The film not only brought fame to the leading actors, but also the small town where the film was shot saw a complete reversal of fortune. The town changed its original name Wang Cun to Furong Town and is now a famous tourist spot in Central China's Hunan Province that attracts numerous visitors every year.
Many of Xie's films show the strong sense of social responsibility of Chinese intellectuals. The most representative one is the epic Herdsman, which was the masterpiece of Chinese films in the 1980s. It won many prizes, including the Baihua Award that year. But the influence of the film was embodied not only through the prizes it won, but also through the patriotic spirit conveyed in the film. The film tells of a young man who gives up the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of his rich father in the United States and returns to the farming area to be with his wife and young son and also help with the education of children in that underdeveloped region.
Ren Zhonglun, President of the Shanghai Film Group Corp., said in Beijing-based Oriental Outlook magazine that most heroes in Xie's films have suffered great frustrations either physically or in spirit, but they still pursue love and the truth.
"I believe that Xie's films would be watched by generation after generation, as they recorded the destiny of Chinese people in many important historical periods and spread the virtues of human nature," Ren said. "His films are immortal."
Xie was also seen as a director willing to learn Western filmmaking methods. Hao Jian, another professor at the Beijing Film Academy, told the Beijing Times newspaper that Xie was one of the filmmakers in China who recognized the charm of Hollywood films in an earlier period, as well as followed the Hollywood mode of directing. He learned the style of Hollywood and absorbed the advanced aspects of Hollywood films, Hao said.
"He grasped the main elements of the Hollywood films well, from narrative techniques to the attention to humanism, which can be seen from his films Stage Sisters, The Legend of Tianyunshan Mountain or Furong Town," said Hao.
Xie himself also said on many occasions that attention to people was the most important element of his filmmaking, not the techniques.
During the 1980s, most Chinese people were moved or aspired by Xie's movies. He often said that after his films audiences were reluctant to leave the theater, a testament to the power of the films.
People could hardly believe that behind the glorious achievements of Xie's career, his personal life was less than easy. Xie had four children, three sons and one daughter, but two of his sons suffered from mental retardation. He was a good father in the eyes of many of his friends because of his love for and patience in taking care of his two sons.
Because of the tragedy in his own family, Xie cared much about children with mental disabilities. He once directed a film titled Twilight Star, the first Chinese film to examine the life of mentally disabled children and use these children as lead actors.
But there was more to his family life. Xie's eldest son, Xie Yan, also an accomplished director, died of lung cancer this August at the age of 59. It was a huge blow to the elder Xie.
Xie was not one to bother others with his family troubles, but these life experiences made him very sensitive to problems in human nature. As an old man who had suffered so much in life, Xie never allowed these difficulties or his old age to disturb his film career.
He once told reporters that after the age of 80, he still hoped to make several films. "I belong to films, and the studio is like my home. I would rather die in the studio," Xie said.
Xie had not only dedicated his whole life to making films, but also made a great contribution to educating new generations in China's film industry.
From his films, many actors and actresses became big stars, including Liu Xiaoqing, Chen Chong, Zhang Yu, Pan Hong, Zhao Wei and Fan Bingbing. He was very good at choosing actors and encouraging them. All these film stars called Director Xie "the magic master behind the camera," who could change a blank paper into a colorful painting.
"Director Xie ignited the first light of my life," said Pan Hong, the leading actress in Xie's Film Last Nobles. She said that Director Xie's advice, "Use your figure to present the soul of another person," taught her how to be an actress.
Xie also played a part in training the new wave of emerging directors.
In 1993, he became the president of a film school named after him in Shanghai and helped to train young filmmakers.
In the end Xie was still working on new projects and living a simple life. People familiar with him said that he never made films just for money. For Xie, the function of a film was always about social education, more than commercial success.
Xie died in his hometown during the period when he went back to participate in the 100th anniversary celebration of his middle school. As Jiang Wen, the leading actor of the film Furong Town said, "Director Xie slept forever in his hometown, like a leaf returning to its roots."
Many have mourned his passing. On October 26, more than 10,000 people flocked to his funeral service to pay their last respects to him, not only for his artistic achievements, but also for his dignity, humanitarianism and love for the cinema.