Xin Sheng is a junior student at the Communication University of China in Beijing. She is the student journalist of the American Embassy in China and has internship experience at many large media organizations including the Xinhua News Agency. She loves movies, especially documentaries, and hopes to work as a journalist in the future. Check out her photo album from Film Forward in Beijing here.
Chinese director Lixin Fan introduces the first screening of his film LAST TRAIN HOME at the Beijing Film Academy. Photo by Jill Miller.
An excellent documentary has just put a perfect end to the Sundance Institute Film Forward Program in China. Last Train Home touched the audience deeply when it was shown in Beijing Film Academy. This well made documentary, however, also spurs a lot of my reflection upon life and reality. Almost every Chinese person knows what Spring Festival means to them. After one year of toil and hard work, they all want to go home and reunite with their family members. The big dinner on the Chinese Lunar New Year Eve conveys much more meaning than a festival or a meal. That is why the transportation before Spring Holiday is always extremely heavy, since all the people who work in other places will go home. For those Chinese migrant workers, buying the ticket for the train home is their biggest wish. Lixin Fan’s award-winning documentary Last Train Home focuses on this issue.
The story talks about the life of the Zhang family. Mr. Zhang is a typical migrant worker, who comes to the Guangdong Province from their home village in Sichuan, searching for better opportunities to earn money. His wife also comes with him to work in the south part of China, leaving their little son and daughter home, along with their grandma. Time flies, when their daughter, Qin Zhang, becomes a teenage girl, things change. Qin also wants to leave their hometown and works in Guangdong instead of receiving education in the high school, as her parents wish. The parents and their rebellious daughter had sharp contradictory and conflicts. During this process, three family members work in the separated places in the cities, being changed by the big city in a way that they don’t even realize for themselves. The Spring Festival approaches and the family starts to worry about their ticket for hometown again.
As a student who also studies far away from my hometown, I actually share the experience about the so called “Spring Festival Rush” with those migrant workers. When the winter semester ends and the holiday begins, we are always worried about the train tickets for going home. Since there are too many people who want to go home to get together with their family members, it is always extremely difficult to buy the train ticket. At that time, money is useless, only connection works. You can’t get a ticket for home even if you are willing to pay for it. Or you can get them by offering big prices. For those migrant workers who earn little, the situation is even tougher. The true story about their struggle during this process was depicted vividly in Lixin Fan’s Last Train Home.
China is developing rapidly and experiencing huge transformation. During this process, many people have made great contribution to the society when they are striving for their own well-being. However, some of the vulnerable group can not make their own voice due to the limitation of their educational level. For those who make thousands and thousands of electronic products but can never afford to buy one for themselves, their life is rarely the focus of the mainstream media and general public’s attention. More often than not, migrants' lives are neglected by urban dwellers, their dreams and struggles become oblivion in the fast-changing society. Documentary can not only take down their life, but also appeal to more people that we should do something for those people who lifted up Chinese economy via their rough hand. If more people are touched by the reality of our society, there might be more help reaching out for them. Arouse more attention and see average people’s life from another perspective should be the aim of documentary directors. And we are happy to see that Lixin Fan has done this and made a difference.
China needs more Lixin Fan. Where is the next? Hopefully we can see more young minds who show their concern and humanistic care in the future.