Theater of Cruelty

The only possible form of dignity

Children are not Afraid of Death, Children are Afraid of Ghosts.
Regissør: Rong Guang Rong

The story of four siblings' tragic suicide is deeply about the poverty in the Chinese countryside.


In 2015, four siblings, aged five to thirteen, are alleged to have committed suicide in a village in the remote Guizhou province of China. Suicides have never been fully resolved, but received wide coverage in international press (such as The Guardian, CBS and Al Jazeera) as well as by China Daily, the country's national English-language newspaper. The event and its coverage is the starting point for Rong Guang Rong's film Children are not Afraid of Death, Children are Afraid of Ghosts. The international film festival in Rotterdam, where the film premiered 28. January, it presented as a documentary – but it is not, which the text corrects by saying in plain text that the story is pure fiction. No one should expect any kind of truth in terms of reporting, reconstruction or testimony here – the film is rather a complex exploration of the event and context around it, and a confrontation with the filmmaker's own past, memories and experiences as a child and as a father.

The abandoned children have to cope without being prepared to cope with the world out there.

Abandoned. Rong explores both the physical and the socio-economic environment in which the drama took place. The film starts with a long take on the remote village where the drama took place late one night, and this scene is repeated several times. The director also explores the green countryside during the daytime – the corn fields, the highlands and the narrow roads.

The more community-oriented exploration focuses on poverty among the villagers; absent parents seeking more prosperity elsewhere, the abandoned children who have to cope without being prepared to cope the world out there. To begin with, Rong and his friend Chen Hua meet with hostility when they want to visit the village, despite the fact that the story is duly covered by the media and can hardly be said to be any secret. The strategy is to arrive at the hottest time of day when everyone is having a nap, strolling around a bit, getting in touch with some of the local kids and slowly trying to get closer to people. The SF approach is only partially successful, as its citizens do not like intruders – but it nevertheless leads to interesting meetings.

It turns out that the suicidal siblings, who, through their dramatic way of leaving their lives, also pick up things from Rong's own past, were left to their own destiny: Obviously no one cared about them. Through Rong's lens, death appears as the only form of dignity the children could choose.

In the outskirts. Rong uses a wide variety of visual styles: he combines observations with interviews, uses slow motion and fast forwards, and at certain points he freezes the image into a black-and-white image – which acts as a kind of x-ray he can philosophize about. Through the style mix of styles and the deeply personal approach to the fabric Children a challenging self-examination on the edge of China's economic boom – and a strong and clear condemnation of indifference.

The movie can be seen by subscribers here.
Sanders is a critic, living in Rotterdam.

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