Zhongshan, Guangdong Province. Many young off-farm workers are busy working for orders of next year. They work day after night, repeating monotonous tasks just like machines, they have to finish their tasks at the highest speed, since maximum output per unit time means that they will earn as much money as possible; but in fact, even that is rather slim. While they make numerous numbers of umbrellas in various colors and styles, they have no idea how much an umbrella earns for others.
Yiwu, Zhejiang Province. Advantaged geographic location gives this city an opportunity to become the foreland connecting “World Factory” and “World Market”. Local farmers’ lands were expropriated for enhancing economic development. A few lucky local inhabitants were compensated considerably for their land loss. Some of them are engaging in umbrella wholesale business in the newly constructed gigantic building, the so-called World’s Largest Small Commodity Market. Now they are nouveaux riches, and their lifestyle has almost changed completely, there seems no longer any relationship between the term “Farmers” and their current status.
Shanghai. The higher education has been industrialized during the Education Reform. More and more high school graduates may go to college while more farmer families seem to trap themselves in financial squeeze in order to support the expensive tuition fees of their children. Furthermore, these young college graduates have to face ruthless reality of hunting for a job in a ferocious competitive market. No job found in the city means going back to the countryside, then all their previous efforts wasted.
PLA garrison in a Province. Many young farmers joined army, so their families no longer have to support them financially; on the contrary, they will receive soldier allowances. Comparing with young men from cities, these rural kids can stand for tough drills better. Becoming a solider is merely one of the options for a farmer to move to a different status, their ultimate goal is to change their own destiny.
One village in Luoyang, Henan Province. All young farmers have left for working in other cities; only children, women and elder people are still living here. A serious drought happened in the harvest time of wheat, early wheat in the land have little vitality. The tireless rumble of reaping machine is reminding these poor farmers not to forget to prepare money for renting the machine. Young people returning from cities for temporary harvest assistance have left hastily again. Only an elder is talking solitarily to the camera.
Farming has been the key means of subsistence for the Chinese since history. Nowadays, those farmers used to engage in farming have moved to the unfamiliar frontier of their life, across the whole country, covering over the basis of flourishing economic activities just like an open umbrella provides shelter for this large piece of land.
Documentary director, graduated from Photography School of Beijing Film Academy in 2000. Works include:
2000: ALONG THE RAILWAY, documentary;
2002:BELOW THE HIGH-RISE BUILDING, documentary;
2003: BEIJING MINUTES, short fictional film;
2004: CHILDHOOD WITH FILM, documentary;
2005: FACE AND PEACH BLOSSOMS, documentary;
2006: STONY MOUNTAIN, documentary.
From The Director
Umbrella… (SAN)is a prosaic documentary anchoring on contemporary rural Chinese society. This was how we envisioned the film since its conception.
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.
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.
※ Award Honorable Mention, the 30th Cinema du reel International Documentary Film Festival,
※ The 64th Venice International Film Festival, Orizzonti Section
※ The 4th Hong Kong Asian Film festival, Non Competition
※ The 5th Doclisboa, International Competition
※ The 5th Copenhagen International Film Festival, International Competition
※ The 20th International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, Non Competition
※ The 51st San Francisco International Film Festival, International Competition
※ The 1st New Asia Film Festival (Vancouver)
※ Rodos International Film and Visual Arts festival, Feature Film Competition, 2008
※ The 15th Valdivia International Film Festival, Main Competition of documentary films,
※ Asian film festival of Rome, 2008
※ Sardinia International Ethnographic Film Festival, 2008
※ The 3rd International Documentary Film Festival of Mexico city, Best International Documentary Film competition
※ Cinemambiente - International Environmental Film Festival, 2008
※ The 9th annual Planet in Focus International Environmental Film & Video Festival,
→ Buy 《Umbrella…》 DVD：http://goo.gl/6k6zdY