Real-Life 'Dearest' Mother Turns to the Law after Movie Destroys Reputation

March 11, 2015
Editor: Kiki Liu

Gao Yongxia (Bottom Left, the real-life foster mother from Xuzhou) and Zhao Wei (Bottom Rright, the female character featured in the film "Dearest" as the adopted mother)

Gao decides to resort to the law to protect her rights and interests after having her privacy infringed on and reputation harmed in March of this year. [Women of China]

Gao Yongxia, the real-life mother of the "Dearest" — a character reference and picture title ("Qin'ai de" in Chinese) of the 2014 Chinese film directed by Hong Kong director Peter Ho-sun Chan, on kidnapping in China — decided to lay charges against the movie's film company in March 2015 for their infringing on her privacy and harming her reputation.

Making its premier in Chinese mainland on September 26, 2014, and screened in the Special Presentations grouping of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, "Dearest" was based on a true story about kidnapping in Xuzhou, a city in east China's Jiangsu Province. The film star famous Chinese actress Zhao Wei, who portrays a rustic, simple-minded rural mother named Li Hongqin, cares for a young boy whom her husband had kidnapped and brought home to her village.

After the biological parents of Li's adopted child find their son in her remote village after combing through China in years of unrelenting searching, Li is thrown into an abyss of despair and arms herself for the fight to regain custody of the boy she had spent years caring for. In her efforts to keep the boy by her side, she journeys down a path hardship and difficulty, which include pleading desperately with reporters researching her adopted child, having sex with others in order for them to help her find evidence to win her adopted child's guardianship, and getting pregnant with a stranger's baby (a serious point of shame in China, where extramarital relations remain an extreme taboo).

Sweeping across China last year, the film saw great success both because of its dealing with the hot topic of kidnapping in China — and highlighting this aspect of the film with an anti-trafficking social media campaign on Sina Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter) — and the moving performance of famous actress Zhao.

However, the movie was more of a nightmare for real-life mother Gao Yongxia, a rural woman living in Xuzhou, who brought up her two adopted children with her husband, who has since passed away. Gao claims that she and her late husband had never abducted her two adopted children and asserts that the film is not a proper depiction of her real life, as she has never had sex with other men.

From Paradise to Hell

The mother of a happy family with an industrious husband and two children, Yue Yue and Le Le, Gao Yongxia, family by her side, lived a life of satisfaction. However, on the heels of the anti-trafficking campaigns launched in China last year, Gao suffered a series of unfortunate, life-altering events: Her husband succumbed to the disease he was living with; the case of her two adopted children was reported on by social media; and Le Le was returned to her birth parents' home while Yue Yue was taken away by a social-welfare organization.

"I don't understand why I am viewed as the trafficker for my two adopted children. I do not know where my two children came from. My husband told me that the two children were abandoned and then took them home. However, one day he told to me frankly that the two were illegitimate children. I do not know which one is the truth," said Gao.

"After Gao lost her two children, she began suffering from mental disorder. Sometimes, she would forget what she had done before. Sometimes, she would be in deep sorrow, yearning for her children," recounted Gao Youqin, a cousin of Gao Yongxia. "If Gao is busy doing something, it tends to keep her mind away from sadness or from longing for her children. So, I helped get her some part-time work in my hometown."

Showing Respect for Real Life

After the release of the film in China with Gao's real name and photo shown at the end of the film, people began to flock to the remote village where Gao lived.

Driven by curiosity after being urged by her neighbors to have a look at the movie, which everyone was saying had been so well received, Gao finally decided to see the film for herself.

She ended up watching the film during the traditional Chinese Spring Festival holiday of this year and was extremely upset by what she saw. Gao felt as if someone had stabbed her in the back.

"After the exposure of my case with my adopted children over social media last year, many reporters and filmmakers wanted to do a special feature on my story, but I refused all of them actually," said Gao.

"I can't come to terms with the parts in the film that described the foster mother having an extra-marital affair with others as a means of gathering evidence to support her guardianship, and going down on her knees to beg reporters for help. It's totally unacceptable. These things never happened in real life. Some parts of the plot were entirely false and even defamatory. Even though some people have told me that it's only a film, with fictitious plotlines, I can't agree with them because they leaked my name and photo in the film's closing credits without my consent, which can easily give viewers a false representation of who I really am in real life. It really hurts me," continued Gao angrily.

In Gao Youqin's opinion, the film devastated her cousin's life, having infringed on her right to privacy and damaged her reputation.

"As a matter of fact, my cousin [Gao Yongxia] is a typical rural woman: shy, timid, never one to get into altercations with others. However, the film really dealt her a heavy blow, and so she decided to resort to the law to protect her rights and interests," said Gao Youqin.

Professional Insight on the Infringement Case

Cheng Dong, a professional lawyer from the Hongshanshu Law Firm in east China's Jiangsu Province, believes that the film both infringed on Gao's privacy and destroyed her reputation.

Personal information should be protected in filmmaking and in the creation of literature so as to prevent the works from having a profoundly negative impact on the real-life individual — such as with the case of Gao.

Meanwhile, Cheng indicated that the film's producer needed to have explained to the public in written notes which parts of the plot were real and which were fictitious, because the plotlines were not in line with Gao's real life.

According to the Defamation Law in China, people who make defamatory statements in the form of truth contortion, insult or slander to damage others' reputation and create problems for their life will face severe punishment.

Cheng indicated that Gao has a higher probability of winning the case once it is submitted and received by the local court. Gao has the right to urge the film company to cease all screenings and retract all copies of the movie and to demand a formal public apology. In addition, Gao could also file for indemnity of defamation.

Response from the Filmmaker and Cast

After hearing the news about Gao's charges, director Peter Ho-sun Chan expressed that he would make a formal apology to Gao Yongqin and her family members on behalf of the company and himself.

Actress Zhao was surprised at the news and had thought that the film was entirely fiction.

"What Gao says is true. I hope the film can be taken out of theaters as soon as possible; and now I don't need to go to the cinema to watch it, because the real protagonist exists in real life," commented Zhao.

(Source: Sina.com and ent.southcn.com/Translated and edited by Women of China)

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