Red Rain (also known as Hongyu, Spring Shoots, The Young Doctor) is a propaganda film made towards the end of the Cultural Revolution, intended to inspire the rural population to help build socialism in the countryside by supporting new rural public health programmes and combatting the malign influence of reactionary elements, as well as showcasing the progress of rural electrification and related flood control and clean water supply projects. The film is set in Chushan Village, Hunan Province, a remote rural community in a mountainous but spectacularly beautiful region of central China, and portrays the making and formative experiences of Hong Yu, a young ‘barefoot doctor’.
The screenplay for the film was adapted by the writer Yang Xiao from his own novel of the same title published in 1973.
The DirectorCui Wei (b. Cui Wenjing) (1912-1979), one of the leading orthodox Communist film directors of the Third Generation, was born into a poor peasant family in Shandong at the very beginning of the Republican period. He became involved in Communist political activities while still in high school, and then worked as an actor, writer and director in experimental political theatre for some years before joining Mao Zedong and the Communist Party in Yan'an in 1938. Subsequently, he became a leading figure in the emerging cultural bureaucracy of the new Communist regime and continued to work in theatre before eventually making his debut in film, first as an actor in 1954-55, then as co-director with Chen Huaikai of Song of Youth (1959), one of the best-known socialist-realist films from the Foundation Years of the People's Republic. He then co-directed 3 major opera films, including Female Warriors of the Yang Family (1960), and the propaganda film Zhang Ga: A Boy Soldier (1963), before the onset of the Cultural Revolution brought his career in film, along with most Chinese film-making, to an abrupt halt. However, his standing in the Communist political and cultural establishment helped him to survive the upheavals of the following decade, and he was one of very few directors allowed to resume film-making work after 1973. With Hongyu (1975), a major piece of socialist-realist drama extolling the virtues of the new 'barefoot doctors', Cui Wei paid his political dues to the ultra-Maoist faction led by Jiang Qing which was then temporarily in the ascendant in both the political and cultural spheres. Interestingly, though, although he is described by Hong Miao as “one of the greatest Chinese film actors and directors” of the Communist era, Hongyu is not mentioned in either of the standard English-language biographical reference works giving details of Cui Wei's life and work. See Tan Ye and Yun Zhu, eds., Historical Dictionary of Chinese Cinema (2012), pp. 40, 144, and Yuwu Song, ed., Biographical Dictionary of the People's Republic of China (2013), pp. 52-53.
After helping to save the life of a fellow villager in a quarry rockfall and seeing how little medical care was available to help another villager with a serious respiratory illness, 16-year-old Hongyu decides to answer Chairman Mao’s call and become a ‘barefoot doctor’. He undergoes intensive training in the county hospital and succeeds in overcoming the initial scepticism of his fellow-villagers, establishing a local dispensary and vaccination centre and providing a broad spectrum of free health care to the rural population, both at the dispensary and in their homes. In the course of his practice, he overcomes numerous obstacles and greatly expands his range of knowledge both of traditional Chinese and modern medical treatments, but he is persistently opposed by Sun Tianfu, an older traditional herbal practitioner. Sun is a selfish, uncaring reactionary who employs all manner of deceptions and clandestine acts of medical sabotage to undermine Hongyu’s credibility as a doctor and eliminate the threat which he poses to his own lucrative practice. Following a climactic struggle, in which Sun attempts to kill Hongyu, his evil machinations are exposed. Sun is thoroughly discredited and placed under arrest, while Hongyu is vindicated and acclaimed by the villagers. Finally, all join to celebrate the completion of a dam and hydro-electric power project which ensures a plentiful supply of clean water to the village, advances rural electrification and symbolises the triumph of Socialism under the benevolent guidance of Chairman Mao Zedong.
Although full of incident, varied characters, settings and sub-plots, Red Rain/Hongyu is perhaps as notable for what it omits as for what it portrays. There are no Red Guards, no 'struggle sessions', no public denunciations or humiliations of 'enemies of the people', and no overt challenge to established authority either in the Party or the institutions of local government. Moreover, although we see Hongyu tackling a variety of practical challenges, there is no hint that he might have to deal with any obstetrical or gynaecological problems. Indeed, although Hongyu is frequently assisted and supported by a crowd of enthusiastic young female admirers, in contrast to Chunmiao (1975, dir. Xie Jin), another Cultural Revolution-era propaganda film about a rural health care worker released in the same year, the impression conveyed is that barefoot doctoring is essentially a male occupation.