Qiu Ju da guan si (The Story of Qiu Ju) (1992)
Director: Yimou Zhang
Starring: Li Gong (Qiu Ju), Peiqi Liu (Wan Qinglai, chili farmer), Liuchun Yang (Meizi, Qinglai's sister), Quesheng Lei (Wang Shantang, village chief), Zhijun Ge (Officer Li), Wanqing Zhu, Luowen Cui, Huiqin Yang, Jianfa Wang, Zi Lin, Jun Ye.
woman battles frustrating court system in modern China
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
Qiu Ju lives with her husband Wan Qinglai, his sister Meizi and his father. She is very pregnant and wobbles along. Her sister-in-law is a big help to her because she pulls the wagon which carries her ailing brother. Qinglai was kicked in the groin by the chief of the village, Wang Shantang. They travel a long distance from Xigouzi to the village to have Qinglai examined medically and to get a medical report for the chief.
Back home Qiu Ju gives the medical report to the chief. She then asks him what should be done now. The chief says: "Do whatever you want". Qiu Ju returns home and tells her husband that the chief's answer was that there was nothing to be done. Above all Qiu Ju wanted an apology from the chief.
Qiu Ju and Meizi travel to the village to see Officer Li. Later Officer Li pays a visit to Qinglai and learns that his chest is very bruised from where the chief hit him and his left testicle is slightly swollen. The original dispute was over the family not getting an answer from the chief on their request for permission to built a storage shed to store their chilies that they grow. Since they had no answer they decided to clear a part of their land in order to build the shed. The chief told them that they cannot do this because all the land used for agriculture cannot be used for constructing buildings. This made Qinglai mad and he said something about the chief only raising hens -- a remark the chief took as a criticism of his only having daughters and no sons. So the chief assaulted Qinglai.
A few days later Qiu Ju learns that the chief has to pay for their medical costs and any missed pay, which amounts to 200 yuan. But Qiu Ju is not happy. She wants an apology, not money. She pays a visit to the chief. Instead of handing her the 200 yuan, he throws it into the air and tells her to bend down and pick it up. He adds that now things are settled. Qiu Ju responds: "I'll decide when we'll be even."
Qiu Ju takes her case to the district level at the District Public Security Bureau. To pay for her trip Meizi pulls the cart filled with chilies to sell in the village. She sells them for 122 yuan. At the district level they tell her to go see a man named Zhang who will write a complain letter for her that will be acceptable to the court. Qiu Ju pays the man 20 yuan. She then hands in the complaint letter and is told that she will receive the decision in five days.
The district level decision backs up the original decision of Officer Li. Knowing that Qiu Ju will not accept the decision unless she gets an apology, Officer Li buys some food snacks for the family, gives them to Qiu Ju and tells her they are from the chief and that she should consider this his apology. Qiu Ju is very skeptical about who actually purchased the snacks. She asks the shop keeper and he tells her that Officer Li, not the chief, purchased the snacks. The snacks are returned to Officer Li.
Qiu Ju travels to the city to take her complaint to the City Public Security Bureau. In the city she and Meizi are cheated by a cart driver. For a ride to a cheap hotel that should only have cost 5 yuan, he tells Qiu Ju that he needs 45 yuan. When Qiu Ju protests, he drops it to 30 yuan. Later a woman informs Qiu Ju that she was cheated -- a common crime in big cities around the world. Even the cheap hotel is too expensive and Qiu Ju and Meiz go to the cheapest hotel in the city. The rent for the room is 4 yuan, but they do not even want to pay that. So the owner offers quarters in a common room where people sleep on the floor for 1.5 yuan. They take it.
The hotel owner takes an interest in Qiu Ju because she is so very pregnant. He gives her the address of the director of the city PSB. Qiu Ju and Meizi decide to buy some fruit and a framed painting to give to Director Yan when they talk to him about her case. Whiles Qiu Ju uses the bathroom, Meizi spots the bad cart driver and chases after him. She rams into a telegraph pole along the way and breaks the glass and tears the framed painting. When Qiu Ju comes out of the bathroom and can't find Meizi she almost panics. When Meizi finally shows up she tearfully tells her sister-in-law how scared she had been that something had happened to her. They buy another painting for the director. The director, of course, does not accept the gifts from the very naive women. But he is very sweet to the women and even drives them back to their hotel in his car. The two women return home to await the decision.
The decision is exactly the same except that the fine has been increased from 200 yuan to 250 yuan. The chief teases Qinglai that for all that effort they only received 50 more yuan. He adds: "Sue me if you want." Qinglai is satisfied and takes the money to his wife. Qiu Ju is angry when she learns that the decision letter was sent to the chief instead of her as it should have been. She pays a visit to the chief and throws the money on the ground by his feet.
Qiu Ju now has to take her case to the courts. She hires a lawyer and he assures her that he will win the case for her. But she is skeptical. She has still not received an apology and she asks the lawyer several times if he is sure justice will be done. At court Qiu Ju learns that she is actually suing Director Yan. She is appalled at this and refuses to go on with the case because she likes Director Yan too much. But the lawyer and Director Yan assure her that this is the procedure to follow. She has to sue Director Yan and then work her way down to the chief. Director Yan assures her that he will not be personally harmed if the decision goes against him.
In court she learns that the decision of the court has gone against her. She lost. Qiu Ju is a bit confused but vows that she will appeal. By the time she gets home officials from the Intermediate People's Court are already there investigating the case. The officials tell her husband that he should get an X-ray because if one of his ribs was busted by the chief, they will have a case of assault against the chief.
Late at night Qinglai and the midwife rush over to the chief's house to scream that Qiu Ju is having terrible time delivering her baby. She is bleeding very heavily. The chief objects, but does take action. He rides his bicycle to the village opera where the medical personnel are. Meanwhile, Qinglai and some neighbors carry Qiu Ju on a home made stretcher bed into the village.
Qiu Ju and her son survive the ordeal. The family, including Qiu Ju, are very grateful to the chief. They hold a big celebration for their new son. Qiu Ju herself went to the chief to thank him for his actions, which she believes saved her and her child's life, and requested his attendance at the celebration. She now feels very positive to the chief. But on the day of the celebration Qiu Ju is informed that the court has made its decision; her husband had suffered a broken rib according to the X-rays; the case has become one of assault; and the authorities are at very this minute grabbing the chief to detain him for fifteen days for assault. Qiu Ju does not want this to happen and runs to the road to see if she can stop the authorities and explain the situation. But as she arrives on the road, she realizes that she is too late. The chief is already on his way to detention. She stands there stunned at the turn of events.
Good movie. There were a number of interesting dimensions to the film. It was interesting to learn about the Chinese justice system. It was also interesting to see the street scenes in the city -- especially how the people traveled (most with bikes) and dressed. The vast majority of the people dressed very simply. It was a long way from the fashionable dress ones sees downtown on Manhattan Island. And the cheapest hotel was really fantastically cheap looking. And the two women seeking justice slept on the floor in a common room at that.
Gong Li was terrific as the very determined Qiu Ju seeking justice. All she really wanted was an apology, not any money. But the chief proved to be a very hard-headed, stubborn man. My wife and I thought that the whole dispute could have been settled by Officer Li if he had really put pressure on the chief to give some form of apology, even if it was in the form of a few food snacks delivered to the family of Qiu Ju. Then it occurred to us that in the American system of justice, those who have been harmed are usually satisfied with a decision in their favor and monetary damages and/or a jail sentence. We don't necessarily get an apology. You can't force someone to give an apology if they are dead-set against the idea. But Qiu Ju would not give up until she got her apology. She spent a lot of energy, time and money taking her case to the various levels of the justice system. And yet she never got an apology and the chief was detained by the police for 15 days just at the time that Qiu Ju was feeling very grateful to the chief. It's funny how things work out sometimes. We don't always get the result we desire. (But in this case the stubborn and arrogant chief brought down upon himself a serious punishment for his assault.)
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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