The Chinese Mayor 《中国市长》(Zhou Hao, 2014)

Geng Yanbo (耿彦波) is a father, husband and the mayor of the city Datong (大同) located in Shanxi, northwest of China. Director Zhou Hao (周浩) got the unique opportunity to follow the industrious and tireless Geng for a long period of time and at the same time taking part of the transformation of an ancient city. In the documentary we see people of the city expressing their discontent towards the mayor while others are expressing gratitude and a new faith in the future Geng is planing for them. For Geng the rebuilding of Datongs ancient city wall is a project to lead the city in to a cultural renaissance and even if the project might seem unneeded for many of the people in the city Geng is thinking many years ahead where the wall make up the blood vein which will pump new life in to the city.

Geng Yanbo is a leader whose charismatic qualities is not based on the way he looks or talks. Geng has a curious walking posture and his thick Chinese accent might not be considered atypical, and he also lacks the good-looking qualities of former prime minister Wen Jiabao. Rather Geng embodies the characteristics of a benevolent leader who even takes time in the early morning listening to people who are not satisfied with their reaccommodation, which is a direct effect of Gengs plan for revitalizing Datong. Some people seem convinced that their mayor is not aware of what is happening to his subjects, echoing the misconceived idea that even Mao Zedong was unaware of the atrocities happening during The Great Leap Forward. Geng sees himself as a great leader whose innovation is being hold back, not only by the sloth-like bureaucracy but also by the communist party itself (!?).

In a solemn interview in the end of the film Geng talks with Zhou Hao about the time that has passed. When Zhou wonders what will happen with the film after he has been appointed as the new mayor of Taiyuan (太原) Geng answers that he haven’t even thought about that. This is one of the problems with a documentary which “… tells about how the Chinese government is working and how everything is put into order and how the policy is made.” because you don’t know how much footage has been edited out because it was considered too “sensitive”. In a time where human flesh search (人人搜索) is a common phenomenon it wouldn’t be possible for Geng to manipulate the material in making the documentary in to a hagiography about himself without people being suspicious of the content.

One asks oneself the question: how can Geng be loved by so many when he has razed thousands and thousands of peoples home? And in their justification of razing the old buildings, and constructing new ones, party cadres lean on principles of the rule of law in a most paradoxical fashion.

Zhou Haos camera work is simple and steady, adapted for following Geng and his entourage around. Shots alternate between Geng and people of Datong and at times we also have time to  glance some establishing shots of the changing landscape of Datong.

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