Movie Information

The Creation of Portland's Classical Chinese Garden
A film by Raymond Olson and Sacred Mountain Productions
This documentary is your guide to the rich cultural atmosphere expressed through the design and construction of an authentic classical Chinese garden: Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon. Witness aspects of ancient artistic life in China as you watch 70 Chinese workers meticulously arrange massive rocks throughout the garden, precisely frame buildings using ancient technology and diligently position each stone and clay tile in the mosaic walkways according to a paving handbook that was last updated over 350 years ago. Observe completion of design features including leak windows, courtyards, moongates, walls, covered walkways and the Rainbow Bridge. Experience the pleasure of the placement, planting and history of the trees, plants and flowers of China. Learn about the challenges Chinese and American designers and architects faced as tradition is hardly compromised in the face of modern building codes and seismic regulations.

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Blending with Nature
Classical Chinese Gardens in the Sizhou Style
Blending with Nature is a comprehensive introductory view of classical Chinese gardens in the style made famous in Suzhou, China, during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties. This documentary is organized in sections which address the links between philosophy, painting and garden design, the role of calligraphy and naming in traditional Chinese gardens, and the symbolism of trees and flowers, all of which the gardens' builders use to create a quiet place for contemplation amidst the bustle of the city.

Walk through eleven gardens — eight of Suzhou's finest and three classical Chinese gardens in North America — with experts including Chinese scholars and Asian art historians and step inside the minds of the ancient scholars seeking solitude and enlightenment in harmony with nature.

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DVD/118 MIN/2007/COLOR

Human Rights in China
The Search for Common Ground
The documentary, available in both DVD and VHS format, focuses on human rights in China. The DVD includes the documentary as well as 64 minutes of additional discussion, and is designed to be used in the classroom as a flexible teaching tool. Learn about the DVD.

A main theme throughout this documentary is the quest for common ground between China and the US on human rights. The film features up to date pictures of contemporary China and dialogue from several of the finest China scholars in the world addressing questions such as:
  How compelling is the argument that the uniqueness of Chinese culture is a convenient excuse for authoritarian leaders to violate the human rights?

Is political stability so important to China that it justifies the Chinese regimes violations of universal human rights?

Will China's rapid economic growth lead to its government beginning to protect its citizens first generation rights, that is political rights? What has been the impact of economic change on peasant women and men who migrate to the cities?

Was the Falun Gong such a severe threat to the Chinese government that the crackdown on and persecution of its practitioners is justified?

DVD/114 MIN/2004/COLOR

This is a 50 minute documentary beginning with an explanation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights followed by an in-depth look at four issues by scholars, activists and officials from China and the US. The issues are: the uniqueness of Chinese culture, the Chinese governments need for stability and order, economic development as a road to political freedom and the persecution of the Falun Gong.

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Chinese Calligraphy: A Dance on Paper

Reviewed by Lisa Bixenstine Safford,
Professor of Art History, Hiram College

Yang Xin is an extraordinarily gifted Chinese calligraphy artist and the subject of a new DVD produced by Raymond Olson titled “Chinese Calligraphy: A Dance on Paper.” The artist, now in his eighties, is undeniably a national treasure with a distinctive technique. In 2010 he donated over one hundred of his works to Peking University, an event noted in several online English language e-news publications.i His remarkably free-handed, cursive script might well be mistaken for the playful late works of Joan Miro or Jackson Pollock’s later career black and white drip paintings were it not for the inclusion of his yìnzhāng (red seal) and occasional smaller scale poetic text, such as this definition of “Spring” added at the side of the calligraphic character:

Spring is the beginning of the year,

Summer is the life of spring,

Autumn is the harvest of spring,

Winter is the storage of spring,

That’s why the whole year is spring.


The video is recorded live from a public lecture-demonstration given at the University of Beijing (Peking University) in 1998 to a group of American scholars. First the history of calligraphy, based on lines and dots, extending back to prehistoric pottery designs is presented in a recording of what appears to be a slide display (the woman speaker is not clearly identified). The evolution of styles and their purpose—official, casual, playful, or serious—is identified. This is followed by Yang Xin’s discussion with the aid of an interpreter of his works hanging on nearby walls. Often one hears only the voice of the interpreter (or some other woman speaking in English; since we do not always see them it is hard to distinguish the speaker). His explanations of meaning of an art that emanates from the heart and soul, and technique—never using a straight line--are invaluable to the student of his art, and of Chinese calligraphy in general.

While a DVD highlighting Yang’s career, his art and cultural philosophy, and his creative method is fascinating, this is not, however, a production that can be unequivocally recommended. The quality of recording both the moving and static visual images of Yang speaking and of his work, as well as much of the audio is sub-par, made by a recording from a hand-held camera that is shaky and occasionally out-of-focus. The quality is also marred by some highly pixilated static images, and muffled sound, the latter made less disturbing thanks to English subtitles. But the content is well worth the effort to see and hear the lecture-demonstration.

The most exciting part of the video is the demonstration showing the master at work, set to traditional Chinese music. A master of Yang Xin’s status deserves a more polished recording of his efforts to educate about his creative impulses and brush technique. But lacking such a record, this effort by Olson is gratefully received as a lasting tribute to a distinguished creative exemplar. Some of Yang’s unconventional interpretations of standard and familiar characters as finished works are also available to view on line, as is a PowerPoint of Professor Yang giving a similar lecture-demonstration to another visiting group in 2004. For educators who might show this DVD to their classes, these might prove useful as corollary materials. It is hoped that exposure to this video might spur someone to produce a finer quality record of the artist in action while he is still vital.

  Yang Xin is a reknown professor at the Peking University in Beijing, China. This
film is based on his presentation of his art during a San Francisco lecture which
took place during 1998. He shows us how the rich expression for meanings and
feelings of Chinese calligraphy is more than simple written communication.
Yang poetically describes the art of calligraphy as“a dance on paper.”
Practiced throughout China by young and old, Chinese calligraphy has changed
though time. Yang created the Running style, which uses soft color and fluid
lines without straight lines. To Yang, calligraphy is more than writing with the
hand, it is writing with one’s own heart. He describes how calligraphy has
absorbed other artistic forms including painting, music, and dance.
In this film, Yang walks us through his scrolls illustrating life and nature, and
how each character expresses the ideas of Spring, Happiness, a Horse, a Dream,
the Dao and others. He also demonstrates his art and describes his use of brushes,
ink, and the rice paper iteslf and how each contributes to the meaning of his
work. More than simply the character on paper, Yang’s calligraphy is the expression
“of one’s mental world, one’s soul.”


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Copyright © 2005 Sacred Mountain Productions