There was once a time in China when government officials could get away with rape by claiming their victims were prostitutes. Those victims were not just adult women but included underage girls and those times are no more. When six elementary school girls were allegedly sexually abused by their principal in southern China, activist Ye Haiyan, known as Hooligan Sparrow, started a protest that gained international attention and inspired a documentary that followed her advocacy for women’s rights and sex workers. Filmmaker Nanfu Wang joins us to talk about her POV documentary “Hooligan Sparrow” and shares how the film transcended its original intentions when the Chinese government got involved and tried to stop production. What began as a personal plight against China’s sex industry became a scorching exposé of China’s surveillance state, a state that preyed on its underage girls.
For more information on “Hooligan Sparrow,“ visit the film’s page on POV’s website.
> THERE WAS ONCE A TIME IN CHINA WHEN GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS COULD GET AWAY WITH RAPE BY CLAIMING THEIR VICTIMS WERE PROSTITUTES.
THOSE VICTIMS WERE NOT JUST ADULT WOMEN.
THEY INCLUDED UNDERAGE GIRLS, BUT THOSE TYIMES ARE NO MORE.
WHEN SIX ELEMENTARY SCHOOLGIRLS WERE ALLEGEDLY ABUSED IN CHINA, ACTIVISTS AND HER COLLEAGUES DESCENDED SON THE DOWN TO PROTEST THE INJUSTICE.
THAT PROTEST GAINED INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION AND WAS RECORDED BY FILMMAKERS.
BUT WHAT STARTED AS A DOCUMENTARY FOLLOWING IT TOOK A FAR DARKER TURN, WHEN THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT GOT INVOLVED.
THE DOCUMENTARY EXPLORES THE SECRETIVE CHINESE GOVERNMENT AND ITS SUPPRESSION OF SPEECH, SOMETHING AMERICANS MAY SOMETIMES TAKE FOR GRANTED.
WITH THE NATIONAL SECURITY AGENTS WHO HAVE COME TO SEE ME AT 3:00 AND INVESTIGATE ON WHAT I'VE BEEN DOING DURING THIS SUMMER.
A FEW DAYS LATER, THE PROTESTS WENT VIRAL.
WITH SO MUCH ATTENTION FOCUSED ON THE CASE.
THE GOVERNMENT REACTED.
JOINING ME NOW TO TALK ABOUT ALL OF THIS, THE DIRECTOR AND PRODUCER OF THE DOCUMENTARY.
THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.
SO, YOU HAD TO SHOOT THIS DOCUMENTARY QUIETLY USING HIDDEN CAMERAS AND STRATEGICALLY PLACED MICROPHONES.
THE GOVERNMENT WAS NOT HAPPY ABOUT IT.
PEOPLE WHO HAVE ENGAGED IN SIMILAR ACTIVITIES LIKE THIS HAVE BEEN FOUND DEAD.
AND KNOWING ALL OF THE RISKS, WHAT WAS IT THAT STILL DREW YOU THAT MADE YOU FEEL AS THOUGH YOU HAD TO FOLLOW WHAT THEY WERE DOING WITH THIS STORY?
WHEN I WENT TO SHOOT, I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN.
I THOUGHT I WASN'T POLITICAL AND I DIDN'T KNOW THE GOVERNMENT WOULD CHECK ME DOWN TO DIFFERENT CITIES AND INTERROGATE MY FAMILY.
AND WHEN THAT REALLY HAPPENED, I WAS SCARED, BUT AT THE SAME TIME, I WAS REALLY ANGRY, AS I WAS SHOCKED TO FIND OUT -- THIS IS THE COUNTRY THAT I CAME FROM.
WELL, I THINK WHAT WAS SO STARTLING, AT LEAST FOR MYSELF AS AN AMERICAN, SEVERAL PEOPLE MADE IT A POINT TO SAY ON C CAMERA, IF SOMETHING HAPPENS TO ME, THIS WAS NOT AN ACCIDENT.
AND I'M WONDERING, WHAT DOES THAT SAY ABOUT THE POLITICAL CLIMATE IN CHINA?
SO, IN CHINA, PROTEST IS A TABOO.
IN MY WHOLE LIFE LIVING THERE FOR 24 YEARS, I HAVE NEVER SEEN A SINGLE PROTEST.
WHAT HAPPENED BEFORE IS SOME PROTESTERS WOULD BE FOUND DEAD THE DAY AFTER THE PROTEST.
AND THE GOVERNMENT WOULD ISSUE A REPORT SAYING, THIS PERSON COMMITTED SUICIDE.
AND IN ORDER TO MINIMIZE THE MISINGS, SHE AND HER COLLEAGUES, BEFORE THEY WENT TO THE PROTEST, THEY ASKED ME TO FILM ON CAMERA, I WON'T COMMIT SUICIDE, IF ANYTHING HAPPENS TO ME, IT WAS THE GOVERNMENT.
AND THAT'S THE ONLY WAY TO PROTECT THEMSELVES.
DO YOU THINK THAT MAKING THIS FILM WILL HELP CHANGE NOT JUST THE PUBLIC'S PERCEPTION IN CHINA, BUT ALSO JUST THE PERCEPTION OF PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD OF WHAT IT'S LIKE LIVING IN CHINA?
YEAH, THAT'S ONE OF MY GOALS.
AND TO CODE ONE OF THE SUBJECTS IN THE FILM, SHE SAID, I DON'T UNDERSTAND, THERE ARE A LOT OF WELL EDUCATED, WELL TRAVELED PEOPLE, AND WHEN THEY TALK ABOUT CHINA, THEY SAY CHINA'S GREAT, THEY HAVE TALL BUILDINGS, WIDE HIGHWAY AND FANCY CARS AND THE ECONOMY IS STRONG.
BUT THEY DON'T KNOW THAT WE, AS CHINESE, WE ARE LIKE ANIMALS, WE DON'T EVEN HAVE BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS.
SO, WITH EVERYTHING THAT'S HAPPENED NOW AND HAVING MADE THIS FILM, DO YOU THINK THAT YOU CAN GO BACK HOME AND IF YOU DO, WHAT DO YOU THINK MIGHT HAPPEN?
THAT'S A QUESTION I STILL DON'T KNOW.
I WISH THERE IS A LIST THAT I CAN CHECK IF MY NAME IS ON THE BLACKLIST AND IF I CAN GO BACK, BUT IT'S REALLY UNPREDICTABLE HOW THE GOVERNMENT WOULD REACT.
MY FAMILY IS STILL IN CHINA AND SO FAR, THEY ARE SAFE.
AND I'M HOPING THAT THEY WILL CONTINUE BEING SAFE.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FIRST FOR MAKING THIS DOCUMENTARY AND ALSO FOR JOINING US ON 'METROFOCUS.'
THANK YOU VERY MUCH.