Once Removed provides a personal lens into the complexities of 20th century Chinese history. Setting off to reconnect with her mother’s family, filmmaker Julie Mallozzi finds herself drawn into a web of politics and history.
Julie visits a great-uncle in Beijing who pioneered the development of computer chips in China – after being persecuted for years during the Cultural Revolution. She investigates the fate her grandmother’s favorite brother, a political science professor and early democracy activist who was murdered by the Nationalists in the 1940s and later declared a Communist martyr. As she and her young cousin retrace their great-uncle’s last steps to the foggy dock where he was kidnapped and the site of the chemical pool where his corpse was supposedly dissolved, they begin to question the official history.
The film ends with a visit to Julie’s mother’s first cousin, an energetic government official in the family’s hometown of Suzhou. Her “auntie” proudly shows Suzhou’s new development, but also cries about her father’s persecution during China’s Anti-Rightist Campaign. “For my relatives, the cost of remembering the past is high,” says the filmmaker. “For me, it’s a kind of luxury. But I need to recover my family’s past because I’m afraid of living without memories.”
Shot in 1995, when China’s economic growth began to take off as the country tried to leave behind its tumultuous past, this film helps students understand modern Chinese history – and how the past is rendered through individual memory.