A story unfolding around the six-weeks of the “Massacre of Nanjing,” also known as the “Rape of Nanjing” during Japan’s invasion of China in the Second Sino-Japanese War and a precursor to World War II, transformation of the human spirit is the basis of the Golden Globe nominated film THE FLOWERS OF WAR. Based on true events as depicted in the novel of historical fiction of the same name originally titled 13 FLOWERS OF NANJING by Chinese-American author Geling Yan, the Hong Kong/Chinese film was released in early 2012 and stars Oscar-winner British actor Christian Bale. Having been in my possession for a couple of years, my recent viewing of it was my fourth one, and I assure you, it will not be my last.
The promo on the jacket of the DVD states, “The dangerous streets of Nanjing [China] throw together a group of opposites – a flock of shell-shocked schoolchildren, a dozen seductive courtesans, and a renegade American (Christian Bale) posing as a priest to save his own skin, or so he thinks – all seeking safety behind the walls of a cathedral. Trapped by marauding [Japanese] soldiers, over the next few days the prejudices and divides [among the residents of the cathedral] will fade away as they unite around a last-ditch plan to protect the children from impending catastrophe [at the hands of the soldiers].”
Bad blood exists to this day between Japan and China related to this brutal consequence of a cruel war, an event referred to by some as the “Forgotten Holocaust.” Japanese advocates charge the record to be skewed, propounding the number of slaughtered to be far fewer than the 140,000, or possibly as many as 300,000, as put forth by Chinese historians. While the film enjoyed huge box office success, especially in China, controversy buzzed around it like a swarm of bees, manifesting in fights among Japanese and Chinese actors at work on the film, and in death-threats to its director Lu Chuan. Detractors of the film labeled it nationalistic and anti-Japanese, as Chinese propaganda. And despite its several graphic scenes of gross cruelty, Bale suggested an underlying redeeming quality of the film, stating, “It’s far more a movie about human beings and the nature of human beings’ responses to crisis.”
It isn’t often that a film inspires me to learn more about a particular subject, as did THE FLOWERS OF WAR. My research revealed that Yan’s inspiration for her novel and subsequent film was built around a story somewhat different than the “literary novel” she wrote, and that was adapted into the film. Rather than a renegade male American posing as a priest, the true hero of the actual story was female Minnie Vautrin, an American missionary on behalf of the United Christian Missionary Society, diarist, educator and acting dean of Ginling College in Nanjing, a position she held during the Japanese siege and massacre, turning the college into a sanctuary for 10,000 women, and through her tireless work, established the Nanking Safety Zone. Called the “Goddess of Mercy” by refugees, she was awarded the Order of Jade by the Chinese Nationalist government for her heroic sacrifices during the course of the Nanjing Massacre.
While I can’t help thinking that a film depicting Minnie Vautrin’s story would have been as engaging as Geling Yan and Lu Chuan’s altered version of it, I’m heartened by the fact that THE FLOWERS OF WAR portrayed splendidly the heroism of ordinary people facing extraordinarily adverse circumstances. In my opinion, it was artfully and masterfully filmed and acted. In addition, the insight into this pivotal era of world history this film offers is profoundly crucial to its viewers. Finally, THE FLOWERS OF WAR is fare for an enjoyable evening, or, if you are a repeat-viewer like me, several evenings. – Linda Lee Greene, Author
Best-selling author Linda Lee Greene has four novels of different genres to her credit, all of which examine various themes of courageousness of ordinary people facing difficult circumstances. Please log onto https://www.amazon.com/author/lindaleegreene for an overview of her personal story. You can also find her on Twitter at @LLGreeneAuthor, and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/#!/LindaLeeGreeneAuthor. An award-winning artist, an online retrospective of her artwork is at www.gallery-llgreene.com.
Books by Linda Lee Greene:
Cradle of the Serpent (Literary Fiction/Contemporary Romance) goo.gl/i3UkAV
Guardians and Other Angels (Historical Fiction) http://goo.gl/imUwKO
Rooster Tale (Juvenile Fiction) http://goo.gl/vNq32g
(Co-authored) Jesus Gandhi Oma Mae Adams (Murder Mystery) http://amzn.to/VazHFG