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.