Documentary Captures Plight of China’s Fortune Tellers

Beijing director Xu Tong’s  second feature-length documentary Fortune Teller (Suan Ming, with English subtitles, available on Youku) details the story of a Buddhist handicapped man, Li Baicheng (pseudonym), and his deaf, mute, mentally disabled wife, Pearl Shi. The documentary won the Jury Prize at the Chinese Documentary Festival, was selected among the Best Ten documentaries at the China Independent Film Festival, and was an official selection for the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2011. The documentary shows that Li’s hard life stems from not only from his handicapped condition, but also the lack of government aid and his unsteady job as an independent fortune-teller in poor regions of Hebei province.

Viewers learn from Li Baicheng that during the years of the Cultural Revolution, blind men would travel and tell stories in groups of two to three. Late in the night, they would start telling fortune undercover, but a few in the audience would sometimes report their activities. The blind men would then be pushed to join the labor force. “It was rough for blind people… It was miserable,” Li recalled.

“Even today, fortune-telling is the target of the ‘crack downs’ and lies in a legal gray area,” Li Baicheng commented on the dire business in the documentary. Some local governments crack down on “superstition” along with anti-pornography and anti-crime raids. But Fengshui, a variation of East Asian Buddhist and Taoist mystical practices, fairs well in contrast to Baicheng’s fortune-telling. In Singapore, a company named “New Trend Lifestyle Group” provides Fengshui services and plans to file for an IPO in London:

[New Trend Lifestyle] earned pre-tax profits of £1.4m last year on revenues of £6.1m.

Over the next three years, it plans to open 50 shops in China, where it already has one office and six distribution partnerships.

“Feng shui is endemic in Chinese communities throughout the world and influences many aspects of personal, business and even government activities,” said NTL, citing as example recent reports of Hong Kong authorities making payments to people living near construction sites as compensation for disturbing their feng shui.

See also:

Hard-pressed Documentary Makers Keep Rolling

Chinese Documentaries Show Realities Missing from Chinese Films

Xu Tong introduces his film Fortune Teller


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