Du Haibin’s film “1428” captures a variety of scenes from post earthquake Beichuan in a way that I hadn’t seen before. Even though I was in China at that time, and remember checking the news hourly for days, there was still very little I knew about the conditions in Sichuan at that time. All of the images were being very carefully selected before they were shown on TV, but this film manages to capture everything that was left unseen.
The documentary begins just 10 days after the earthquake that killed more than 80,000 people, and shows how chaotic life can be as people struggle to know what steps to take next. Many people spent their days trying to scavenge scrap metal from collapsed buildings to sell, while others looted their neighbors’ apartments, some searched hopelessly for family members, and others started to discuss rebuilding the temple. It was a strong reminder that there is no way to prevent these kinds of disasters, and few ways to prepare for life after them.
For being a film about the largest disaster China has faced in the last 30 years, I was surprised that there wasn’t much time spent on talking about death, instead this work is much more concerned with how life moves on afterward.
This is highlighted by Du Haibin’s interest in a father and his mentally disabled adult son. The man is eligible to move into a shelter, but his son is not, so they remain in a small shack built out of the rubble of other buildings. They live off of what the father manages to sell, and stay there for more than 7 months (it’s not clear if they ever move). This provides a very interesting glimpse at mental health in China.
Another great moment captured is a discussion between old men as to why the earthquake happened. Had the Buddha allowed this because they had grown the wrong kind of water lilies? Was the Earth God upset because many people had stopped worshiping him, and his temple was in disrepair? Or perhaps it was because they had insulted one of these Gods in another way they had not yet mentioned? Some decide that it is a clear indication that the temples must be rebuilt, while others see it as a sign that the old religions are a waste of time.
I thought the most interesting theme that developed through out the movie is how the local people try to find a way to criticize the way some of them had been cut off from aid. To me it seemed like most of them had legitimate complaints, like the old woman who was denied an electric blanket because she had lost her ID card during the earthquake. Every time a person would begin to raise a complaint a neighbor would quickly step in and ask why they are criticizing the communist party. Given the choice many would shut up, but one old woman said “the party is wonderful, but I think there are some problems in the local government.”
This simple sentence I think underlines so many of China’s problems. The national gov’t is unwilling to see arguments against the local gov’ts as anything but an attack on the whole party.
I would recommend this film to anyone interested in disaster relief, Chinese civil society, rural life in china, or Chinese family values.
I’m not sure how widely available this film is for purchase, but it is available for streaming through Amazon, and if someone could check Netflix and comment below that would be a big help.
Tomorrow marks the 3rd anniversary of the Earthquake and we’ll be looking at China’s response in those first few days.