Tian yu: The Sent Down Girl  (1998)




Director:   Joan Chen

Starring:   Lu Lu (Xiu Xiu), Lopsang (Lao Jin), Zheng Qian (Li Chuanbei), Jie Gao (Mother), Qianqian Li (Sister), Yue Lu (Father), Qian Qiao (Chen Li), Cheng Jiang (Rider A). Xiaoyu Yang (Girl), Xuejun Gu (Rider B), Huri (Holligan), Zhizhung Lik (Headquarter's Chief), Kun Zhang (Assistant).

In 1975, the time of the Cultural Revolution in China,  Xiu Xiu is sent to a remote corner of the Sichuan steppes where she is completely forgotten.


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

1967-1976.  The communists started an educational movement known as "Educated Youth go up to the mountains and down to the countryside".  The goal was to build a New China by eliminating the economic and social disparities between the cities and the countryside.  7.5 million young students from the city were sent to the remote countrysides.  Symbolizing the ideals of Communism they were supposed to unite with the workers and peasants.  (editorial comment:  sounds like typical communist bullshit to me!  Who would ever think that city students would or even could unite with workers and peasant except an ideologically blinded communist?)

Chengdu, China. 1975.  A young story narrator says that he loved Wen Xiu.  And he remembers the time when he and she were forced to leave their youth behind.  Xiu Xiu is going away to the countryside with the Educated Youth.  She is just a kid, but she is being sent off to a far away place in the country.  Her mother gives her some advise.  The narrator comes to see Xiu Xiu before she leaves and she tells him:  "Let's write".  He is able to stay home because he has family connections that kept him out of the program. 

One year later.  Student Chen Li gets "lost" and is never heard from again.  Xiu Xiu is to be sent to Lao Jin to learn horse herding.  When she returns she is supposed to start an all girl cavalry.  Everyone says there is something wrong with the man.  He is a Tibetan and in a Tibetan civil war he was castrated.  Xiu Xiu is dropped off at the Tibetan's tent and the driver leaves.  She tries to catch him to protest against there only being one tent, but the car is too far away for the driver to hear her.

Xiu Xiu is a little afraid of Lao Jin at first, but is reassured as he does nothing to alarm her.  One day someone "steals" just one of her shoes.  Lao Jin says maybe it is a suitor for the custom is if a man is interested in a woman he steals one of her shoes. 

Now 180 days have passed since Xiu Xiu was left in the great grasslands.  She tells Lao Jin that headquarters had promised to come get her in six months and she gets all dressed up to wait for their arrival.  But they don't come. 

She meets a peddler who tells her that many of the Educated Youth have already gone back to the city.  Some of them want to riot against the injustices they have experienced since being in the countryside.  He says that she will need a permit to leave and that he can help her get a permit.  When Lao Jin arrives, the peddler leaves.  In a week the peddler returns.  While Lao Jin is away, he has sex with her.  She is hoping that he will be able to help her get her a permit to leave.

She wants to go to the movies at headquarters, but Lao Jin tells her it is too far away.  So Xiu Xiu stubbornly decides to go by herself.  She leaves on her horse Blackie.  Later Lao Jin sees her horse return, but without Xiu Xiu.  He chases Blackie down, jumps on him and lets the horse lead him to Xiu Xiu.  Thanks to the horse, Lao Jin finds Xiu Xiu.  She tells him that she stopped to urinate and Blackie just ran off from her.  They return to their tent. 

A motorcyclist arrives saying that someone gave him the wrong directions.  He says that he knows the peddler.  The stranger has sex with Xiu Xiu.  A little later she has sex with a third guy.  Then a fourth man comes for her at night.  Lao Jin says nothing, but he does burn one of the man's shoes.  When the man leaves, Lao Jin tells her that she is a whore.  She is too far gone for it to have much effect on her. 

Xiu Xiu is pregnant.  Lao Jin rides with her to Headquarters to help her.  At first it appears as if nobody is at Headquarters.  They learn later that the Educated Youth were rioting.  Lao Jin becomes so exasperated with the lack of help from the few who are there at Headquarters that he threatens to shoot one or more of them with his rifle. 

In the maternity room, two of the nurses engage in very ugly gossip about Xiu Xiu having slept with almost every man in the area.  One remarks that this is the fifth girl this week they have had to help.  After they "helped" Xiu Xiu, one of the women casually remarks that Xiu Xiu is bleeding to death as if it was nothing.  One of the Educated Youth who shot himself in the foot in order to get a permit to go home has sex with the bloody Xiu Xiu.   Lao Jin goes crazy and starts hitting the young man despite the fact that three men try to hold him back. 

The next morning when Lao Jin wakes up, everybody is gone.  He later finds Xiu Xiu outside in the snow.  He picks her up and takes her back to their tent.  At home Xiu Xiu recovers, but now she wants to shoot off two of her toes so she can get a permit to go home.  She asks Lao Jin to do it, but he resists.  She keeps nagging and begging him.  He finally picks up the rifle.  He gets ready to shoot, but Xiu Xiu makes him wait while she braids her hair and ties a thin red veil around her throat.  When she is ready she calmly watches as Lao Jin aims for her head.  He fires.  He places her body in a depression that Xiu Xiu used as a place to bathe.  Lao Jin then turns the rifle on himself and fires.  His body falls besides Xiu Xiu's corpse. 


Wow, what a powerful film.  It is very disturbing, but very effective at portraying the injustice and negligence of the communists in China.  Many Educated Youth just disappeared and were never heard of again.  Xiu Xiu is abandoned by Headquarters out on the grasslands with an older man.  She is desperately homesick and wants to return to her home town.  In order to get herself back home, she starts sleeping with men who lie to her that they can help her get a permit to return to her city.  Xiu Xiu becomes pregnant and the need to get her help back at headquarters starts the beginning of the end of her long journey. 

The character of Lao Jin was a little strange.  He never advised Xiu Xiu about what to do, nor did he really try to protect her from the men who were obviously abusing her to get sex.  And yet he still cared for her a great deal.  Well, everyone said he was a strange man. 

Lu Lu as Xiu Xiu and Lopsang as Lao Jin were both very good. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

Historical Background:

See Last Emperor (Bertolucci) (1987)


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