Peking : On May 13, the production team and principal cast of 1921—a film about Chinese youth in 1921 set to be released on July 1, 2021— held its first launch event at Peking University Hall. 1921 in China was a year marked by a series of dramatic changes, and many students and intellectuals at Peking University were actively involved throughout these social movements. As an act of commemoration, 1921’s crew chose to make their first post-launch appearance at Peking University.
The launch was kicked off with a recitation of Chen Duxiu’s “A Call to Youth”, performed by group of impassioned PKU students wearing white PKU shirts. Chen was a famous Chinese revolutionary socialist and a former professor of Chinese Literature at Peking University. In 1915, Chen started the influential periodical: La Jeunesse, with the goal to spread democratic thoughts. “A Call to Youth” was the first article he wrote and published in the magazine. In this article, Chen encouraged the Chinese youth to “be independent, not submissive; progressive, not conservative; outspoken, not reserved; cosmopolitan, not parochial; practical, not formalist; and scientific, not imaginative.” PKU students, in a show of the ongoing spirit of Chinese youth, recited Chen’s words on the stage, warmly welcoming the 1921 crew.
Following this opening, 1921’s production crew engaged in discussion with PKU Professor Dai Jinhua from the Department of Chinese Language and Literature. The film’s director, Huang Jianxin, said he sought to accurately represent the day-to-day life and spirit of the young Chinese activists in 1921. He viewed it as a new way to engage young audiences, allowing them to resonate with historical figures and reflect on the meaning of life. Professor Dai gave a succinct preface of the spiritual heritage left by Peking University’s intellectual greats, noting these visionaries are the things she cherishes most about PKU. PKUers sacrificed their lives to etch into these magnificent chapters in China’s modern history. And every time she recalled these figures she felt a deep sense of pride. Professor Dai also shared her hopes that young PKUers would carry this lofty spirit into the future.
The discussion between the production team and Professor Dai Jinhua
After the discussion, principal cast members took the stage to share their acting experience with the audience. Huang Xuan, who played Li Da, one of the founding fathers of the Communist Party of China, said, “Actors should try to match the appearance of the historical figures. Li was always bald in old photographs, so I shaved off my hair. In order to get in touch with the inner world of Li, I read lots of biographies and history books. The biggest challenge for me is in conveying the characters’ desire to change their fate.”
Wang Renjun was cast to play a 28-year-old Mao Zedong. He expressed his attitude towards the role. “I tried my best to dash the stereotype of Chairman Mao in other films and TV series. Mao was an ordinary man and a charismatic leader. I tried to remain as true to life as possible. For example, his strict habit of running in the morning and night and his unwavering determination to serve his country,” Wang said.
Another important character, Dong Biwu, was played by Zu Feng. “In 1921, Dong was a middle-aged man. I really appreciate his ambition to change the world in his thirties. At that time, he was still as hopeful as the young people.” Zu remarked.
Principal cast of 1921
Next, Zhang Jingyi, Zhong Chuxi, Zhou Ye and Guo Zifan, who respectively played Soong Mei-ling, Li Lizhuang, Yang Kaihui, and Xu Deheng in 1921, shared their feelings and thoughts regarding the process of filming with the audience. They emphasized the important role of women amidst the social upheaval in 1921. Through their fight for revolution, the progressive youth showed vitality and aspiration; young women demonstrated their beauty through independence and strength. This display of power from a group of young women a hundred years ago remains an inspiration to younger generations to this day, pushing them to embrace who they are, enrich themselves, and be brave and independent as they look to the future.
After the cast’s presentation, their images were projected on the screen, instilling the energy and spirit of the aspiring youth. Following this, a number of PKU students came to the stage to sing a popular song called “Youth”. A piece of calligraphy work written by Professor Dong Qiang from the School of Foreign Languages at Peking University was given as a present to the production team. It reads “Century of Fighting Youth”, commemorating the glorious past of the Chinese youth and expressing the best wishes for the future.