Letter: Films romanticise a vicious dictatorship

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The Independent Online
Sir: It is a pity that Rob Gifford ('Light on a bamboo screen', 25 March) contributes to myth-making about contemporary China by treating the films The Joy Luck Club, Farewell My Concubine, and Beyond the Clouds as if they were valid sources of information about 'the reality of Chinese history and society'.

These are, respectively, a Hollywood melodrama based on a novel, a state-approved epic about Peking Opera stars - hardly typical Chinese citizens - and a Channel 4 series which, by concentrating on 'human interest', avoided addressing any larger issues.

Mr Gifford first equates 'the cruel side of China' with 'stereotypes', then writes of seeing reality 'despite the stereotypes'. Yet there are wholly non-fictional sources he could have referred to: the reports of Amnesty International and other expert bodies, the evidence of former student activists, Tibetan refugees and others fortunate enough to escape, and the eye-witness accounts of numerous non-Chinese.

In the case of China, the largest remaining Stalinist state, stereotypes of 'cruelty' are unfortunately all too accurate. Watching films and reading novels are excellent pastimes, but they will not alleviate the suffering of the Chinese people, or of the Tibetans, under one of the most vicious dictatorships in the world.

Yours faithfully,



London, W2

28 March

(Photograph omitted)