China Cry: A True Story (1990)
Director: James F. Collier
Starring: Julia Nickson-Soul (Sung Neng Yee), France Nuyen (Mrs. Sung), James Shigeta (Dr. Sung), Russell Wong (Lam Cheng Shen), Philip Tan (Colonel Cheng), Jak Castro (Labor Camp Guard).
a barely Christian upper-class woman survives the anti-religious excesses of communism in China
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Sung Neng Yee later became Nora Lam. This is her story.
A decade before China's Great Cultural Revolution. Shanghai, December 1941. Neng Yee says her childhood was like a beautiful dream. She was a princess, spoiled and pampered. The Japanese attack Shanghai. Her lovely private garden is bombed. The Japanese arrive at her home and start breaking things. She and her parents are taken away. Her mother's jewelry is confiscated right off her fingers. The chauffer tries to drive the family, but a Japanese soldier knocks him out with a rifle butt to his face. Neng Yee says: "War stole my privileged childhood."
Chinese New Year 1950. Mr. and Mrs. Sung wait for their daughter at the celebration. Neng Yee and her friends come down the street in front of red flags and pictures of Mao. She comments: "The red flag seemed China's hope for the future." Her mother is very skeptical of her activities. She now attends Soochow University. One of her classes is self-criticism. She sees a young, handsome man wearing western clothes. She learns his name is Lam Cheng Shen. She also learns that he is very rich. Neng Yee tells her friends that she will get him to take her to dinner within a month.
Neng Yee scolds her mother for gambling. Her father says that they should have left China after the Japanese defeat. Neng Yee tells her parents not to worry for she plans on being a communist big shot.
Neng Yee sees soldiers harassing Catholic priests and nuns. She doesn't really pay that much attention to the incident. Cheng Shen signs up to volunteer for neighborhood clean-up, so Neng Yee does too. She looks for him on the day of the clean-up. She finally sees him raking leaves. She walks over to him and tries really hard to engage the young man in conversation without much success. Neng Yee finally gives up and walks away. Later he approaches her and gives her some pretty yellow flowers. He apologizes for their not having been properly introduced. At home she puts the flowers in a school book and hugs the book.
The bold Neng Yee finds out where the young fellow lives and pretends she is selling tickets to the Chopin concert. He says he is going to visit his parents in Hong Kong. She gives him some money and asks him to buy her some nylon stockings. She then says that in return she will buy two tickets for herself and they will go to the concert. It's agreed. She leaves the building shouting "Yahoo!"
At home her mother says that dad is late and that something is wrong. She goes to see a kind of fortune teller who tells her that a dark cloud hangs over her husband. Neng Yee gets on her bike to ride to the hospital to check on her doctor father. A group of soldiers is grabbing a bunch of prostitutes from a house of prostitution. Neng Yee passes by and is knocked off her bike and grabbed for being a prostitute. She really starts protesting and finally an officer comes over and gets her released. He apologizes for the mistake. He adds that it is not wise to travel alone at night. Neng Yee continues on to the hospital.
At the hospital the clerk claims that Dr. Sung is not known to him. When the daughter demands to know where her father is, the fellow just continues playing dumb. She walks around the hospital until she finds her father. He is cleaning the men's room floor. He tells his daughter to go away. She is not supposed to be at the hospital. He adds: "I am under the submission of the people." As Neng Yee leaves she shouts out in defense of her good father. A hospital worker grabs her and firmly tells her: "Quiet! You will only make it worse for him."
In class the professor delivers an approved anti-capitalism lecture. He claims that with time China will be classless. Neng Yee stands up to ask if there will be ways to protect the innocent in China. The professor quotes Chairman Mao that a revolution is not a dinner party. Then he says: "Identify yourself."
Neng Yee gets taken to dinner by Cheng Shen. She tells him that he has built a high wall around himself. Other than that, the dinner went well. At the Chopin concert her two friend are amazed: "She really did it!"
Her father is grabbed, accused of having stolen from the hospital.
In 1953 she graduates with honors from the university. She was the 3rd highest student in her class. At the ceremony her parents meet her young man. She visits at his apartment that he shares with two families. They kiss. The next day they bike to her old home. She shows him around the old private garden. She says a big general now lives in the home. Since no one is home they go inside the house. Cheng Shen plays boogie-woogie on the piano and she dances. They then dance together.
The couple marries.
1954. Neng Yee teaches the cream of the young military officers history and political science. But one day she is taken from the classroom. She is pregnant. She is asked a great many questions about her personal and family history. They want to know why she attended the McTyler Christian School, a missionary school. She answers that it was for the quality of the instruction. They accuse her of having strong Christian sympathies. She says that her father does not even pray. Then she went to a Presbyterian boarding school. She admits there she became a Christian, but protests that "It didn't stick." A fellow teacher accuses her and her now husband of smuggling nylon stockings into China. Neng Yee is told to write in great detail about the time with the Presbyterians. She says that she has to go home. The response is: "The more you write, the sooner this matter will be closed." She has to stay stuck in a classroom overnight. The next day they look over her writing and the Colonel tells her that her writing is too specific. She admits that at the school she was lonely and she turned to religion: "I did profess to be a Christian." But by 16 years of age the Christian God had been forgotten. She now looked to Mao for answers.
Her husband is very worried about her and tries to get inside the school compound, but without success. Neng Yee is told that they are trying to find out if she is worthy to assist them with the new China. Instead of becoming more submissive, Neng Yee is angry and starts to become very outspoken. She insists that her baby needs rest to be healthy. Lonely and upset once again she starts talking to the Christian God: "I talked to you when I was a child. Do you remember my name?" She draws a cross on the blackboard.
A very hostile woman interrogator and a male assistant jump all over Neng Yee. The interrogator starts by kicking Neng Yee's leg. She tells them: "I have nothing further to confess." The man hits her and knocks her down. The woman demands a full confession of her counter-revolutionary activities. The man starts kicking her while she is on the ground. She speaks of love for her husband. The woman responds: "That is absurd. Love is a bourgeois concept." The interrogator asks if she is a Christian and this time Neng Yee says: "I will not deny His presence." She is taken out to the courtyard to be executed by firing squad. A blindfold is placed over her eyes. But as they prepare to shoot her, a huge storm develops with high winds. And then, apparently, lightning strikes the firing squad. She escapes death. Neng Yee considers it a miracle.
Neng Yee asks the Colonel if she can go home to have her baby. She will be granted the standard 56 days of maternity leave. While she talks with the Colonel her water breaks. She is taken to the hospital in great pain. But she is number 27 on the waiting list and the doctor is now servicing number 14. Her mother comes to the hospital to visit with her daughter. Neng Yee asks for her husband, but the communists are keeping him at court until 11 p.m. every night. Neng Yee tells her mother: "We will all escape from China." She gives birth to a baby boy.
She is at home now with her baby and husband. She asks her husband if he believes in God. He seems worried about the very nature of the question. She tells him that she still hears His voice. She has six more days left before she has to return to the school for interrogation. Since she will be away from her baby, she has to seek sources of milk for him. She has to travel to another district to find milk. She waits in line to speak with a government service person. The woman listens to her story and tells her that she is part of a Christian group that secretly meets on market days. They will help her if she comes to the meetings. She attends the meeting and the people offer her various sources for milk, including powdered milk.
When Neng Yee returns to interrogation they now want to know all about her husband, including every conversation. They are especially curious about the money he gets from Hong Kong. They let her go home. She tells her husband that she misses touching him. She then says: "I have a plan!" Her husband, scared what might happen to them, tells her not to tell him. The less he knows the better. That way his interrogators won't get the plan from him.
Cheng Shen goes to interrogation. They really grill him with questions. Neng Yee comes home to find her husband huddled against the wall outside their quarters. He tells her: "I'm ready to lie, but I don't know what to lie about." He is very irritable and snaps at Neng Yee. He asks how they came to be together in the first place. She tells him: "I knew you were mine the first time I saw you." He hugs her. She wonders: "Will we ever again dare to be graceful with one another?"
Neng Yee sends a letter to Hong Kong. She is told that her father has the flu and that she is to visit him in the hospital. She goes and finds her father wracked with pain. He tells her that they are experimenting on him with a new drug that causes extensive bleeding. Neng Yee is frightened and she pulls the covers from his body. There is blood everywhere. She calls for a nurse. Her father dies. Her mother, husband and two children visit her father's grave.
Soldiers invade the Christian religious meeting. Many of the men and a few women are hit and knocked down with rifle butts. Neng Yee is lucky. Her sponsor sneaks her out through a hidden exit. Back home she is told that her husband gave a full confession of his espionage. He is a spy! She goes to see Cheng Shen. Befores he can say anything, he says: "They said you confessed!" She responds with: "Lies! Lies! Lies!"
The Colonel seems very happy with his job. Neng Yee is pregnant again. She receives a letter from Hong Kong.
Neng Yee is granted a 30 day exit permit for her husband to visit her sick father. His daughter will go with him. She watches him leave on a boat. "Do not come back!" she tells her husband. She asks her husband to please wait for her even if it takes up to two decades. Her husband and daughter leave.
The Colonel visits her. He says that they know her husband is not coming back. So she will have to do forced labor until he returns. She has to carry rocks in a basket on her back. This is very hard for her, especially since she is pregnant for a third time. She applies for an exit permit. The official says it will take a long, long time. She fills out the forms anyway. A man who slips and falls down the rock hill is shot by a guard. She keeps asking the official about her papers and the man says: "I told you! You're dreaming!" She is told to report to the medical section. She has a kidney infection. Neng Yee is nine months pregnant. She promises herself that the baby will not be born in China. She will be born somewhere free. She tells her mother: "I have His promise, Mama!"
She goes to the telegraph office to send a telegram of 91 words to three people: Mao, Zhou Enlia (Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs) and the Central Police in Beijing. She is thrown on a truck. A prison official tells Neng Yee that she has caused them to lose face. The man tells her: "Sign! Report to this address!" She goes to see her old Colonel. She has been granted her exit permits. He adds: "It is known that you will not return to China. . . . Your God in ten years will be in a museum." She responds: "To do that you would have to imprison the wind!"
Before she leaves she tells her mother that one day she will come too: "I have His promise!" She is taken to a very sandy area and released with her little boy. They walk and walk and walk. Finally she sees her husband with binoculars looking for her. He is with some military personnel. He runs to her. They are reunited. Very aware of her terrible appearances she says: "Look at us! I am so ashamed!" She adds: "When our son is born, I promise to be young again." Cheng Shen responds with "You won, Neng Yee. You won for all of us!"
August 20, 1958. Neng Yee's son was born in freedom.
1960. Her mother escaped from China to Hong Kong.
Quite a moving film. And what a woman! She would not give up where most people would have. She was not very religious, but mistreatment at the hands of the communists drove her back to the religion of her youth. And it was her faith that played a great part in giving her the strength to keep going against seemingly hopeless odds. Neng Yee was a very intelligent and very determined young woman. She suffered humiliation, beatings, harassment, sleep deprivation, the death of her father at the hands of the communists, the mistreatment of her husband, a period without her husband and daughter and imprisonment at hard labor. She persisted through all of it. Maybe the communists just realized that the woman was never going to give up.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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