VIDEO | 13:38
The Chemical Factory

The Chemical Factory

A Chinese immigrant mother retraces surviving China’s Cultural Revolution to her American son during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Chemical Factory” is a short animated documentary film I finished last year (2021) during the pandemic. It is distilled from a six-hour recorded conversation I did with my mother 13 years ago about her growing up in the 1950s during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and her eventual migration to America. It is part of my personal project about the greater immigrant diaspora.

As a child, I didn’t grow up with the sort of children’s stories one would expect. Instead, my mother would often recall to my sisters and me the struggles she faced in China and the eventual long, winding, tumultuous journey she took to America. Although these stories hold deep meaning to me, it often was a struggle contextualizing it to other people.

That is, until the whole world was faced with the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, being an Asian American myself, the horror I read of the spate of violence toward the Asian elderly that arose from the misunderstanding of the origins of the virus was worrying.

One story that stuck with me when the virus first broke out was the one about Xiao Zhen Xie, the 75-year-old Chinese woman in San Francisco. I remembered at the time how the internet lit up about her fighting her attacker — the general prevailing subtext being that it was a shock to see such a small, frail woman be able to fend off an assailant.

But to me, the woman who fought back reminded me of my own mother, who is only a few years younger. Women like her didn’t get to 75 by being a frail person their entire life. Instead, a lot of them survived the horror of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and against all odds made a life for themselves migrating to America.