Liang Bibo interviewed in Chengdu, China, by Alan Macfarlane 28th July 2008

0:09:07 Born 1963 in Sichuan Province, China; father is an engineer and was working on an irrigation system and mother, a teacher, both now retired; I was very much influenced by them; father was a very dedicated worker so most of his time was spent at work; mother was very open and children came to my house every day; as a little boy I had many friends, both my classmates and my mother's students; first went to primary school in 1970s in my home town; after middle school I went to an agricultural college in Mianyang city near my home town; graduated from high school in 1980s during which time it was difficult to be a college student so I was fortunate to be able to study; at school I was good at soccer though I no long play as I am too busy; I did not really want to study agriculture but my results were not high enough to go to any other sort of college; after graduating I went to Sichuan Academy of Agricultural Sciences for nine years; there I was researching rice cultivation with a view to increasing production; however, I felt that my educational standard was not good and that I should change my career

5:43:19 In 1995 I started to be a documentary film maker; I had never done any filming before that; the film of a nun's life was my first film; I had watched a lot of film and had been a news reporter for three years before I made it; in 1992 I became a member of Chengdu Television Station and in the first three years I worked in the news department; every day I would take a camera and go around the city; that gave me the opportunity to learn to use a camera, how to edit and to do montaging; there were a lot of film-makers whom I admired; in the beginning it was my boss who suggested that I should make documentaries as he thought I had talent; he really forced me; at that time I didn't really know what it was; I tried to find someone to help me and Wang Hai-Bin became my mentor; he was working for Sichuan Television Station and he taught me a lot; at the same time I watched a lot of other people's documentaries and learnt from them

8:36:04 The first of the skills needed to make documentaries is the ability to get along with a lot of people, that is very important; the skill of how to use a camera or to edit is not very important, but the most important skill is how to talk with people and make friends so that they trust you and tell you things; secondly you must have the skill to use a camera, to edit, and to use all the equipment; thirdly, you have to know the film grammar and understand such things as close-up and wide shots and how to link them; these are the very important three points; I learnt the film grammar by myself, also from books; during the day I would shoot film and at night I would check what I had done by reading books, trying to make better film; I had a very useful experience, in 2001 I was invited by the Asian Cultural Council, a non-profit organization in America, to go to Manhattan; I lived there for six months; for the first two months I was sent to MOMA (Museum of the Moving Image) and every afternoon I watched a film; at that time I watched almost every important documentary; Joris Ivens films on China and Spain made a big impression

11:29:21 Began within this TV station to make documentaries in 1995; the first film was about the nuns of Emei mountain; that year there was a world women's conference, an international meeting, in Beijing; people were talking about women's lives so I thought that a nun's life would be a good subject; I went to Emei mountain to talk with them; it was difficult to get permission to film there; first of all I got permission from the government; I took this and showed them, and talked with the most senior nun; she agreed, but the nuns were not happy; when I tried to film they turned their backs to us; we tried to talk with them and convince them; after three days they allowed us TO film; so far there are few films about nuns because of this difficulty; we filmed for two weeks there; I would have liked to have stayed for longer but thought they might distrust me if I stayed longer; the film's length is half an hour but I have forgotten how long it took me to edit it; my next film was also about a woman's life, Er Niang, who had to support her husband and three children who were incapacitated; she was a Han; I heard about her from my friends; as a news reporter I had many friends who would alert me about special stories; the film did help her as after it was shown many people donated money to her which was very helpful for her family; she was happy to talk; this film took two months to make; I did all the filming myself which is the usual way for documentary film makers in China; this is due to constraints on budgets but I would prefer to be able to use another cameraman; at that time a film budget was about $20,000

17:25:06 Right now I am making two films; one is on the earthquake where I am following some survivors; the title is 'Beichuan High School'; my second film is about a museum on material concerning the behaviour of the Japanese towards the Chinese people during the Second World War; on the Beichaun film, this disaster happened on May 12th and we started filming on May 14th; we went to the area and found some children who had survived and followed them from one place to another documenting how they could find a place to sleep, find a house, and get food; we also recorded how the Government helped the survivors; I think they did very well; they sent many soldiers to the ruins to try to dig out people who were still alive; then they set up many camps so that people had somewhere to stay; they then sent in much equipment and food, everything that was necessary; also the Government organised all of China to give the support necessary; i think my Government was great at this time

20:05:15 After making the film about Er Niang, my next film was 'Pony Express' which was shot near Lugu Lake in the minority area; at that time they did not have a highway so letters were delivered on horse back; at the time the highway was under construction and opened the following year; knowing that the old method of delivery would soon disappear I went and talked with the post office worker and followed him; I made another film at Lugu Lake 'San Jie Cao' or 'Home-coming granddaughter'; it is a story about a Han lady's life; she had married the headman of Lugu Lake about fifty years before; she had witnessed the changes in Chinese society over that time, with the rise of a socialist society two years after her marriage; this film was commissioned by China Central Television (CCTV) in 1997 when everybody was aware that the century was ending and were looking at it as history; CCTV chose the top ten film makers each to make a film with an unlimited budget; I chose the life of this lady to symbolise the changes in society over one hundred years; I phoned a lot of people and after a month I heard about this lady; I took my equipment and an assistant and we went to Lugu Lake; she had lived in Chengdu as a child; after a week of talking with her I understood her life and could see the film I wanted to make; I stayed in her home for two months and filmed her and editing also took two months; I was very lucky to be selected to make the film after only two years as a documentary film maker

25:36:20 After that film I made 'Marriage'; most of Chinese people are Han, including me, and they have an old tradition of marriage with six or seven steps; right now society is changing so quickly that this tradition has almost disappeared; one finds it only in mountain and rural areas now; I tried to find families who still followed the old tradition; in 1996 I was in France at Biarritz for FIPA (Festival International de Programmes Audiovisuel); I met a French girl who asked me if I had had an arranged marriage; I realized that I should make a film to show just how the old marriage system in China worked to show to foreigners; I found two men who were beginning to arrange a marriage; it was a real situation and not set up for the camera; before I made this film I remembered another fiction film on how young people worked hard to build the socialist countryside; I tried to follow this film but when I went to the village I found that everything was different from this fiction film; I had assumed that marriage would result from people falling in love, but when I first started filming the two men they were arguing about how much each would give the other; I was surprised and unhappy when I saw that; another film I have made is 'Winter', a short film about a village of only twelve families; it is shot over three winter months in a typical village; in history many Chinese people have come from the north to the south and this was a village on the route to Chengdu; the location is very important as is their life; we might think their life is not interesting at present, but in ten or twenty years it will be a special record

29:51:18 Within Chengdu, I have made a film about Sichuan food and its history; Chinese food has four styles, Cantonese, Beijing, Shanghai and the fourth is Sichuan; for me, Sichuan style is number one; it is hot but the chillies are from South America and arrived about three hundred years ago; the Sichuan area is one where almost everybody has come from somewhere else; many times the local people died because of war or natural disaster and then the land filled up again; with them they carried their culture and food tastes so it is a blending from everywhere; being a documentary film maker has given me the opportunity to meet people, here and abroad; I have the chance to research lives and makes me happy; have never studied anthropology [though films, given their subjects, should be of interest to anthropologists]