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Guling:place of innocence

Global Times (2012-12-07 P20)


Descendants of foreigners who once lived in Guling are trying out the old well. Photo:CFP
Descendants of foreigners who once lived in Guling are trying out the old well. Photo:CFP

During his visit to the US in February this year, Xi Jinping, Chinese Vice President, told a heart-warming story about an American couple's deep attachment to China. Now this story, which involves a small town in Fuzhou, Fujian Province, is being made into a movie called Guling in My Dream.

The story centers around an American from California, Milton Gardner, who spent nine years of his childhood in Guling and maintained deep feelings for the place. As Gardner was nearing death in 1986, he muttered the name "Kuling, Kuling…," which led his wife to look into Guling later.

Xi heard the story in 1992 when he worked in Fuzhou as the secretary of the municipal Party committee, and in that year he invited Gardner's wife Elizabeth to visit Fuzhou and Guling. The trip helped Mrs. Gardner fulfill her husband's dream of having a look at Guling and continuing the family's friendship with the area.

Separated by circumstance

Gardner's parents came to Fuzhou after the First Opium War (1840-42) when the city was forced to open as a trading port to the West, which allowed a large number of foreign people, including missionaries and businessmen, to swarm in.

At that time, Guling was famed as a settlement of foreigners, boasting many villas and some modern facilities such as hospitals, pools, clubs, post offices and churches. Gardner's parents also built their villa there in 1900. One year later, Gardner was born in California when they went back to the US. His parents brought him back to China when he was 10 months old and stayed in Guling until 1911, when the family moved back to California. The nine years of childhood spent in Fuzhou left Gardner with a Chinese eating habit, which he kept his entire life: using chopsticks, eating porridge in the morning and rice every day.

But sadly, he was never able to return to Guling. It is reported that before China and the US officially established diplomatic relations in 1979, Gardner, who had gone to Hong Kong and Taiwan many times, always longed for his childhood home on the other side of the ocean. That's why he murmured "Kuling" in those last minutes of life.

The word "Kuling" confused his wife Elizabeth for years. Though she didn't know the word's exact meaning, she believed it must be related to China. She knew how deeply attached the family was to the country.

A few years later, she got to know Zhong Han (penname of Liu Zhonghan), a Chinese student studying in the US. She told Zhong the story about "Kuling." But since Zhong is from Hubei Province, he had no idea either what "Kuling" meant. The riddle kept puzzling them till one day Elizabeth found 10 stamps among Gardner's mementoes with "Guling, Fuzhou" in the post marks. Elizabeth then decided to go to China to realize her husband's dream about Guling.

The story came to the attention of Chinese people in 1992 when an article headlined "Guling" appeared in People's Daily. In February 1992, People's Daily held a contest of writing stories about overseas experiences. Zhong Han contributed the story of Guling and showed Gardner's lifelong attachment to China. The story impressed the editors a lot, and it won first prize.

Among the readers touched by the story was Xi Jinping, who invited Mrs. Gardner to visit Fuzhou accompanied by Zhong Han. The trip finally realized the widow's 6-year dream. She saw with her own eyes the places her husband had spent his childhood and met some of his first playmates who had grown into their 80s and 90s.

Movie version of the story

Guling in My Dream will be based on Milton Gardner's moving story and tell about the friendship between Chinese and American people. Much of the film will depict Gardner's childhood in Guling, based on local people's dictation and field survey.

The story is basically faithful to the original, but with minor changes. The names of Gardner and his wife are changed, and in the end, Gardner does not die.

In the movie version, after more than 60 years in the US, a retired physics professor named Nash from California suffers from an Alzheimer's-like loss of memory. His disjointed thoughts often find their way back to Guling, which motivates his wife to find some way to take him back to the place of his childhood.

Preparations for the movie have been going smoothly over the past half-year, according to Fujian Daily.

Zhou Jinglun, a famed visual designer for movies, is developing the scenes for the film. The first draft of the script, co-written by playwright Xu Baoqi and filmmaker Zhang Yuzhou, has been finished. Also, the movie's theme song, "Guling Ballad," has been written by Xiao Shan, a local musician from Fuzhou.

According to producer Wang Tongjun, investment has reached 50 million yuan ($8.02 million), and shooting will begin next year. He said top talents would be in the film, including some from Hollywood.

Wu Qimin, a journalist with People's Daily who accompanied Elizabeth Gardner on her 1992 visit to Guling, told Global Times that she hopes the movie will be shot well. "The story is a typical example of people-to-people diplomacy and is of great value," she said.

The sentimental journey was 20 years ago, but as recently as this September, over 10 internationals from the US and Australia, the descendants of the first group of foreigners to Fuzhou, gathered together in Guling to continue their ancestors' friendship with local people. Among them were the grandsons of Gardner's elder brother.

Today, the town has become a popular sightseeing spot in this area, with several villas, pools and the post office basically restored. It is reported that Guling accepts many foreigners every year and most of them come here to see the place their parents or relatives once called home.


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