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An Inside Look At China Today (11/07)
by Jasper Becker
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
"Young & Restless in China"
With a four-year filming project, documentarian Sue Williams ("Frontline: China in the Red") provides a picture of an upwardly mobile generation of Chinese citizens caught between the customs of the past and the opportunities of a new frontier in their society. No longer content to accept the poverty of their parentage, the portraits chosen depict a changeover in this society in the process of modernizing with the rise of individual ambition, entrepreneurship, employment of technology and a general pursuit of dreams. What seems to be missing from the picture are signs of governmental repression as it affects all these things.
What the subjects have most in common besides varied implementation of their dreams is love, marriage and romance. They are city dwellers who have, for the most part, left farms and rural life. They are nearly unanimous in having to deal with the effects of their new world vision and old customs of their parents. Family bonds remain strong despite separations, with regular visits and phone calls the norm. The tensions and confusions in this freedom-ascendent world is balanced against the possibilities for success that modern Chinese capitalism affords.
There is the business man who shows us a large, empty space that will become his first big venture, a super-modernistic Internet Cafe. When the success of it becomes a reality, he speaks of opening up two or three more venues. But this emerging mogul has a social conciousness, and he sees this as only a stepping stone to something more personally satisfying, a solar cell manufacturing business.
A determined woman lawyer risks her career and, possibly, more by suing the Chinese government for aid to pollution victims. As an activist for a public cause, she puts everything on the line, defining herself as an enemy of the state. The Chinese hierarchy hasn't yet caught up to people like her who devote themselves to public causes like the protection of the environment and natural resources but she shows us the kind of person it takes to advance a monolithic legal structure's thinking.
A doctor in a relatively modest clinic wants to do public health work in the form of a rotation program where residents in large hospitals can provide training in rural ones for the treatment of common diseases. Another vision of public improvement.
The dream of a rap singer cum nightclub DJ heads toward realization when he can count 20,000 fans while still living in a postage stamp hovel. Where this is leading him is to dream further, to being the head of a record company. Not exactly a babe magnet, he falls for a girl on the internet who shows signs of mutual interest. But, when he sends her money for a trip to Beijing to see him, she doesn't show up. It does seem, however, to be more a fear issue than a scam.
There's a man who starts up a shirt making operation in hopes of one day supplying 1% of the 900 million dollar industry. He's become a Christian to help guide him.
And, finally, the young woman who enjoys living alone and must contend with her father's arrangement to marry her off to a local man in his village. Her struggle between the expectations of her dear father, and the subsequent failure to connect with the appointed groom becomes the basis for neurotic unrest until she makes the decision that will bring resolution and the possibility of happiness.
These are a few of the nine stories Williams diligently covers in her four- year multiple storyline adventure. One senses a restraint against a more diverse set of subjects, to include the less fortunate, more rebellious class, and the presence of an overseer from the propaganda office. No one who knows anything about china is going to take this as a cross section of the country, though it does appear to represent a strain of what people are doing and thinking in the big city of Beijing -- the positive strain, that is.
Not that Williams is claiming it to be more than that, as her title may imply. In any event, for anyone interested in the societal currents in pre-Olympics-years China, her film affords valuable documentation and insight. One might also take some comfort in the impression it makes that prevailing aims and ambitions are along personal improvement lines rather than political-militaristic ones.
By some measures, the awakened giant is our biggest competitor and a potential military threat we worry about. Williams' concentration on individual aims and ambitions that we find familiar and can identify with is therefore comforting.
~~ Jules Brenner