Film shows how Chinese people were told acupuncture cured deafness

A Chinese propaganda film which was uploaded to YouTube has provoked discussion and debate among deaf people online.

The film – which dates from the Cultural Revolution – shows Chinese deaf children signing in schools and claims that acupuncture cured their deafness.

The film begins by introducing us to a school of “deaf mutes,” who, we’re told, remain full of “boundless love for our great leader Chairman Mao.” Their deafness is blamed not on chance, illness or nature, but on the “traitor and scab Liu Shaoqui,” (the former Chairman of the Republic who fell out of favour) ”the ministry of health run by city bureaucrats,” and “the bourgeois medical authorities.”

It then goes on to show how the ‘People’s Liberation Army Mao Zedong Thought Medical Team’ consulted Mao’s “brilliant essays” to explore the contradiction of why the children can’t speak, despite having “normal vocal chords.” “There are no famous doctors or specialists among them,” the voiceover says. “They are six ordinary health care soldiers.”

We then see them using acupuncture to treat deafness, with what are said to be ”remarkable results,” as we’re told that some students have regained their hearing after only two treatments, and that after two months,  all 105 students were cured. Their deaf school is then closed down.

The film ends with a predictably uplifting finale, with the students calling Mao’s name – having witnessed a ”miracle on earth created by Mao Zedong thought.”

It’s relatively rare to see footage of people signing half a century ago, much less Chinese children signing during Chairman Mao’s regime. Yet despite the fact that they lived in very different times to ours, it is possible to see through their facial expressions and signs that they express themselves in a way that feels familiar to deaf people today.

The sad side of this film is that the children were not only exposed to a treatment that didn’t work, but were also presumably encouraged to act as though they were “cured.” It’s a fascinating insight into the way deaf people were perceived during those years, and the claims that were made on their behalf.

Guardian article: Why Angry Boys’ puerile deaf kid is my hero

My latest Guardian article was published in today’s G2 supplement, and is all about a deaf character called Nathan in Chris Lilley’s very rude mockumentary series Angry Boys. Nathan is dominated by his twin brother Daniel in the series, but often manages to come out on top. The final episode is broadcast on BBC3 at 10.30pm tonight and you can read my piece online here.

Another week, another hearie confronts cinema subtitles

Before you read on, I’d like to say I was alerted to this Peter Hitchens blog for the Daily Mail automatically, through Google Alert. His brother’s alright, but I’m not a fan of his, nor am I a regular reader of his stuff. Glad we made that clear.

Hitchens went to see Harry Potter at the cinema last week, only to discover – as Sarah Cox did last month, that the screening would have subtitles. You’ll get an idea of the usual slant of his writing with his response – “Baffled, I asked if these would be in Polish, which is, after all, the first language of many citizens of my home town these days.”

You do have to give Hitchens more credit than Cox for realising before he reached the screen – and before sparking off a deaf outcry on Twitter – who they were for. “No, they would be in English. What could be the point of that in Britain? Apparently they had been brought in to help the deaf.”

Hitchens then goes on to remark on how (despite having perfect hearing) the subtitles helped him understand the Potter universe, giving him character names and descriptive sound effects. (Btw, if you’ve ever wondered what the difference between ‘English’ subtitles and ‘English for the hard of hearing’ subtitles are on DVDs, this is it). By the end of the film, he wondered how he’d ever have got by without them. Great!

Just a shame he had to spoil it with his final line – ” I just hope they haven’t been introduced to punish cheapskates like me for not paying the heavy premium to watch in 3D.”

Riiiight. I’m not sure I’ve ever known someone describe something they benefited from as “a punishment,” but there’s a first time for everything I guess.

Not all deaf people want to be ‘fixed’ – my Guardian comment piece

A few weeks ago, deaf actress Emily Howlett went for a standard audiology appointment where it was found that she’d lost more of her hearing. What followed – two hours where she was subjected to enormous pressure to have a cochlear implant – is detailed in my Guardian piece, published today.

Please feel free to comment on the piece, and let me know what you think.

Why we should thank Sarah Cox. Possibly.

A couple of weeks ago, the Radio 1 DJ Sarah Cox went to the cinema to see the hit comedy Bridesmaids.

In the brief time between reaching the end of the box office queue and entering the auditorium, she managed to offend thousands of deaf film fans, causing a furore which ended up splashed across the press, including The Telegraph, The Sun and the Evening Standard.

The reason? Her Twitter response to being told the film would be subtitled. Cox said words appearing on the screen was “daft,” and proceeded to ask the box office for a discount for having to put up with subtitles – which deaf people cannot enjoy a film without.

In May, I wrote a Guardian comment piece about the sub-standard service deaf people currently get at the cinemas,  including: the fact that the small number of subtitled screenings are nearly always arranged at inconvenient off-peak times; how information on screenings is hard to find; and the shocking reality that until a film begins, deaf people can’t be sure that the subtitles will actually work.

A celebrity complaining about one of the few subtitled screenings (and at a peak time no less) was never going to play out well.

By the time Cox came out of the film, hundreds of deaf people had retweeted her comments and replied in kind. @Shelle02 said she was “dismayed at the ignorance from a public figure,”  deaf filmmaker Ted Evans said she’d “royally pissed off hundreds of deaf people,” while @IsabelReid5 reminded her that: “we’ve been trying for YEARS to get subtitles at the cinema! we’re not second rate citizens.”

It was around this point that Cox called the complainers “gobshites,” before, moments later, wising up and tweeting an apology. Before then deleting not only her original comments, but also her apology. Before apologising again. But I digress.

This might sound strange, but rather than demonising Sarah Cox, I think we should thank her. After all, in sharing her ignorance (and it was ignorance – I don’t believe there was any malice to her comments) with a quarter of a million followers on Twitter, she raised an incredible amount of awareness of cinema subtitles – something that most people hardly know exists until they stumble upon a very rare subtitled screening.

Cox won’t have won any praise from her PR adviser, but what she did manage to document to a tee is the knee-jerk way that some people react to the prospect of being mildly inconvenienced by subtitles (just take a look at some of the comments on my article for further evidence).

Disability legislation talks a lot about the ‘reasonable adjustments’ that businesses and organisations should make so that deaf and disabled people can access all manner of services, and participate equally in daily life (that’s the ideal, at least) but what Sarah Cox’s comments show is that ‘reasonable adjustments’ are something that individuals should aspire to make, as well as organisations.

One in six people have some level of deafness, and as more and more young people lose some of their hearing because they’re blitzing their eardrums with MP3 players, what the non-deaf (for now!) need to remember is that today’s inconvenience could easily be tomorrow’s lifeline.

You’ll be pleased to know that Sarah Cox apologised for the comments eventually. Just one problem – she did it on the radio. Here’s a transcript. Looks like she’s still got a bit to learn then.