Director Chen Kaige’s lifelong guilt over his father

Chen Kaige, a well-known film director in mainland China, is best known for his work “Farewell My Concubine”. The book “Stormy Memories: Beijing’s Fourth High School 1965-1970”, edited by Bei Dao and others, includes a reminiscent essay written by Chen Kaige, “The Sword of Youth”, about the changes in his life when he was a teenager.

The Fourth High School in Chen Kaige’s Eyes

In 1965, Chen Kaige was admitted to Beijing No. 4 Middle School as a first-year student. For many, the most mysterious thing about the Fourth High School was that many of the students there were the children of high-ranking Communist Party and military officials, such as Liu Shaoqi’s son Liu Yuanyuan, Bo Yibo’s sons Bo Xilai and Bo Xicheng, Kong Yuan, the former head of the Central Investigation Department, and Kong Dan, the son of Xu Ming, who was Zhou Enlai’s secretary, among others.

Chen Kaige mentioned in his memoirs the classmate F, whose father was then a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China. In Chen Kaige’s writing, F was a very tall, casually dressed, somewhat arrogant son of a high cadre, but he was still very naive when he was reckless and did not calculate people, and he was also very generous to his friends and always had a smile on his face.

At that time, the personal worship of Mao was already prevalent, especially on the campus. Students of the Fourth Form followed Mao’s youthful appearance. Chen Kaige writes: Most of them had flat shaved heads, carried books under their armpits, and dressed very plainly. When their clothes were still new, they were patched, and some people didn’t even wear socks in winter, and they didn’t bother to repair their cloth shoes even if they had a hole in their toes. At dusk, the campus was filled with crowds of people running around the stadium or debating loudly in the sunset ……

Being educated by the poisonous Chinese Communist Party

What kind of poisonous education Chen Kaige received from the Chinese Communist Party from his childhood and even in the Fourth Form is described and reflected on in his essay: As part of our ideological education, we are told from childhood that love is class-based, and that class, the ultimate boundary that distinguishes love from hate. The blood family dear relationship is no exception. Love the leader, love the party, love your own people. But in a class society, “one’s own people” is a variable, so that the love of the past and the hatred of the present happen all the time, but the only constant is the love for the leader. Since love is temporary, local, specific and non-universal, hate is long-term, comprehensive and universal. Love is poison, love is depravity, humanity is hypocrisy, and hatred represents justice, hatred and security. In a country with a large and extraordinarily crowded population, where hate is passed as a torch, the results are easy to imagine.

In the fourth grade, Chen Kaige witnessed two classmates who were about to get into a fight over an argument when one of them shouted, “You’re taking class revenge! And the other one immediately deflated. The spell-like words came from the son of a general, and the father of the other was a non-Party professor.

And such bad luck soon befell Chen Kaige. What Chen Kaige was looking for was the answer to the question of whether love has class.

Distrusted” because of family problems

After a composition class in the spring of 1966, Chen Kaige was called to his full-time class teacher, Ms. Zhang, who picked up his composition book with two fingers and said, “Your father is not a member of the Communist Party. However, you should not carry the family burden. You study hard and your grades are good, but don’t be proud. Pay attention to overcome petty bourgeois wavering. The leadership still trusts you.

For Chen Kaige, who had just started his first year, Zhang’s words were no less than a bolt from the blue. Chen Kaige, who thought he had good grades, played basketball well and was somewhat pretentious, was undoubtedly dealt a major blow at that moment, while he had previously thought his parents were Communist Party members.

People who were not in those days could not understand the meaning of Mr. Zhang’s words. Chen Kaige explained: “Family baggage” in those days was a euphemism for parents with political problems; to say don’t be proud means you are proud and she is not happy with you; to say still trust you means you have reasons not to be trusted. And Chen Kaige did not even think of arguing before Mr. Zhang’s meaningful smile, did not even think of asking what the truth was, just nodded hard. The shame rubbed him to the bone, “the only thing I thought of was how to regain her trust, even to her last pat on my shoulder gratitude inexplicably”.

Because of this incident, Ms. Zhang also went to Chen Kaige’s home. After she left, Chen Kaige’s mother, who is a screenwriter, told him about his father and that it was not a mistake. She didn’t talk to him in the past because he was still young and he would naturally understand when he grew up.

The past history of his father Chen Huaiwei

Chen Kaige’s father, Chen Huaiwei, entered the Sichuan National Theatre College in 1944, where he was a classmate of director Xie Jin. After the victory of the war, he was dismissed by the National Government for showing Soviet films at the school and participating in the student movement.

Later, Chen Huaiwei was recommended to work as an assistant director for a film company in Hong Kong. During a location shoot in Beiping, he was wanted by the National Government as a suspect of “criminal conspiracy” and was given a deadline to “surrender”. Chen Huaiwei then defected to the Chinese Communist Party and began to work openly for the Chinese Communist Party in the arts.

After the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, Chen Huaiwei worked as a director for the Central Film Bureau and Beijing Film Studio, where he made a large number of films to whitewash the Chinese Communist Party.

After the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution, Chen Huaiwei was criticized for having joined the Kuomintang.

Participating in the criticism and exposing his father

In May 1966, at the age of 14, Chen Kaige met his father, whom he had not seen for a long time. He had gone to the countryside for a year to participate in the “Four Clean-ups” campaign and came back a different person, dark and thin. Soon after, Chen Huaiwei was ordered to study at a place called the “Socialist Institute”. His mother asked Chen Kaige to send some clothes and food to his father. When he saw his father again, Chen Kaige found him much more haggard.

That night, his mother and his son Chen Kaige had an adult conversation. She told her son that Chen Huaiwei joined the Kuomintang in 1939 when he was 19 years old, purely out of patriotic fervor. At the time, the KMT was the ruling party and his father, who was on the southeast coast, had not even heard of the Communist Party. “This matter was concluded by the organization long ago. This is history, you have not experienced it, it is not easy to understand. I tell you today, I hope you can understand.”

Although he believed his mother’s words, Chen Kaige at that time was reluctant to accept the truth. Having received a toxic education from the Chinese Communist Party, he began to hate his father.

Late one night, Chen Kaige was suddenly awakened: the Red Guards had come to raid the house. “When my father was escorted into the courtyard, I was standing in the crowd at the door. There were people wearing red armbands present, and it would happen tonight, was no need to guess right. I don’t know if the night was pale or the man was paler, but he looked like a shadow, walking with many other shadows.”

The criticism meeting was held behind the residential building. Chen Huaiwei and a row of people were bent over in the meeting room to receive criticism. Chen Huaiwei’s “black hat” was “Kuomintang member, historical counterrevolutionary, and rightist who missed the net”. When the slogan “Down with it” rang out in the crowd, Chen Kaige shouted along with it.

The Red Guards then asked Chen Kaige to go on stage and expose his father. “The 14-year-old didn’t really understand what he needed to expose, he stood in front of his father in front of the crowd and didn’t know what he said. Later, when the father looked up at Chen Kaige, Chen Kaige reached out and pushed his father on his shoulder. The father seemed to want to dodge, but did not dodge, the waist bent more and more. After the push, for some reason, Chen Kaige suddenly especially want to cry, strong tears have been held back to the throat ……”

Midway Chen Kaige returned home once. “My mother was lying in bed in the dark, her lips tightly closed, as if a knife was being placed on her neck. She said softly to me: Go ahead.”

That night, my father, who had been criticized, stayed home. Chen Kaige, who felt betrayed by his father, should have been quite sad inside. “He didn’t say anything to me until the next morning, and I was afraid to see him, his eyes flickering and afraid to see me. I couldn’t hear what my mother said to him in the bedroom, and the lights then went out.”

Fear at being raided

The day after his father was criticized, Chen Kaige’s home was raided by the Red Guards. In “The Sword of Youth,” Chen Kaige describes the situation in great detail: he, his mother, and grandmother were asked to leave the house, and his sick mother was ordered to stand facing the wall, while Chen Kaige’s heart was “a pain that did not matter whether it hurt or not,” and his sister’s “face was full of tears and she did not dare to cry. The “red guards” went through the boxes.

The Red Guards went through the boxes, clothes, photos, letters, etc. were thrown all over the place, and the books they found, except for those of Mao and a few other writers, were carried out and set on fire under the acacia tree. “I just stood there dumbfounded, without memory or imagination, with only the fire in front of me, as if I were watching someone else’s dream. It did not even occur to me to ask for a chair for my long-suffering mother. –not without examples of resistance. Not long ago, a young man, angry at the raid on his home, defiantly raised a kitchen knife and was instead chopped to pieces by this knife. Am I afraid of death? Yes. But the deeper fear is that I am afraid of never being accepted by the crowd, even after death.”


With double guilt in front of his mother and the Red Guards, Chen Kaige responded to Mao’s call for “intellectual youth to go to the mountains and the countryside” and went to Yunnan in 1969. His father, who was still imprisoned, was given special permission to send Chen Kaige. According to a 2009 article in the mainland’s Biographies of Famous People, when the train started to move, Chen Kaige, who was still chatting with his fellow passengers, turned around and saw his haggard father, with tears in his eyes, following the train and chasing himself. The train was getting faster and faster, and his father’s figure was getting smaller and smaller, and suddenly Chen Kaige’s tears, like a heavy rain, flowed out with a crash, and his heart was then empty. At that moment, Chen Kaige suddenly realized that he was wrong!

After arriving in Yunnan, Chen Kaige immediately wrote to his father asking for forgiveness. After arriving in Yunnan, Chen wrote to his father asking for forgiveness, and his father wrote back saying, “My son has done nothing wrong, so don’t take it personally.

After Chen Kaige left, Chen Huaiwei’s situation was even worse. “When Chen Kaige returned to Beijing from rural Yunnan to visit his family, he no longer recognized the old man with shabby clothes and missing teeth, who spent his days cleaning toilets with a broom, as his father. The old pride in his father’s eyes was long gone; he bent down to all the people, nodded enthusiastically and frequently, and from time to time wiped away his nose with his hand, which was cracked from the cold and the labor, and his eyes were blank.” That year, Chen Huaiai had just turned 50 years old.

After the Cultural Revolution, although Chen was “rehabilitated” by the Chinese Communist Party, the best years of his life had already passed. In 1994, Chen died after a long illness.

He was the one who made his young self disregard his family’s feelings and do something against human nature, which Chen Kaige should have known long ago. Although he was forgiven by his father, it should have become a permanent pain in his heart.