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Founding of A Republic: A Nouveau Red

GB Geo-Blog

Founding of A Republic: A Nouveau Red

Mao and his coterie celebrated the founding of the People’s Republic China in drunken bliss, hollering the internationale. It used to be taboo for a red film to depict the top leaders as anything but sober. Not this time. Released for the 60th Anniversary of the PRC, The Founding of a Republic may be a nouveau red film directed for a domestic audience with more of a penchant for star-spotting and comic relief than for a revolution, and its English subtitles suggests an ambition to hit Western markets.

Nouveau reason number 1: the bad guy is not so bad.

The flashing of 172 star studded cast including Zhang Ziyi and Jackie Chan gives the film a slide show feel. But the real political show-stopper is Zhang Guoli who plays leader of the Nationalist Party, Chang Kai-Shek. Traditional propaganda films demonize the Nationalists as the arch-enemy of the Communists. But in this film, Chang Kai-shek is both deceiving and honest; both dictatorial and benevolent. The film begins with the nationalists’ deceit; Chang Kai Shek originally agrees to cooperate with Communist and the China Democratic League after the Japanese were defeated in 1937 only to turn his back against Mao by consolidating power. But towards the end of Nationalist rule, in an intimate moment in the rain with his son, Chang admits his defeat; the Nationalist Party was being eaten alive from the inside by corruption. The viewer sympathizes with Chang, and sub-consciously wonders if the Communist Party, having gained their monopoly on power, may be facing a similar crisis. At least one thing is for sure: the film paves a road for a future meeting with Taiwanese president and Nationalist Party leader Ma Yingjiu.

Nouveau reason number 2: the good guy is not so nuts.

Mao doesn’t ever hold a gun in the film. This is a leader who proclaimed that power flows out the barrel of a gun. In fact, Mao doesn’t shout slogans nor does he mobilize the masses to take arms. He exudes harmony and benevolence. He plays with kids in flower fields and waits for news from the battlefields atop the roof of a hut. His only show of temper is kicking over a foot basin when one of the top communist generals was killed by the Nationalists. He weeps. With his trousers rolled up, he is the grassroots resistance leader, except he is so benevolent that it is hard to imagine how he mobilized guerilla warfare. He is without sin. But a harmonious leader and a benevolent party must deliver wealth and keep talking to the people. Back in the revolutionary days, the party was fish and the people were the water. Now, certain netizens are starting to describe the party as oil. Even the most benevolent oil does not mix with water.

Domestic reception of the film is multi-faceted. I leave you with a masculine reading of the film from a netizen called TwoCold:



“No matter, Founding of a Republic tells a truth: when our Party captured Shanghai, Song Qingling was a bit hesitant [to succumb]. Our Party asked her, ‘What do you think of this house? It’s in a prime location, huge, top tier interior design, we’ll give you the property rights. Song was sold. The film tells us, to get a woman, you need a house, especially in Shanghai.”

What’s your review?



  1. Adam September 27, 2009

    Hi Diana,

    The link you posted isn’t working for me.

    Do you know of anywhere online that I could view the film?


    FACES ’04/’05

  2. Ben October 13, 2009


    When Agnes Smedley made it to Yenan to cover how the 8th Route Army organized the rural Chinese peasantry to fight against Japanese occupation in northern China, she mentioned witnessing how Mao’s wife, He Zizhen beat him for frequently visiting Agnes’ cave to talk to her and the younger urbanite women working with her. She was shocked that he took the beating so calmly that she considered him oddly “effeminate” totally unlike the strong manly military leader she’d seen in Zhu De, Mao’s most famous military partner during the 1930s and 1940s.

    Mao earned the respect of his battle-hardened military commanders such as Zhu De, He Long and Liu Bocheng by his uncanny ability to sum up from the essential informational elements gathered by their military and party network during every major military campaigns from 1927 to 1949 to accurately predict and work out plans to counter the likely immediate politico-military objectives of their enemies be they from the Chinese Guomindang army or the Japanese Imperial Army. Mao’s military manual entitled “On Protracted Warfare” was even the standard text for Chiang Kaishek’s Guomindang senior army officers’ training school during the war of resistance against Japanese invasion.

    If you’ve the time, read some of Mao’s poems you’d be able to get a better feel of his emotional ebbs and flows. I suggest you start with his 1925 poem entitled “Changsa” which poignantly summed up Mao’s state of mind and emotion not long after he left behind the heady years of student activism during his four years in Hunan Yishi (Chinese acronym for Hunan First Teachers’ College).

    Best regards.

  3. Diana Fu October 21, 2009

    Adam, I don’t think you can view the film online just yet.
    Here’s a link to a recent Guardian article about the film:

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