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May 2015 31

By Nicole Powers

It’s frightening how little the West understands The People’s Republic of China. And what we don’t know is hurting us — and them. Inside China’s borders resides the largest population on the planet (1.357 billion compared to the United States’ paltry 318 million), which is guarded by the largest army in terms of active personnel and a formidable nuclear arsenal. China also hosts one of the fastest growing economies, and as a result, the planet’s largest middle class. The Republic is therefore revered by more open capitalist cultures as much as it is feared.

Those within China who have benefited from its unprecedented prosperity have paid a high price, however, in terms of freedom of expression and oppression. Meanwhile the foreign corporations that do business there, in order to continue to reap the rewards of China’s burgeoning markets, choose to turn a blind eye to these human rights abuses — they have to, since it’s the only way the state allows them to function. Thus, the Chinese government and the overseas corporations doing business within the Republic’s borders are essentially in cahoots in maintaining the status quo; The Great Wall of China is no longer a physical one protecting the insular nation, but one built on silence.

Chinese lawyer and human rights activist Chen Guangcheng.

Chinese lawyer and human rights activist Chen Guangcheng.

Enter documentarian Vanessa Hope, whose previous credits include William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe and China in Three Words. Through the language of film, Vanessa — who has dedicated her personal and professional life to exploring China’s culture — hopes to foster greater understanding and break the state imposed and business endorsed wall of silence.

Her latest project All Eyes And Ears is remarkable, both in terms of scope and access. Through Vanessa’s lens, we follow the former Mormon Governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman, as he moves to China with his glamorous wife Mary Kaye and their adopted Chinese daughter Gracie to take up office as the Obama-appointed U.S. Ambassador. Vanessa took a longitudinal approach, filming over the course of five years from the end of 2009 through the beginning of 2014. Consequently, Huntsman’s term in office and Vanessa’s film bears witness not ony to the rise of authoritarian leader Xi Jinping, but also the rise of the proletariat in the Occupy-inspired Jasmine Spring. The arc of Huntsman’s story also converges with that of the blind, self-taught Chinese human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who escaped from house arrest in 2012 to claim asylum at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. This unexpected turn of events, which occurred during a key international diplomatic summit, sparked one of the greatest crisis in U.S. / China relations in recent times.

We caught up with Vanessa by phone to talk about the project. Read our exclusive interview with Vanessa on SuicideGirls.

For more information visit alleyesandears.org, and follow @VHopeful and @alleyesearsdoc on Twitter. If you’d like to support All Eyes And Ears, visit the Indiegogo page.

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