Hooligan Sparrow

hooligan sparrow

The Chinese human rights activist Ye Haiyan


Last week I attended the opening night of the Human Rights watch film festival to watch a new documentary called ‘Hooligan Sparrow‘ by young Chinese filmmaker Nanfu Wang.

The filmmaker originally wanted to make a film about the abuse of sex workers in China, but ended up filming and following a group of activists – including the prominent human rights activist Ye Haiyan (a.k.a. Hooligan Sparrow) – who were involved in protests over child sex abuse allegations in 2013. Due to the sensitivity of the subject, the filmmaker had to smuggle the film out of China, and she may have to face the possible consequences of not being able to return to her homeland after this.

Most of us living outside of China are aware of their human rights issues, but we are probably unaware of the extend and the acuteness of this issue. This film highlights the injustices that are happening in China today; it is shocking, distressing, and so compelling that I was almost moved to tears at the end. The ghastly tyrant state described in George Orwell‘s famous dystopian novel ‘1984’ is not dissimilar to the current Chinese Government. The secret surveillance, deception, use of power and harassment are all depicted in the film as the filmmaker dwelt deeper into the issue. This film, I suspect, is unlikely to be released in China for obvious reasons.

I have never walked up to a filmmaker at any film screening before, but I did it at the reception after the screening. I wanted to congratulate the courageous young filmmaker for making this significant documentary, which I think needs to be seen by the world and especially by ordinary Chinese citizens. Human tragedies – like the case where young girls were raped by their school’s headmaster in Hainan – could happen to ordinary Chinese citizens at anytime, hence they need to realise that their lives are at stake, and it is unlikely that their government would be on their sides when shit hits the fan!



I am not sure if human rights lawyers like Wang Yu (one of the activists in the film) could predict their future i.e. imprisonment when they first embarked on their career. Instead of prosecuting the criminals, the lawyers are the ones who get arrested by the state; justice in China is such an ironic term.

The filmmaker told me that she is trying her best to get the film screened globally including Hong Kong and Taiwan, and I hope she will succeed. This film is not just about human rights, it is about the bravery and determination of a group of human beings who are willing to sacrifice their lives for justice, equality and freedom of speech. Sometimes fate and circumstances can turn ordinary citizens into ‘accidental heroes’, and when this happens, you have no choice but to keep fighting.


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