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OCTOBER 23, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 16

Talking 'Bout Their Generations
One of China's hottest young directors and his filmmaker father find that they might not be as far apart as they had imagined


John Stanmeyer for TIME.
Hot director Zhang Yang, 33, and his filmmaker father Zhang Huaxun find common ground in a Beijing bath house

Beijing director Zhang Yang, 33, burst onto the international scene in 1997 with the release of the tender romantic comedy Spicy Love Soup. His critically acclaimed second film, Shower, examines the tense relationship between tradition and modernity in China, as seen through the eyes of a father and his estranged son, who are reunited—and eventually reconciled—in the old man's traditional Beijing bath house. Zhang Yang's father, Zhang Huaxun, is himself a veteran filmmaker who made his mark as director of the mainland's first kung fu movies in the 1970s.

ALSO
A Father's Pride: Zhang Huaxun on his filmic generation


A SON'S LAMENT
I n the late 1970s, chinese people—especially the young—began to yearn for the modern. What followed was a massive wave of construction, in which buildings across the country were torn down and replaced by skyscrapers.

Unfortunately, the transformation altered people's lifestyles as well as their architecture. I grew up in a traditional Beijing home, built around an open courtyard. I spent my childhood running across the rooftops of the compound—and under the loving protection of the neighbors within. But that Beijing has become unrecognizable. Bit by bit, the city's history and unique architectural styles are fading, becoming little more than fragments of people's memories. Traditional kinship—those intimate yet relaxed bonds that once joined families in their quadrangles—is wiped out when people move into high-rises. I am not against modernization or change. But if "progress" takes place at the expense of one's cultural heritage, then it is horrendously damaging.

I made my film, Shower, to record this process of rapid social transition. I wanted to explore visually certain changes in human relations, particularly those between generations, that can be difficult to express verbally. As we worked, the scriptwriters and I couldn't help but associate the narrative with our own experiences and feelings, which found their way into the script. Those were often painful memories: I left my parents and began to live independently as soon as I graduated from college. Although I chose a filmmaking career like my father, we shared hardly any common ground in our views about films and our ways of thinking in general. Because of that, our interaction dwindled, to the point where I avoided any serious discussions with my parents, thus causing the gap between us to widen.

This is a prevailing phenomenon in today's China. Young people move out as soon as they can, leaving behind what they feel are irreconcilable differences with their parents' generation. But often their own actions deepen the divide. The opportunities and temptations that abound in today's China have bred a great deal of impetuosity among young people, who are obsessed with instant success. Purity and simplicity in human relations have given way to concerns about money and self-interest. I suppose this is an unavoidable stage of social development. But China's youth should realize that, in fact, older people are genuinely willing to understand young people's minds. Often what's actually more difficult is for young people to learn to accept the older generation. Bridging the communication gap requires efforts on both sides.

Only by learning this lesson the hard way can people understand how they have been sidetracked by an obsession with the new, the modern. The pity, however, is that by then much of our treasured culture and emotional attachments will be long gone.

By Zhang Yang

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the arts ALSO IN YOUNG CHINA: THE ARTS
Singing the Blues: Why Chinese rock doesn't rock

Looking Inward: Today's artists are beginning to explore individual rather than collective themes

Riot Grrrls: Mian Mian and Wei Hui face off

Literary Boom: Youth fiction is far more varied than the sex-and-drugs glam-lit that nabs headlines

What's Hot: The fads du jour among urban youth

Father and Son: Two generations of filmmakers reflect on their differences—which turn out to be less than they had feared


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