While the pandemic proliferates across continents, so too does a global awareness of the duplicitous and insidious nature of China’s regime. We are collectively coming to understand the magnitude of the devastation, and the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) role in the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, more aptly named the CCP virus.
With time on our hands under lockdown, many of us have an increasing appetite to understand how we have come to be in the situation we are in.
The following is a list of both documentaries and narrative features that shed light on the CCP, each focusing on a different aspect of the regime’s reach and reign of terror.
I came to understand the extent of the CCP’s oppression and rancid abuse of power when, in 2006, I first heard reports that the CCP was performing forced organ harvesting on its own citizens, practitioners of Falun Gong, which is a peaceful practice of mind and body. Shortly thereafter, I had the opportunity to interview David Matas, a Canadian human rights lawyer and former Nazi hunter, who was asked to investigate these allegations.
When I learned that even U.S. news agencies were bribed or threatened by the CCP to silence this story, I knew I had to make the documentary “Red Reign,” which came out in 2013, explaining and exposing forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience.
Sadly, this crime against humanity continues today and now also victimizes Uyghurs and other vulnerable peoples.
‘It’s a Girl’
China’s now infamous policy of one child per family brought world attention to an issue that has its roots in many cultures and political systems around the world: the preference for male children and the abandonment, trafficking, and often murder of female children. “It’s a Girl,” shot in both India and China, sheds light on this heartbreaking practice, the cultural and political systems that allow it, and the women, mothers, and daughters who have fallen victim to this abomination.
‘Death by China’
The totalitarian regime of China has immense control over its own capitalist markets and businesses, but that influence reaches far beyond its own borders to extend its position of strength to the world economy. Based on the book “Death by China: Confronting the Dragon” by Peter Navarro and Greg Autry and narrated by Martin Sheen, “Death by China: How America Lost Its Manufacturing Base” investigates China’s corruption of world markets through abusive trade policies and currency manipulation.
Navarro claims China’s rise to economic strength is based in large part on illegal trade subsidies that allow it to flood the United States with cheap products, making it almost impossible for American companies to compete.
‘Transcending Fear: The Story of Gao Zhisheng’
Written and directed by Wenjing Ma, the documentary “Transcending Fear: The Story of Gao Zhisheng” charts the life of one of China’s most notable freedom fighters. From the humblest of beginnings, Gao, born in a cave, became one of China’s top-tier attorneys, gaining the respect and admiration of the whole country. Some called him “the conscience of China.”
But then, in the eyes of the CCP, he went too far. After speaking out about human rights abuses, he was abducted and tortured. His life and the lives of his family members were threatened.
Gao is now a renowned freedom fighter, but he had to make the choice between a fight for justice and truth and his own life. This film uncovers the fear that sits beneath the barbarism of the CCP.
The film was released in 2015; in 2017, Gao was arrested again and has not been heard from since.
‘An Elephant Sitting Still’
The industrial wasteland of North China forms the backdrop—with its muted palette and characters often depicted in silhouette—for what many consider a classic of Chinese filmmaking, “An Elephant Sitting Still.” Sadly, director Hu Bo died shortly after making the film.
While there is a ray of hope at the end, Bo’s filmic description of the people and the place leaves no doubt that we are products of our landscape and environment. Populated by a teenage boy and his family whose lives are devoid of any real meaning or beauty, and who are given to sniping jealousies, the film gives us a window into life in the industrial North. It is a society, isolated and downtrodden, that has lost its way.
‘Mao’s Last Dancer’
It seemed that Li Cunxin was destined to become a farm laborer in a destitute, small rural village in Shandong Province. But fate had another life in store for him. He was offered a chance to study at Madame Mao’s Beijing Dance Academy, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
“Mao’s Last Dancer” is the story, taken from his own memoirs, of how Li rose to become one of the world’s leading international ballet dancers. It would be the story of a dream come true if it were not for the brutal regime under which he was to study.
But Li persevered and eventually, in a cultural exchange, he was allowed to study in the United States. Upon his arrival, he was astonished at the freedom and opulence of the country, which ran directly contrary to the propaganda he had experienced his entire life under the rule of the CCP.
‘Candlelight Across the Street’
The tender and inspiring documentary “Candlelight Across the Street” is about Portland Place, just off the busy shopping center of Oxford Street in London. The film tells of a building bought by the Qing Dynasty Empress Cixi, back in 1875, which now houses the Chinese Embassy to the UK.
Back in 2002, a small group of people appeared outside the Chinese Embassy, and they have been there, faithfully, in peaceful protest ever since. Who are they and why are they there, even through the coldest of winters? They take shifts to ensure someone is there 24 hours every day because, as they say, the CCP persecutes the Falun Gong practitioners 24 hours every day. This is their story.
‘In the Name of Confucius’
Referred to as a Trojan horse, to infiltrate mainstream America and promote Chinese influence and interests abroad, the Confucius Institute (CI) had been attached, ostensibly as a Chinese-language learning facility, to as many as 1,600 college and university campuses around the world, according to the website for “In the Name of Confucius.”
Doris Liu’s award-winning documentary focuses on a former CI teacher. When Sonia Zhao, who defected and made an initial complaint about the multimillion-dollar institute, one of Canada’s top 10 universities and its largest school board found themselves embroiled in a growing global controversy as scholars, parents, and officials questioned the political influence and true purpose of CI programs.
‘Letter From Masanjia’
Julie Keith, a private citizen living in Oregon, was astonished to find a letter hidden inside a box of Halloween decorations. The letter, a desperate plea for help, had been written thousands of miles away by Sun Yi, a political prisoner working in a forced labor camp, the Masanjia Labor Camp, in China.
Sun Yi’s letter began an investigation that eventually led to massive labor reforms in China. This documentary, “Letter From Masanjia,” directed by Leon Lee and released in 2018, tells a harrowing story of desperation that led to eventual victory.
Claws of the Red Dragon
Inspired by real-life events, the narrative drama “Claws of the Red Dragon” depicts the political battle over global 5G-cyberspace dominance. Following the arrest for U.S. crimes, on Canadian soil, of Meng Wanzhou, who is the heiress and CFO of telecom giant Huawei, the CCP relied on its usual gangster-like tactics to get its way: It retaliated by arresting and sentencing an American in China to death; it bribed a Huawei employee to convince his journalist wife to cooperate with its propaganda; and it threatened that reporter’s Chinese family traveling abroad—all to ruthlessly ensure its “Belt and Road Initiative” and succeed at taking control of Western infrastructure at any cost.
Masha Savitz is a freelance writer and filmmaker in the Los Angeles area.