Susan Morgan Cooper’s “Mulberry Child” is a study of a multi generational family fractured by the Cultural Revolution, based on Jian Ping’s book of the same name.
Jian Ping was a small child when the Cultural Revolution first inspired her peasant parents, even going so far as urging the two young revolutionaries to choose a mate from a government list of like-minded believers.
Her parents, mother Gu Wenxiu, a school administrator, and father Hou Kai, both ardent communists, were first smiled on and promoted by the revolution, then caught in an endless cycle of investigation, self criticism, public denunciation (at what was called “Struggle Meetings” banishment and incarceration.
Hou Kai, who survived a Japanese prison, spoke up to defend a co-worker. Gu Wenxiu was attacked by her students in the second wave of the Cultural Revolution for teaching “revisionist or capitalist teaching line. Refusing to divorce Hou Ka and leave her children fatherless, Gu Wenxiu was left in isolation in the school’s boiler room, only allowed to visit her home when the children slept.
Throughout it all, they practiced a style of behavior- never showing their feeling, never crying, showing affection of speaking out. Hou Kai’s mother raised the youngest, JIan Ping. Her older brothers and sisters were sent to the country to be reeducated by the peasants
After Mao died, Jian PInk left her daughter with her grandmother and pursued her higher education abroad, forcing herself to excel, she studied for an entire generation that lost their university opportunities. Jian Ping moved to Chicago, and when her daughter Lisa was four, she joined her.
Single mother Jina sacrificed for Lisa’s future, and although she was more indulgent and affectionate with Lisa than her parents were with her, she raised a disconnected daughter, wholly Americanized, who had no interest in Chinese or family values. Blithe career girl Lisa spends her afterwork time with friends, or traveling, chaffs at her mother’s advice and resents her monthly visits to her mother’s house
Jian PInk wrote her book, Mulberry Child” as an attempt to bridge the seemingly impossible gap in values. Susan Morgan Cooper films a return trip to China, just prior to the Beijing Olympics. The film uses archival materials and reenactments to trace the story. The archival material and the reunion are interesting, but the reenactments seem slack.
Jian’s ailing heroic father hoped to live long enough to see China burst onto the world stage, during the Olympics, he succeeded and the trip did seem to open Lisa’s eyes and heart. Opens October 5, Laemmle Music Hall.