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China Arts & Entertainment

Knife In the Clear Water- Hui Muslim Story at Busan International Film Festival

The movie Knife In the Clear Water (清水里的刀子) premiered at the Busan International Film Festival on October 7. Director Wang Xuebo spent nearly a decade realizing this film, that offers a rare glimpse into the world of China’s Hui Muslims.

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The movie Knife In the Clear Water (清水里的刀子) premiered at the Busan International Film Festival on October 7. Director Wang Xuebo spent nearly a decade realizing this film, that offers a rare glimpse into the world of China’s Hui Muslims. For the pre-filming research, Wang spent 10 months in one of China’s most difficult regions to live.

On October 7, young director Wang Xuebo (@Sean王学博, 1984) brought his debut film Knife In the Clear Water (清水里的刀子) to the 21st Busan International Film Festival (BIFF). The film will compete for an award in the “new currents” (新浪潮) category.

Knife In the Clear Water is also set to screen a the Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) in November of this year. Together with Busan, it is one of the biggest and most influential film festivals in Asia.

A Story of Hui Muslims

The film Knife In the Clear Water tells a story about Hui people (a Chinese Muslim ethnic group) living in China’s Xihaigu region in the southern part of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region – an extremely dry region, and one of the worst habitation for humans according to United Nations World Food programme.

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In the film, the elderly Hui farmer Ma Zishan has just lost his wife. For the funeral ceremony, his son proposes to sacrifice the old bull that has been with the family for years. Though unwilling, Ma Zishan agrees as the bull is old, his wife deserves to be honored, and their guests need to be fed. But the farmer struggles to part with the bull, and in the days leading up to the ceremony, the old man is troubled by the thought of his own death and seems to learn something from the bull in its last days before being slaughtered.

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The themes of life and death and the concept of cleanliness in the life of Hui Muslims play a major role in the movie, and are addressed through oil-painting-like scenes.

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The film is an adaptation of a novel by the same name written by Shi Shuqing, which has won the 2nd Luxun Literary Prize (鲁迅文学奖) – a top literary prize in China.

Decade-Long Project

From a budding idea to an award nomination, Knife In the Clear Water has taken Wang Xuebo almost a decade to complete. In 2007, Wang first read the novel Knife in the Clear Water. Deeply moved, he decided to turn it into a short film as his graduation project.

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In 2009, Wang and his team went to live in Xihaigu for 10 months. During this time, Wang observed the culture and customs of the Hui people and made 3 short documentary films which he called the ‘Xihaigu trilogy’ (西海固三部曲). The film Knife In the Clear Water was developed from its 30-minute version in the trilogy.

Throughout the film-making process, Wang often faced challenges in dealing with local culture and customs. Among other things, it was not easy to find actors, as many villagers believed that acting is forbidden by the Koran.

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Casting Yang Shengcang for the role of Ma Zishan was also difficult, as according to local customs, elderly people are expected to engage in religious practices instead of mundane affairs.

Wang was mindful about the local customs and traditions. “I was afraid to do something wrong when talking to villagers,” Wang said in an interview with Cinematic (奇遇电影), “Since my co-directors were all experienced in these matters, I asked them to establish relationships… to avoid miscommunication. Disagreement is quite common between director and actors. I especially now know how to keep this in check.”

Throughout the filming process, Wang developed a good relationship with the movie’s local actors. On the day of the premiere, Wang posted on his Sina Weibo account: “I am really happy to see the two actors traveling abroad and standing on an international stage for the first time!”

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What is significant about Knife In the Clear Water is its truthful narrative of the life of Hui Muslims on their own soil. Although it is rare for Hui Muslims to be represented on screen in China, it seems that the younger generation is making an effort to change this.

Wang Xuebo’s earlier work Bangke from the Village of Mansi (满寺村的邦克, 2008) is a documentary of life in the Xihaigu region. In 2015, Ma Yulong (马誉龙) from the Beijing Film Academy (北京电影学院) produced Hasang (哈桑), a short film about the devout faith of Ningxia Muslims, as his graduation project.

On Chinese social media, many netizens express their appreciation of the novel, and those who have already seen (part of) the film applaud Wang’s work. “It makes me proud,” one commenter says.

“This is a chance for people who are prejudiced against Muslims to see a different side to Muslim culture,” one netizen comments.

-By Diandian Guo
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©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Diandian Guo is a China-born Master student of transdisciplinary and global society, politics & culture at the University of Groningen with a special interest for new media in China. She has a BA in International Relations from Beijing Foreign Language University, and is specialized in China's cultural memory.

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China Comic & Games

KFC China’s Psyduck Toy is a Viral Hit

As Psyduck goes viral, KFC Children’s Day toys are deemed “too childish for children but just perfect for us adults.”

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American fast-food chain KFC recently introduced three new Pokémon toys to go with its kids’ meals in various regions across China, with one of the toys, in particular, becoming a viral hit: Psyduck (可达鸭).

The new Pokémon toys were introduced on May 21st to celebrate Children’s Day (June 1). As reported by Shanghai Daily, the toys are randomly distributed in Children’s Day meals and will be released in different regions at different times.

Psyduck is a yellow duck-like Pokémon that is known to be confused because it’s bothered by headaches. One of the reasons why the Psyduck toy might be more popular than its fellow (Pikachu) toys, is because it dances, with its arms going up and down, and because of the catchy tune that starts once it starts moving. Psyduck is also a bit more dopey and ‘uncool’ than Pikachu, which makes him all the cooler (remember the Peppa Pig craze?)

Since its release, many people have been going crazy over the KFC toy. Psyduck fans have been hunting for the KFC treasure, and some have even turned it into a side business: they offer their services in getting as many KFC meals as necessary before grabbing the Psyduck toy – you’ll have to pay for their meal – and they’ll send the toy to their ‘customers’ later on.

The #Psyduck hashtag saw the first spike on Weibo on May 21st, the day of its release, when it received nearly 135 million views.

Although the toys were released for Children’s Day, most of these Psyduck fans are not kids at all. In one interview moment that went viral, an older man was asked about the Psyduck while he was standing in line at KFC. “I’m only here because my son wants it,” the man says. When he is asked how old his boy is, he answers: “He’s over thirty years old.”

A popular comment about the craze over the kids’ meal toys said: “This toy is perhaps too childish for children, but it’s just perfect for us adults.” The comment received nearly 20,000 likes.

If you buy a set meal including the toy, you will spend in between 59-109 yuan ($9-$16), but the reselling price of Psyduck has reportedly been as high as US$200 for just the Pokémon figure alone. KFC China has stated that it does not support this kind of reselling.

Illustration about the Psyduck crazy by New Weekly (@新周刊).

Especially among students, it has become popular to stick messages to the arms of the dancing Psyduck with motivational or humorous messages. Some students say the Psyduck keeps them company while they are studying.

Since short funny videos featuring Psyduck are going viral on Weibo and Douyin, a lot of Psyduck’s appeal relates to its social media success and joining in on the hype. People post videos of themselves unboxing their Psyduck, introducing it to their cat, imitating it, or they use the Psyduck in various creative ways.

This is not the first time for KFC toys to become a national craze. Earlier this year, KFC came out with limited edition blind boxes in a collaboration with Chinese toymaker Pop Mart. To get one of the dolls, customers needed to buy a 99 yuan (US$15.5) family set meal.

But the blind box sales also sparked criticism from China’s Consumer Association for promoting over-purchasing of its food and causing food waste. In order to get all of the six collectible dolls, including the rarest ones, customers would start buying many meals just for the dolls. As reported by SCMP at the time, one customer went as far as to spend US$1,650 on a total of 106 meals to collect all six dolls.

KFC is the most popular fast-food chain in China. People outside of China are sometimes surprised to find that KFC is so hugely popular in the mainland.

As explained in the book written about KFC China’s popularity (“Secret Recipe for Success“), its success story goes back to 1987, when the restaurant opened its first doors near Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Some reasons that contributed to KFC’s success in China are the popularity of chicken in China, the chain’s management system, the restaurant’s adaptation to local taste, and its successful marketing campaigns.

Now, Psyduck can be added as one of the ingredients in KFC China’s perhaps not-so-secret recipe for success.

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

Featured image via @Baaaaaaaaal, Weibo.com

Image via Weibo

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Elementary School Textbook Triggers Controversy for Being “Tragically Ugly”

This elementary schoolbook by the People’s Education Press went viral for being ugly.

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The illustrations in a Chinese schoolbook series for children have triggered controversy on social media platform Weibo, where the hashtag “People’s Education Press Math Teaching Material” (#人教版数学教材#) attracted over 860 million views by Thursday afternoon, with the “People’s Education Press Mathbook Illustration Controversy” (#人教版数学教材插图引争议#) garnering over 190 million views.

The illustrations went viral after some netizens spotted that the quality of the design in one math textbook series stood out from other books in how ‘aesthetically displeasing’ it is.

The children depicted in the teaching material have small, droopy eyes and big foreheads. Some commenters think their clothing also looks weird and that the overall design is just strange and “tragically ugly.”

Some images depicting little boys also drew controversy for allegedly showing a bulge in the pants. Adding girls sticking out their tongues, boys grabbing girls, a reversed Chinese flag, and some depictions of children’s clothing in the American flag colors, many people think the books are not just ugly but also have “evil intentions.”

Besides the people who think the design of the textbook series is so ugly that it must have been purposely drawn like this, there are also those who are angry, suggesting China has thousands of talented art students who would welcome a project like this and do it much better.

Some parents are also concerned that such poor quality design will negatively influence the aesthetic appreciation of the children using the books.

Fueling the controversy is the fact that the textbook in question has been published and designed by a team of relatively influential and experienced designers and publishers.

The design was done by, among others, Lu Min (吕旻) and Zheng Wenjuan (郑文娟) of the Beijing Wuyong Design Studio (北京吴勇设计工作室). The book is published by the People’s Education Press.

The People’s Education Press (PEP) is a major publishing house directly under the leadership of the Ministry of Education. Founded in 1950, it is responsible for compiling and publishing all kinds of teaching material for elementary education.

The textbook already caught the attention of some parents in early May. One parent shared photos of the textbook illustration on Q&A site Zhihu.com, writing: “This textbook is so ugly! How did it ever pass the review?”

The ugly textbook design has made many netizens look back on their own childhood textbooks, suggesting that more traditional Chinese design is much better than what is being produced nowadays.

Old textbook design shared online for comparison.

On May 26, the People’s Education Press responded to the controversy on Weibo. In its statement, the publishing house said it would reevaluate its elementary school mathematics textbooks illustrations and improve the quality of the design. In doing so, the publishing house said it would welcome feedback from the public. The statement soon received over 600,000 likes.

Professional graphic design artist Wuheqilin also weighed in on the discussion (read more about Wuheqilin here). In a lengthy Weibo post, Wuheqilin argues it is too easy for people to share their old textbook covers and images to show how much better they used to be, blaming poor design on the quality of illustrators in modern times.

According to Wuheqilin, it is not so much a matter of illustrators who have become worse, but of publishing houses saving more money on illustrations. Publishers do not prioritize design and are still offering the same prices to illustrators as they did a decade ago.

“The market has expanded, illustrators’ prices have gone up, but the philosophy of publishing houses hasn’t kept up with the times. This has led to them not really raising their budgets. When I entered the industry some 12 years ago, publishers could still a good artist for 500-800 RMB [$75-$120] to do a fine cover illustration, but now it would be difficult to find an artist to do it for 8000 RMB [$1188]. Around 2015 I was asked by a publishing house to do the cover of a sci-fi novel series they produced, and the process of our talks all went smoothly, but when I quoted my price they looked displeased and told me that even if they would do their best to give me the highest budget possible, it would still only be one-tenth of my quoted price. The price I quoted was just the normal price for a game poster illustration at the time. I never spoke to that publisher again afterward. And this was 2015, let alone how the situation is nowadays.”

This is not the first time Chinese school textbooks trigger controversy online. In 2017, an elementary school sexual education textbook caused a stir for being “too explicit” (read here).

UPDATE TO THIS STORY HERE.

Read more about (controversial) Chinese children’s books here.

By Manya Koetse

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