Jia Zhangke Responds To Criticism From Global Times Editor Hu Xijin (Full Translation)

When the editor-in-chief of state tabloid Global Times gave Jia Zhangke’s latest film a bad review on Weibo, the renowned director responded with a bad review of the bad review.

This week, an online quarrel between Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin (胡锡进) and Chinese director Jia Zhangke (贾樟柯) drew much attention on Chinese social media.

The issue started when Hu Xijin criticized Jia Zhangke’s latest film Ash Is Purest White (江湖儿女) on Weibo on September 24, calling the film “depressing” and “full of negative energy,” and suggesting the film Dying to Survive is much better.

At SupChina, Jiayun Feng translated Hu’s comments. Besides condemning the film for its negativity, Hu also wrote:

Please don’t place stinky tofu under our noses and force us to get used to that particular smell. I am aware that some people love to watch horror movies and negative energy can also attract audiences in a way like how opium gets people hooked. But I still hope filmmakers in China can study movies created by Hollywood and Bollywood and produce some movies with normal views about what’s good and what’s evil.”

Adding:

I know I can’t blame others because I bought the [movie] ticket and no one forced me to watch it. But what I’m doing here is to caution my fans no to be deceived by the movie’s title. It uses a gloomy style of filming to tell a banal story of how nice people don’t get properly rewarded for good deeds. It’s neither pleasant nor sad enough to bring you to tears. It only makes you frustrated and upset.”

Hu’s criticism was soon after deleted, but the screenshots already circulated online.

Ash Is Purest White, that was released in mainland China on September 21st, is a big box-office success and is Jia Zhangke’s highest-grossing film yet. The film revolves around the tumultuous love story between gangster Bin (Fan Liao) and dancer Qiao (Tao Zhao).

Jia’s responded to the harsh criticism in a lengthy Weibo post, that has since been shared more than 68,000 times, receiving over 128,000 likes and 30,500 comments.

Here is a full translation of Jia’s Weibo post in response to Hu:

Editor Hu Xijin:

I’m glad you went to watch ‘Ash is Purest White’. And I’m sorry it made you feel “depressed” (堵心) during the Mid-autumn Festival. First, I wish you nothing but happiness. Regarding your opinions, I’ll respond to them one by one below, comments/suggestions are of course welcome.

1. I also was moved by the movie ‘Dying to Survive’ (我不是药神). But, as Lu Xun (鲁迅) [famous Chinese writer] once said: “People’s joy and sorrows are not connected” (人类的悲欢并不相通). I’m not sure you and I are similar in what makes us happy or sad. That also goes for our feelings on ‘Ash is Purest White’ – I’m quite confused about how we could be so far apart.

2. About the “negative energy” – I believe energy is built on the basis of telling the truth as much as possible. The truth is the most powerful form of positive energy. Not tolerating truth or facts will bring about negative energy. Seeing or hearing it all the time, but pretending you have not, gains no truth or facts. In the end, it’ll lead to even greater negative energy. You should always be seeking truth from facts, don’t you agree?

3. Speaking of horror films and their audiences; I’ve never directed any horror films myself, hence my experience in this area is limited. However, all audiences are equal, regardless of taste. As an atheist, you shouldn’t really have any opinion regarding ghosts anyway, as you don’t believe in them.

4. With regards to Hollywood and Bollywood; you’re a ‘complex China’ (复杂的中国) reporter, but it would be better for you to further investigate ‘complex foreign movies’! Your job is to report ‘complex China’, and I am interested in making films about ‘complex characters.’ You can’t really be picky about your definition of “complex”, now can you?

5. Regarding “normal views about what’s good and what’s evil” – what I don’t really understand is: who should be the judge of what is normal and what is not?

6. About “stinky tofu” – you can certainly use ‘fragrant’ or ‘stinky’ as metaphors to comment on a movie. However, I disagree with your slandering of “stinky tofu.” For many families in poverty, it is all they eat! I’ve had a lot myself, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

7. Regarding the fact that you “bought the ticket yourself,” great! I’m a big supporter of the 8 provisions [rules stipulated by Chinese government on frugality within Party/government]. We don’t give free tickets to chief editors of government media!

8. About “letting your fans know” – I think it’s great of you to always have your fans in mind. But your fans might not be exactly the same as you in thinking that a movie is good or bad, in considering stinky tofu edible or not. There are many different colors in this world, if something is not black doesn’t mean it’s white.

9. About the movie using a “gloomy style” – were your eyes built in Meituxiuxiu? [美图秀秀: Chinese photoshop app]. Things are beautiful because they are real. Accept diversity and this world will be more beautiful.

10. About “nice people not getting properly rewarded for their good deeds” – I also wish good things come to good people, but this world is full of strange circumstances, and no one can have full control over it. Things we can’t control are also normal, we should accept that. I didn’t know you believed in karma yourself.

11. About it being “a banal story”: I’ve always been curious about strange stories, but would always do my best to understand the lives of ordinary people and this both inspires me and moves me.

12. With regards to you feeling “depressed” (堵得慌) – my apologies for not making you feel all warm and fuzzy during the Mid-autumn festival. I couldn’t make you tear up, your feelings didn’t get an outlet, instead, you felt “blocked and trapped.” But ‘feeling trapped’ is actually a complicated sensation, a big emotional wave if you will. You’ve been numb for too long, ‘feeling trapped’ shows that you still have some emotions. Congratulations! The fact that you ‘feel trapped’ has raised my hopes for the complexities of China.

Happy Mid-autumn Festival! I wish you all the best.

Many netizens applauded Jia’s reaction to the Global Times editor. One of the most popular comments was a wordplay on the two men’s names, saying: “Director Jia is not fake [‘jia’ in Chinese] while Editor Hu is full of nonsense [‘hu’ in Chinese]. (“贾导不假,胡编真胡 Jiǎ dǎo bù jiǎ, hú biān zhēn hú“)

“Perhaps Hu can tell me all the movies he dislikes,” another commenter said: “Because I’d sure love to watch them.”

At time of writing, the hashtag “Jia Zhangke sents response to Hu Xijin” (#贾樟柯发长文回应胡锡进#) received over 12,5 million views.

Hu dedicated another post to the issue on his Weibo account on Wednesday, saying he had written the bad review in the heat of the moment after watching the film, and that he had deleted it after calming down, never expecting it already went viral.

The editor wrote that he “fully accepted” everything Jia had written, and that he had learned his lesson and will be “more careful” in the future in posting his criticisms on Weibo.

“You have your right to criticize, and Jia has the right to refute it,” a popular comment said.

Although many people support Jia’s response to Hu, there are also those who are critical of it: “He’s just creating a hype to sell more tickets at the box office.”

Ash Is Purest White (Director’s cut) will also be featured at the upcoming Busan Film Festival.

By Miranda Barnes and Manya Koetse

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