Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Movies: Chinese School System Documentary Double Feature

Exams are over, and Shangrila Towers is back! First up in my backlog of posts is a double feature review of a couple of documentaries about the Chinese school system:

Please Vote For Me

If you wanted to pick an example of the pervasive control the PRC exercises over its citizens, the one-child policy would be a solid choice. The policy, in general terms, limits parents in China to having one child; there are exceptions and ways to circumvent the limit (special fines, permissions, etc.), but the fact that people in China even follow the policy at all shows a remarkable faith in (or fear of) the central government.

There are arguably some social benefits to a controlled birth rate, just as there are some unintended consequences of forcing parents to put all their eggs in one basket. You can see these consequences in "Please Vote For Me," a documentary about a grade-school election for class monitor in an urban middle-class area of Wuhan, China.

In the documentary, three candidates face off against each other, each one getting extensive support from their parents. From what we see of them on screen, they are all "little emperors," children who are constantly doted on because of their status as an only child. In an effort to garner votes, Luo Lei's father takes the entire class on a trip through the monorail system of Wuhan. Cheng Cheng's parents write a speech for him to recite during the election debates. It's way above the level of involvement that even an enthusiastic parent would have in the West, and the way it's captured is startling and effective.

The movie also serves as an interesting microcosm of the political system. The smooth talker, Cheng Cheng, seems to get most of the support early on. Xu Xaiofei, the only female candidate, has an early nervous breakdown that eventually gets the whole class crying. Luo Lei is the incumbent, with all the pressure and advantages that brings. The interplay between these three children during the election is priceless, if only because you see echoes of it in democratic elections the world over.

Rating: 8/10

China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province

It's been a year since a 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck Sichuan. The quake killed at least 70,000 people, many of them children who were trapped in collapsed schools throughout the region. The anniversary probably won't merit more than a passing mention on the national news here in the States, but for the parents of those children, bitter questions remain.

"China's Unnatural Disaster" is an HBO documentary that covers the reactions of the parents in one small town. The pain is raw, filmed in HD, with the camera so close it borders on voyeurism. You see hastily buried graves (the crematorium was so crowded after the quake that parents resorted to burying their children themselves), endless grief, and the rubble of schools. The grief quickly turns to anger when shoddy school construction is blamed, and when the residents of the town march on the provincial capital, the government's response is predictable.

The documentary as a whole offers few real solutions and only a tacit indictment of the Chinese government's role in the destruction of the schools. It would have been much more pointed if the filmmakers could have snuck an independent structural engineer on site to examine the collapsed school buildings. Instead, all the viewer is left with is sorrow, rage, and speculation.

Rating: 6/10


At 9:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi dear friend:
Glad to read the blog you write. And I want to discuss the documentary with you. But I haven't seen the documentary "China's Unnatural Disaster".
Do you mind offering this video to me via Internet, I can't find any video resource such as .torrent or ed2k.

When reading the comment,please PM me by lilelulu@gmail.com
Thanks a lot!
Wish you a nice day!


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