Hidden misery of Mao’s slave teenage brides told in new film

Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ... Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits

THE film’s title, 8,000 Girls Ascend the Heavenly Mountain, suggests that Chinese audiences will see a tale of joy when it is aired on television this autumn.

It dramatises the lives of thousands of girls aged 13 to 19 who went to China’s remote far west in the 1950s to follow soldiers sent to colonise the turbulent Muslim region.

In real life it was a trip to purgatory. As shooting for the film unfolds in Beijing under the watchful gaze of party censors, an astonishing story of mass deception, forced marriages and suicides has come to light.

Elderly women have come forward to tell how they were lured to China’s new frontier by false promises of training and education - only to find themselves locked in barracks and coerced into marrying soldiers.

Chinese journalists have also discovered that Chairman Mao Tse-tung approved the dispatch of 900 prostitutes from the brothels of Shanghai to undergo “thought reform” at the hands of the troops.

Thousands of war widows were also conscripted to go forth and multiply in the desert with new husbands from the People’s Liberation Army.

It casts new light on the leadership’s determination to occupy and populate the far west, known as Xinjiang, in the early 1950s. Ethnic conflict between Chinese and the Uighur Muslim population has flared ever since. The area recently witnessed its worst riots since an insurrection in 1997.

The stoical endurance of hundreds of thousands of Chinese settlers has rarely been described in such bleak terms as in the accounts of the 8,000 women from Hunan province collected by Lu Yiping, an author. He spent five years tracing the survivors of that naive pilgrimage, simple rural girls infused with the idealism of the “new China”...

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