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New Left Review 72, November-December 2011


ai xiaoming

THE CITIZEN CAMERA

Interview by Tieh-Chih Chang and Ying Qian

Can you tell us about your background, and about what you did before you began to make films?

I was born in Hubei province in 1954. My father was a high-school teacher, but during the Cultural Revolution he was persecuted as a ‘counter-revolutionary’, and was unable to work again until the 1980s. It was my mother who supported the family in the meantime, working as a librarian. I finished high school in 1969, at the height of the Cultural Revolution. At that time, universities stopped taking new students. Most high-school graduates were sent to rural areas to learn and work among the peasants; I spent five years in the countryside. We would all share our books, and took turns reading classics by the fire while cooking for the other students. In 1972, universities were re-opened; I entered the department of Chinese literature at Central China Normal University in 1974. The university had relocated to the countryside so that we could reform our worldviews, and our classes involved reciting poems by Mao and little else. Still, we managed to borrow books from our teacher—Stendhal, Tolstoy. After graduating I was assigned to teach in a school for the children of coal miners. Then, in 1978 I enrolled in a master’s programme at Central China Normal University back in Wuhan. After completing it I stayed on for a while to teach, and in 1985 began a PhD on modern Chinese literature at Beijing Normal University. My first book, a study of the writer Ba Jin, came out in 1989. [1] Ba Jin: pen-name of anarchist writer Li Yaotang (1904–2005), best known for novels such as The Family (1931).

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