Daxiong fell in love with comics at a young age. His father, who saw his artistic talent, bought him comic books to encourage him. Now many call him ‘The King of Chinese animation’ – a title that comes with a price.
Daxiong discovered Falun Gong – a spiritual practice involving meditation and movements – at the age of 21. ‘What Falun Gong teaches is simple, really,’ he explains in the beautiful film Eternal Spring (長春), which he partly animated. ‘You cultivate your heart and improve your character, and that leads you to better physical and mental health.’
The movement started in the early 1990s and soon grew very popular in China. ‘But a one-party dictatorship doesn’t want anything outside its control,’ Daxiong says. ‘The government couldn’t allow such a large group to exist.’ In 1999, Falun Gong was outlawed, and a violent crackdown of its members started.
‘In early 1999 I started to sense that the climate was changing,’ Daxiong remembers on the Eternal Spring website. ‘Every morning when we were practicing, two plainclothes policemen would show up. They just stood there.’ Daxiong was arrested three times and as a result faced pressure from his family. ‘My dad said, I only beg you for one thing: please don’t go out. You cannot fight them.’ One day when Daxiong came home, all his Falun Gong books were gone; his father had burned them. ‘My dad had destroyed what I treasured most.’
On 5 March 2002, Falun Gong members managed to hijack Chinese state TV and played a video about the movement. The story is told in Eternal Spring (長春), in which animation – by Daxiong – and documentary are ingenuously combined with breathtaking result. Because of the hijacking Daxiong, who didn’t participate, was placed on a government blacklist. ‘I disagreed with the hijacking,’ he says, ‘because people like me were forced to flee. Many were arrested.’ Daxiong fled the country, first to France and then to Canada, where he now lives.
But as he drew the stories of the brave hijackers, he came to admire them. ‘I realized they embodied traditional Chinese values: they were able to put the greater good ahead of themselves.’ He compares them to comic book heroes, only without the swords. ‘They don’t look impressive on the outside. Their strength is inside. I realized what makes someone a hero, is their determination and kindness.’
Eternal Spring (長春) is shown at the Movies that Matter Festival 2022, where Daxiong is a special guest.