes, another uncanny metaphor for individual lives undone by the dreams of nations.