“In the Face of the Sickles, What Can the Wheat Do?”

A low-budget movie depicting a poor couple’s struggle in rural China surprised many with a run at the Chinese box office that dwarfed some blockbusters. Now, many are wondering why they can’t watch it.

“Return to Dust” depicts two outcasts, a woman with a physical disability and a farmer too poor to marry, who get together in a marriage arranged by their families. With a realistic style, Li Ruijun, the director, tells the story of the hardships they face.

The movie, which features mostly locals in China’s western Gansu province rather than professional actors, premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year and started screening in China in July. It quickly gained a following on social media. By early September, daily ticket revenue topped 10 million yuan ($1.4 million), surpassing big-budget movies such as “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

. . .

The movie’s disappearance came just ahead of a twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress in mid-October, at which President Xi Jinping is expected to secure a third term in power.

Hashtags about the movie and its removal on social-media platform Weibo became unclickable, a sign that the discussion was considered sensitive. Some blog posts on China’s do-everything app, WeChat, that asked why the movie was removed online also disappeared.

Weibo didn’t respond to a request for comment. iQIYI and Huawei Technologies Co., which operate major streaming platforms, didn’t reply to requests for comment. Tencent Holdings Ltd., which owns Tencent Video and WeChat, also didn’t respond to requests for comment.

China’s National Radio and Television Administration, the country’s broadcasting authority, didn’t respond to a faxed request for comment.

. . .

Many social-media discussions centered on how the lives of the couple in the movie were exploited by those in power. For example, in one scene, a wealthy man in the village pressures the husband to donate blood for his sick father.

In a line from the movie widely cited by social media users, the husband says, “In the face of the sickles, what can the wheat do?”

For the full story, see:

Liyan Qi. “?Chinese Fans of Popular Movie ‘Return to Dust’ Wonder What Happened to It.” wsj.com Posted Sunday, October 2, 2022), URL: https://www.wsj.com/articles/chinese-fans-of-popular-movie-return-to-dust-wonder-what-happened-to-it-11664721604?mod=Searchresults_pos1&page=1

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: As of 10/6/22, the article had not appeared in the print version of the WSJ.)

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