fDenied jobs, banned from school, rejected romantically – carriers of hepatitis B in China have faced humiliations big and small for years. In 1992 it was estimated that about 10% of the population tested positive for hepatitis B antigen. Yet for the next decade they were systematically barred from participation in all walks of life. This fueled an industry of fraudulent medical reports, in which the film stars Han Dong Good results are yet to comestarted his investigation.

The story is based on the real life of Han Fudong, a journalist who later became its chief reporter. Southern Metropolis Daily, a newspaper once known for its hard-hitting investigations. Hahn’s work ultimately led to companies being banned from screening workers for the virus or firing carriers. At the time, more than 120 million people in China were infected with the disease.

Good results are yet to comewith which it is compared All presidents are men And Spotlight, touring the international film circuit in 2020. But it was released in China last month, taking 52.3m yuan (£6.1m) in its first week at the box office. This makes it a modest success in commercial terms – but what’s more interesting is that a film about the power of investigative journalism could be released in China at all.

The film is set in the heady days of 2003. China declared victory over SARS and the country, especially Beijing, was buzzing with ambition as people rode the wave of reform and opening that turbocharged the economy. It was the year that film director Wang Jing moved to the capital to study at the country’s top film school, the Beijing Film Academy. It was, says Wang the observer“Spring” of Chinese civil society.

Modern China has never had an independent press. But in the late 1990s and early 2000s, journalists were given much more time to report on society than they are today. In 2003 Southern Metropolis Daily In Guangzhou, Migrant Worker Sun Zhigang released a statement on the police beating to death. Although that reporting led to the arrest of four journalists, and two to lengthy prison terms, it also led to the repeal of the law that had allowed the police to detain the Sun in the first place.

Such reporting is not impossible in China today, with Xu Zhiang, the lawyer who represented the journalists in the Sun case, now himself in prison.

Wang’s film is full of nostalgia for that more optimistic time. “That era was full of potential for individual and personal growth. Journalism was full of potential to change,” he says. “Many people no longer believe in idealism.” Still, Wang is full of praise for the few independent journalists who “keep their eyes on things”. How much can they change? I’m not sure. But it makes sense to continue.”

It is also dangerous. According to Reporters Without Borders, more than 100 journalists are currently in prison in China. In December 2020, independent journalist Zhang Zhan was sentenced to four years in prison for reporting on the outbreak of the Covid pandemic in Wuhan. In February this year popular blogger Ruan Xiaohuan, known by the pseudonym Program Think, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for “inciting the subversion of state power.” Ruan’s blog has great firewall hacking tips and discusses official corruption.

Jia Zhangke, left, who produced the film and mentored the director, plays a coal mine owner.
Jia Zhangke, left, who produced the film and mentored the director, plays a coal mine owner.

Like his mentor, acclaimed film director Jia Zhangke, who has a cameo in the film, Wang is interested in the experiences of people alienated from mainstream society, particularly the struggles of outsiders trying to stay afloat in China’s grim, polluted, and often corrupt cities. . Both Wang and Xia hail from Shaanxi, an industrial province in northern China, and are close associates.

Jiayi advised Wang to make a film about journalism. “It is not so easy to talk about this issue in China. Business wise it is difficult. But we believed in it,” Wang said.

Journalism is not the only touchy subject of the film. Blood itself may be banned in China. In the 1990s, nearly a million people in the impoverished northern province of Henan contracted HIV after selling their blood plasma at government-run clinics without following hygienic procedures. Officials covered up the problem, allowing the disease to spread further.

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People living with HIV today face similar stigmas to those depicted Good results are yet to come. A study in Guangzhou found that nearly 40% of health care providers refused to treat HIV-positive people.

Xie Peng (a pseudonym) is one of a handful of people who successfully brought an anti-HIV lawsuit against his employer, regaining his job at a television network in 2018. After watching Good results are yet to come He felt so inspired that he wrote to Song Young, who plays a Hepatitis B sufferer in the film. “A few years ago it felt like I couldn’t be respected even if I tried my best,” he wrote, but the film helped “break down prejudice and discrimination.” He was thrilled when Gan answered the words of encouragement.

It is surprising that a film depicting such sensitive themes could be approved by China’s censors. But be careful to avoid direct criticism of the government. Wang agreed, but said it was an artistic choice, insisting that “censorship was not part of our consideration”.

In fact, he says, he chose the topic precisely because it was not a government issue. “It wasn’t a story that challenged authority or some power,” he says. “It was more complicated than that. It’s about people.”

Additional reporting by Chi Hui Lin

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