A Single Spark

Ho Rui An

04 jun. 2024 • 1 min

Gu Eryi's Shanghainese opera film A Single Spark (1959) dramatises a violent confrontation between indentured labourers and their managers at the Japanese-owned Naigaiwata Company No. 7 Cotton Mill in 1925. The film’s protagonist is Yang Guiying, a peasant who moves to Shanghai to join her daughter only to find her at her last breath on the factory floor after being brutally beaten by her supervisor. The incident sparks protests among the workers at the factory, eventually resulting in one of them, Gu Zhenghong, being killed by a gunshot fired by a guard in the heat of the moment. This further escalates the unrest to a citywide scale, catalysing the May Thirtieth Movement.

The scenes of workers striking were filmed at Shenxin No. 9 Cotton Mill, also the location for another worker-themed film, United Until Tomorrow (1951). Those of Yang Guiying taking to the streets in support of anti-imperialism and patriotism were filmed at the Bund and the area surrounding Waibaidu Bridge. As for Naigaiwata Company No. 7 Cotton Mill, where the events depicted in the film actually took place, the enterprise was merged with the No. 5 and No. 8 mills after the war and nationalised as Shanghai No. 2 Cotton Mill. Today, the site once occupied by the mill is a residential area where a statue of martyr Gu Zhenghong, first erected in 1959, stands before a memorial hall that was established in 2008.

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Ho Rui An is an artist and writer working in the intersections of contemporary art, cinema, performance and theory. Through lectures, essays and films, his research examines the relations between labour, technology and capital across different systems of governance in a global age.

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