For quite a long time I've wanted to make a documentary that faithfully portrays life in contemporary rural Chinese society. This idea originated from my personal feeling. Today in many big Chinese cities, we sense the high spirit that came with the rapid economic development. Cities are experiencing dramatic changes at an amazing speed. It seems that our country is taking a high-speed train to economic prosperity, which is uplifting. But in the countryside, we find just the opposite. The barren land, the slow pace, the sleepy village market, the wandering old men, children and women, all stand in contrast to what we see in the cities. Only at places where the highway passes by, can we feel the little connection the countryside has with cities. The countryside is no longer what it used to be. It seems more like a separate world. We know of the young, strong rural laborers working in city construction sites, in factories, in basements and at entrances of impressive buildings. They do work no urban dwellers are willing to do, and enjoy special "treatment". A small subset of rural population go to school, or join the army, for a different kind of life.
It got me thinking. The design for modernization is all geared towards benefiting the cities, while sacrificing interests of the countryside. The 20 years of reform in fact marginalized rural society. Although the government made gestures to assist the countryside, China has become a place where a huge wealth gap exists with a few people having already gotten rich. The household registration system and a few other social forces work together to keep society in this stable, unbreakable dual state.
While we can track how this duality came to play through historical lens.all the social and political movements in the past years, combined the dynamics of economic reform of the past two decades, the contemporary globalization … many forces work together to create the despair and devastation we find in the countryside today. At the end of the day, it's the peasants who bear the brunt of the growing pains.
According to the 80/20 rule. a small number of people will reap most of the benefits - a prediction confirmed by what is happening. Adding Matthew's effect (the rich get richer and the poor get poorer) to that, and we can see where society is heading.
In such a time, we especially must remain composed.
That's why I want to make a documentary about the countryside.
In this film, we chose regions closely related to rural society. From these five regions we picked five groups of people. You see them in the film: young people coming from the countryside to work in a private factory in Guangdong; the woman from Zhejiang who gave up peasant life to become a businesswoman in Yiwu; the rural college graduates at the job fair in Shanghai; the new army recruits with practical needs; and the old men who cling onto their farmland and live under the mercy of Nature. The five sections seem to be connected but are unrelated. With the portrayal of their living conditions, I try to tear apart the apparent economic prosperity and expose the embarrassing reality in rural China. I try to show how peasants, China’s largest population group, are struggling to survive at this historic time. I try to portray the ordinary people caught up in this society of opportunism, restlessness and vanity.
Where is the way out for rural China? This is the question that our film raises, but fails to answer. It is difficult – impossible - to answer such a question in a documentary. But if we managed to get more people to see and ponder with us, including those caught up in the circumstance, then we have succeeded.
I have to admit that my production team and I are the beneficiaries in this dual state society. Our life differs from that of people living in the countryside. We live in cities, where we enjoy the social development and progress, enjoy the fruition of science and culture. Our life is in step with the developed countries, and bears little resemblance to life in the countryside. But deep down in our hearts, our conscience is calling. If there is something I can do, I want to record. It is hardly a display of superiority. On the contrary, I see the condition as the collective embarrassment of my people.