The wife of a migrant worker makes noodles. She’s asked if she see’s her husband much. “No” she says.
Do you make much selling your noodles? “No”.
She uses a massive hand crank machine to process her noodles. A rhythmic noise coming from the noodle maker coupled with her co-worker’s hand clapping provides strange accompaniment to her beautiful voice as she sings
“Your children are dressed like the homeless.
They don’t have nice clothes or good cigarettes.
They have trouble finding work.
They have to slave away.
They’re crying in their hearts,
And sweating on their faces.
Your children have no one to talk to at night.
Filled with homesickness, tears run down their faces
The spring flowers once bloomed.
Yellow autumn leaves are falling.
When the snow comes in winter, please don’t go away
The round moon is here again.
Oh, another year is past.
Good children don’t show their heavy hearts,
Though the migrant worker’s life is hard.”
“Every Seventh Person” reveals the humanity so easily lost in a nation with multiplied millions. It’s difficult to comprehend the hopes, aspirations, and dreams for their children when thinking about a population in the billions. When Jenn and I were in Guangzhou we passed countless apartments, towering above us as we traveled to another appointment. Balconies stacked upon one another for miles, clothes drying and hanging plants waiting for sunlight through the fog. Each one a life. A story inside.
I wonder if Chairman Mao were alive what he would think of the unbridled growth scattered through China. What he strived for, extinguishing the lives of millions, has arrived decades later. Seeing the conditions in the villages of Baisuzha and San Yuan as documented in the film, I feel like I’m being given a last look into China’s recent past.
“Life was really terrible back then” reflects an elderly woman through tears. Her husband elaborates. “Yes, we used to cook with the chamber pot”. Unimaginable in my mind, a scar in theirs. Another older couple reflect on the hardships experienced. “No one cared about agriculture during the Cultural Revolution”. “Everyone was afraid at the time”. The time, he says, they refer to as ‘Time of the Unstable Ten Years’. His wife, a member of the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, describes how she and her fellow guards would break into people’s homes, steal what they wanted, and take all the traditional and religious items from the home, only to be burned.
Thankfully times have changed. “People don’t hate each other anymore. Everything is different.The situation is stable now” the man explains.
But ideas and culture are slow to change. A sign painted on a wall in Baisizha reads
“All boys and girls are equally strong. Boys are worth more than girls is an old idea. It only causes trouble in the family. Everyone should take their iron shovels and sweep these ideas into the trash.”
The remnants of those ideas linger. Families are permitted to have a second child, to try again so to speak, if the first one is a girl four years of age and the mother is 28. An application to the local government is also required. A board hangs in the Women’s League, tracking among other things, the sterilizations provided in the village. A reminder of China’s family planning measures. Gold stars take on new meaning. Families can earn up to ten stars, family planning being one. The other nine are for prosperity, uprightness, science and technology, child rearing peacefulness, culture, responsibility, hygiene, and “fresh wind”.
“That’s how life is, sometimes happy, sometimes sad”
A mother in San Yuan tells the camera while balancing her daughter on one leg. “I hope she has a better life and goes to university.” I know how she feels. Yet for her the stakes are higher. If my daughter doesn’t go to university she can still make so much of her life, unlike the little girl smiling into the camera. “Women do the same work as the men” the mother reflects. This, I imagine, is exactly what she wants her daughter to escape. The laborious work these villagers do at the foot of the Himalayan mountains.
While families in Jianjiazhai work in the fields the children study outside, squatting on their haunches, chairs used as tables. Inside they recite Chairman Mao’s words
“Comrade Zhang Si De is one of us. Everybody has to die sometime. Dying for the good of the people is more important than Tia Mountain. Whoever sells their soul for fascism or dies for the exploiters and oppressors of the people their death weighs less than a feather. Comrade Zhang Si De died in the interest of the people.His death is more important than Tai Mountain. When we talk about the interests of the majority, and about the people’s suffering,when we die for the people, then our death is not in vain”
The children reciting those words today will end up working in the fields or moving to the city, working a more monotonous job than their parents for a few dollars more. Will the recitation be forgotten, a relic from a moment in China’s extensive history, in order to learn how some mechanism in a factory works?
A slow-moving affair with valuable insight into life in rural China. Not as compelling or entertaining as “Last Train Home” or “Please Vote For Me”, but equally important. Amazon Prime members can watch it free. YouTube rental $2.99 for a week.
Special thanks to China Report for directing me to the film.