“So this is a place beyond the outside world.”
Among one of the most interesting artists is Chinese-born Bo Wang. In his 2012 “visual essay” titled “China Concerto” he gives insight on contemporary spectacles in modern China from public dance performances to political speeches in order to question the hidden ideological layers of these images. Even though China, as a modern economic power, may have accepted the realities of capitalism and commerce in the globalized world, it still holds various aspects of “communist totalitarianism”. This particular throwback to times of communist rule, the orchestral hierarchy of these public events may represent a certain kind of longing to this time in Chinese history or at least the fact the ideological principles of the past have not disappeared completely.
Obviously, Wang’s statements are divisive, but they should certainly shed some light to the hidden agenda behind spectacles and images in modern-day China. In many ways, Mingying Zhou’s “The Land of Peach Blossoms” might serve as a companion piece to Wang’s film, since the intellectual foundation of their works shows distinct parallels. However, he came upon his subject after a long search for work when he finally ended up as a promotional photographer for “The Land of Peach Blossoms”, a restaurant in the heart of the city of Chongqing. Originally considered as a means to earn money, Zhou quickly saw the other side to the shiny surface the restaurant presented to its costumers.
“In the Land of Peach Blossoms” is screening at Chinese Visual Festival
Starting in February 2014, the documentary follows a new group of employees entering the learning program of the restaurant. Under the strict rule of its founder Zhang Derong, the young men and women quickly learn the routine of the performances for each dinner service along with Derong’ philosophy on life and work. Even though many see this job as a chance in the competitive job market to gain experience and support their families, the routine of drills as well as the often contradicting, arbitrary actions of their superior slowly break some of them.
Naturally, it does not take long for the viewer to understand what is truly behind the beautifully flower ceremonies and meticulously choreographed performances of the restaurant. In fact, Zhang Derong, along with those under him, make it perfectly clear that what they are after is total obedience by defining serving and cooking as obligatory drills for the staff to perform. As one slogan, the new employees have to learn by heart that cooking is for the “unhealthy to become healthy and for the healthy to become even healthier”. The individual means very little in this well-oiled machine Derong would like to see, but the team as a unity is everything and is, of course, to blame for any mistake.
Even though ideals such as freedom are quickly suspended under the collective umbrella of this ideology, Zhou explores the existential dilemma of the young men and women. While they clearly suffer from the various instances of humiliation, both physically and emotionally, outside factors such as their financial situation as well as social expectations make them continue under this oppressive regime. Following the premise of learning something they can utilize to improve their economic situation is of course central to many of the various motivational speeches of Derong.
On the other hand, perhaps even unintentionally, Zhou’s scenes of the rehearsals and the actual performances are also noteworthy to the interested viewer. As if to mirror the “nimbus” of the leader and his philosophy, the praise of the past, although with instances of humor attached, follows the definition of the ideologically induced spectacle directors like Bo Wang also had in mind. However, in this case, the mask of capitalism and “emotional catering” reflects the need to become the best, to have a structure in life, something the young staff finds attractive, even if they are hesitant to admit it.
Eventually, “The Land of Peach Blossoms” will allow many ways of interpretation for its audience. If anything, it tells a universal tale about ideology and modern society. Due to the observational approach Zhou has chosen for his documentary, you are able to empathize with these people whose need to make money is, after all, the universal demand to make a living, to start a family and to live a decent life.
1) http://www.bo-wang.net/CC-about.html , last accessed on: 04/25/2019
2) The statement of the director can be found here.