I recently attended a very interesting lecture on Chinese-American relations by Steven Weber, professor of political science and director of the Institute of International Studies at UC Berkeley. Professor Weber's central point is that the Sino-American relationship is now central to the health of the global political economy, but it is not a healthy relationship and needs to be carefully managed, especially when it comes to three critical areas: currency, energy, and property rights. You can read what Steve Weber says on Chinese-American relations in his new blog.
I cannot comment with any expertise on the political issues raised by Professor Weber, but I could not agree with him more on the importance of China, not just to US and world politics, but to business, science and engineering, and many other areas. I have seen the growing importance of China to IBM over the last decade, not just in sales but in research, development and manufacturing. And as is well known, earlier this year we sold the IBM PC business to Lenovo.
Over this same period I have been visiting China with increasing frequency, seeing first hand the remarkable growth of the country, and even more important, sensing the incredible energy all around you when you are in China, or at least in the cities I have spent the most time in, Beijing and Shanghai. My colleagues in IBM China have even given me a proper Chinese name, , pronounced Wang Wen Ke. And this coming December I will be going to Beijing as an invited speaker to the Computer Innovation 6016 conference hosted by the China Computer Federation.
The economic growth of China, as well as its rise in importance in the world, are absolutely remarkable when you remember that China only started emerging from the devastation of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, less than 30 years ago. But let me tell you about something else that emerged from that period, something I find not only remarkable but also highly enjoyable. A new generation of film directors that goes under the name The Fifth Generation has been producing really good and innovative movies for more than 20 years. Two of the Fifth Generation directors in particular are among my very favorite directors of all time, Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige.
I came across Chen Kaige's "Farewell, My Concubine" while browsing through the excellent movie collection in the Westport Library sometime in the late '90s. It is a wonderful movie, a historical epic covering more than 50 years of modern Chinese history, including the terrible days of the Cultural Revolution, and set against the backdrop of the Peking Opera and two of its stars. As always, I went to the Internet, learned about Chen Kaige and his films as well as about the other Fifth Generation directors, and went on to watch their films. Another historical epic by Chen I liked a lot is "The Emperor and the Assassin," about the first Qin Emperor who unified China in the 3rd century BC and started building the Great Wall.
Zhang Yimou has become quite well known internationally with two recent, visually spectacular movies in the martial arts style made popular in the West by "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" -- where the fighting on the screen looks like a beautifully choreographed ballet. "Hero," Zhang's version of the unification of China under the Qin Emperor, is absolutely gorgeous and looks like no movie you have ever seen before. "House of Flying Daggers" is an equally stunning martial arts romantic tragedy. "To Live," made in the early '90s in a totally different style, is Zhang's excellent historical movie about one family's struggles before and during the Cultural Revolution.
What I find most impressive about Zhang Yimou is that, in addition to his "big" epic movies, he makes wonderful, intimate, "small" movies. "The Story of Qiu Ju," for example, is about a pregnant peasant woman seeking redress from the Chinese bureaucracy after the village chief humilliates her husband by kicking him in the groin. "The Road Home" is about an urban businessman who goes back to his home village for the funeral of his father, and finds that his elderly mother wants a very traditional funeral. The movie then tells the very touching love story of how his father and mother met in the village forty years earlier.
So, why did I write about these great Chinese film directors and a few of their movies in a blog inspired by a lecture on Chinese-American political and economic relations? I guess that it is my optimistic and I trust not too naive hope that the more our two countries engage in business and science, and the more we learn about each other's cultures, in this instance through film, the better our chances of addressing and resolving the political issues that Professor Steve Weber talks about.