At a time when China has joined the economic powerhouses of the world, it has also erected a new Great Wall against free speech and democracy, blocking the flow of information among Chinese and from overseas. This documentary features interviews with 12 prominent Chinese writers, activists, and artists living in exile, from Nobel Prize-winning writer Gao Xingjian in Paris and novelist Zheng Yi in Washington, to poet Huang Xiang and journalist Hu Ping in New York, Tiananmen student leaders Wang Dan and Zhang Boli, and Xu Wenli, one of the founders of the first independent political party in China.

Many of these figures went into exile after spending years in prison or underground after the Tiananmen massacre of 1989. Others participated in the Democracy Wall movement in the late 1970s, the first “Beijing Spring” of free political and artistic expression after the Cultural Revolution. Most are on China’s black list, denied the right to return to their homeland for decades. Their stories chart 30 years in the history of the struggle for freedom and human rights in China, a struggle that continues today.

The film focuses especially on Zheng Yi, a quiet and deeply reflective novelist who says, “My heart is not here. In fact, I am living in China. I have nothing more than a desk here in the US.” Severed from his readers, exile has forced him to examine what it means to write, and for whom. “A writer’s existence is not a political one. If my presence in the world has any value, it’s a spiritual value. If a writer succumbs to the hard times, if he can no longer endure exile and submits to the authorities, he surrenders the value of his existence.”

Wide-ranging interviews produce a rich montage that explores the meaning of exile, the fundamental human desire for free expression, the Great Wall of political authority, and the courage of individuals facing up to that authority and emerging stronger for their trials.

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