JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

copyright 2012, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 54, fall 2012

Migrant workers, women, and
China’s modernization on screen

by Jenny Kwok Wah Lau

The story began thirty-some years ago. China opened up to a market economy in the late 70s and early 80s, and the rest of the world flooded in to take advantage of its vast resources, especially its human resources. As the country became more and more experienced in the workings of capitalism, its industrial capability evolved from largely low-skill, cheap product manufacturing to more high-end production. Just two decades later, by the turn of the century, China had been transformed into the “factory of the world,” making everything from cheap plastic toys and electronic gadgets to brand-name fashions, high-tech solar panels, automobiles and much else. According to market reports, as of the mid 2000s China turned out 47% of the world's mobile phones,[1] 65% of the world’s toys,[2] 70% of the world's digital cameras,[3] and 85% of the world’s clocks.[4] [open endnotes in new window] China has been using so much power to manufacture everything for everyone that in July 2010 it became the top energy consumer in the world, displacing the United States from its century old dominance.[5] Beijing Automotive (BAIC) President, Wang Dazong, predicts that by 2020 China will manufacture half of the world’s automobiles.[6] This is not a given, but what is true is that in 2010 China became the second largest economy in the world with so much cash in hand that it is now the biggest bondholder of the United States.

China’s role as a new center of the global economy, with accompanying conspicuous consumption, is by now commonplace knowledge. Less acknowledged is how China’s transformation from third world status to first world powerhouse is due, in no small measure, to the creation of an internal third world, largely composed of migrant workers who have moved from rural villages to large cities. These migrant workers provide the backbone for China’s colossal industrialization. A prime example is Foxconn, one of the largest computer chip makers in the world; it supplies parts for such popular products as iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Xbox, Playstation, etc. In China Foxconn has over half million employees that work an average of 60-80 hours per week. Most of these workers are not local citizens of Shenzhen, where the companies’ facilities are located. Out of its 400,000 strong workforce only 1 percent are local. Furthermore, the majority are female.[7] In Shenzhen almost 80 percent of the population consists of migrant workers and nearly 70 percent of these are women. The neighboring city of Dongguan, manufacturing a third of all shoes sold globally each year, has a population of over 7 million, more than two thirds of whom are migrant workers. [8]

Female migrant workers for the most part manufacture garments, toys, electronics, and housewares, or they work in the local service economy, such as in restaurants and hotels. Male migrants primarily do construction work. While many studies have been done on the subject of rural to urban migration

“most of them have been concerned with macro-level demographic, economic, and political effects of migration, and with how the influx of migrants into urban areas should be managed.”[9]

Relatively little attention has been paid to how migration is understood by the migrants themselves, especially how gender differences impact the migration circumstances and experiences of women.[10]

One of the hardships that specifically afflicts women migrants is the unavailability of maternity insurance. Once a female worker stops working due to pregnancy, she is cut off from the company’s health coverage, if there is any. But she cannot enroll in the city unemployment system because she does not have resident status. So she is not entitled to receive maternity care. Another issue that young rural women confront is the community’s censure when they seek work in the city. Rural people often expect women to marry in their hometown (countryside) and raise children there. Rural men face no such expectations. Or if a woman does get married, separating from her children may leave her with a strong sense of guilt due to the mother’s traditional childrearing role.

It is well documented that working conditions in many factories are substandard. But over and beyond labor conditions, we must also consider the intense impact of industrialization on the natural and human environment and on the whole life-course of individuals, male and female. This paper will analyze how a number of photographic/video installations in the new millennium, together with documentary and narrative films made on the subject of migrant workers in past decades, reflect a new and disturbing visuality depicting conditions in modern China.

Photo/video installations

"The Real Toy Story” (John Batten Gallery, Hong Kong, 2004) was an installation of 20,000 plastic toys which visual artist Michael Wolf collected in California flea markets during a four-week trip. Amid the toys are portraits of factory workers. As can be seen, most of these workers are young females, who hand-produced thousands of identical toys. The massive amount of toys produced is astonishing while the machine-like monotonous life represented in the emotionless faces of the workers, is unsettling.

“Made in China” (2005) was at first a soloist exhibition of artist Melanie Jackson in Matt’s Gallery, London. In 2006 a large-scale group exhibition of works on similar topics was mounted in the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago with the same title. The show included, among others, Michael Wolf’s "The Real Toy Story,” Melanie Jackson’s “Made in China,” and photography by Edward Burtynsky, Danwen Xing, and Polly Braden. Many of these pictures/videos focus on female workers, their work and living environment.

Jackson’s piece was a video installation made up of three short films composed of animation, staged film, and documentary footage about two Chinese women who migrate from their hometowns to distant cities. One woman, a farm girl, migrates to take a job in a cosmetic factory that makes eyelashes. The other, a musician, has migrated to England to study a traditional Chinese musical instrument, the Erhu.

Anyone moving from the country to the city faces an obvious level of cultural disruption. But the disruption is greatly intensified for a simple farm girl who is now making a decidedly unfamiliar product, fake eyelashes, whose utility no rural woman could have possibly imagined. Nor has she experienced the concept of “beauty” that accompanies it. Similarly, going to the West to learn one of the most “Chinese” of musical instruments—to create one of the most traditional forms of Chinese art (music)—also presents a jarring juxtaposition. Such narratives candidly highlight the alienation and emotional dissonance that these women experience.

Also in this exhibition, well-known environmental photographer Edward Burtynsky’s work examines the sweeping exploitation of nature engendered by China’s gargantuan development. This exploitation has created attractive living conditions for a few and repulsive living conditions for the many. Danwen Xing’s photographs show piles of electronic trash, obsolete computers, telephones, and stereos from Japan, South Korea, and the United States arriving along the coast of China’s southern Province of Guangdong, where more than 100,000 workers make their living by sorting out trash for recycling or other purposes. Another photographer, Polly Braden documents the sojourn of a young girl, Ho Ping, as she moves from her hometown to a shoe factory in a city that produces for brands such as Nine West and Clarks, among others.

The environmental devastation and the hard life encountered by factory laborers were all poignantly expressed in these exhibits. Of equal importance, images of female migrant workers highlighted another set of issues. For example, following up on this earlier work, Polly Braden published a photographic essay titled “China Between” (2007) with pictures of women that convey stories of social and cultural alienation. For example, one photo shows waitresses in a luxurious restaurant wearing elegant changshan (Chinese national attire) waiting nonchalantly around a stairway at the restaurant. The book emphasizes the palpable emotional disconnection between this kind of glamorous world of high society inside that restaurant and the dull life of migrant workers, who usually live by the edge of the city, the urban “backstage.”

And yet, at the same time, incomes that migrant women workers gain, however measly, results in some fulfillment via increased consumptive power. Some of Polly Braden’s photographs show migrant women shopping. These pictures complicate the questions surrounding the life of migrant workers. In what way do their lives deteriorate as a result of their migration? Do they experience lasting fulfillment? Are they hurt by migration or do they gain enough financial improvement so that their migration is ultimately beneficial to them?

Documentary and narrative films

Taking advantage of the narrative power of films, two documentaries made during the 2000s by filmmakers residing outside of China[11] present a more detailed description of the experience of migrant women.[12] The film Up the Yangtze (2007) by Yung Chang and The Last Train Home (2009) by Lixin Fan portray how women become migrant workers in order to support their families. These films have moved audiences worldwide with their heart-wrenching narratives and stunning visuals.

Up the Yangtze relates a story of a personal struggle between an eldest daughter and her poverty-stricken family. The family lives in a half-paper, half-wood-board shed they built along the banks of the Yangtze River. Since the riverbank and the neighboring land will be flooded after the completion of each stage of the Three Gorges Dam the family has to keep moving in order to protect itself from the floodwaters. The eldest daughter is sent out to work against her will in order to support her family. She migrates from her rural home to work on a luxurious cruise ship, which takes Western (mostly U.S.) tourists on a "Three Gorges farewell trip." Coming from a poor family, she finds everything on the ship unfamiliar. She has little to no understanding of her environment. She experiences the pain of separation, alienation, and the loss of her dream of going to high school to have a better future. The film contrasts the poorest of the poor (many of the waitresses) with the money-seeking, Western-pleasing Chinese businessmen, and the fun-loving, innocent-seeming Western tourists.

In this way, the eldest girl of the family Yu Shui (Cindy) not only bears the brunt of a harsh environment but also endures the biases that derive from gender inequality. She is forced to make the kind of sacrifice that many other girls in China are asked to make, i.e. give up her education in order to make money to send her brother to school. (This common practice also enters the narrative in Out of Phoenix Bridge, which will be discussed below.) Sadly, Yu Shui’s family faces such severe poverty that even her noble sacrifice cannot save them. As the dam project progresses, floods eventually wiped their small house from the riverbank. Nothing remains. The water drowns it all—the house, the girl’s dream, and a better future.

The Last Train Home documents a heart-breaking story of a migrant couple, who like millions of other migrant workers, return home during Chinese New Year for a few days visit with the family. In this couple’s case, there has been a ten-year protracted absence from their village, so their relationship with their children, especially with their daughter, has become estranged. Even though the daughter expresses anger at her parents because of understandable feelings of abandonment, the parents, especially the mother, are devastated by the daughter’s rejection. During the New Year's Eve dinner, the parents’ guilty feelings and the daughter’s anger suddenly erupt into a shouting match and a fistfight.[13] At the end of the film, we find the daughter refusing to continue her schooling and leaving home. She travels to Southern China and finds a job in a nightclub, a job loaded with potential for sexual exploitation. Sadly, she herself becomes a new migrant worker, repeating the cycle in the tragedy of migration.

Even though China’s rural to urban migration continues to be one of the biggest human migrations ever to have taken place during peacetime history, very few fiction films, especially commercial narrative films, have been made about it. While numerous popular films have come out in the past two decades depicting the new modernized China either as a glorious success or as a “success” with human costs, not very many of them focus on migrant workers themselves.[14] Especially neglected are scripts about how this massive movement of capital and labor affect women’s social position and lives. For example, the few popular fictional films that focus on migrant workers such as Blind Shaft and Beijing Bicycle deal mostly with male migrants. A rare popular film about a woman migrant and her child is Loach is a Fish Too. Unfortunately, the film is highly commercialized both in its story and production style and lacks the sociological depth required to depict a complicated migrant situation. On the other hand, world-renowned film director Jia Zhangke has made a number of films with more artistry and complexity that depict the effect of China’s modernization on its people. Among them The World is most penetrating in exploring the problems and dilemmas of female migrant workers. As an artisan film, shown mostly in art cinemas, the film offers more insight into the world of migrants.

As powerful and well-made as some of these films are, most of them lack depth in presenting the range of women's issues. For example, many of the works listed above present migrant women as being a sign of social ills rather than agents of social change.[15] The scripts do not take up the subject position of the women characters; for example, the films do not examine whether female migrants choose to move to cities simply for financial reasons or perhaps because of other more personal agendas. In fact, recent research shows that women and men choose migration for different reasons.In fact, recent research shows that women and men choose migration for different reasons. Most men migrate for financial reasons while many women migrate because they have an adventurous curiosity about the outside world.[16] Another question scripts could take up is what happens to migrant women once they go back to their home. Do they choose to return to the cities even though life there is so harsh? If yes, why? These important questions of women’s subjectivity and agency, and how they might be represented in film, will be explored in more depth with the two films discussed below.

These two films about women migrants made by two female directors—one appearing in the late 90s and the other almost ten years later—represent a shift in the way filmmakers address issues of female migration. The 90s film, Out of Phoenix Bridge (1997), directed by Li Hong, is one of the first documentaries totally focused on migrant workers, in this case on women. The second film, The Perfect Life (2008), is a feature fiction film[17] directed by Emily Tang, with female migrants as the main protagonists.

Critics and scholars who write about China’s films on migrant workers mostly focus on broad economic issues and the hardships suffered by urban workers. For example, Gina Marchetti’s analysis of Phoenix Bridge praises the film for its critique of “the exploitation of Chinese women’s labor in the global system” but criticizes it for its failure to “(condemn) globalization, and the dismantling of socialism.”[18] However, in the process of re-examining some of these films, I have concluded that an exclusive critical attention to financial concerns can lead to downplaying other central themes. While the films’ narratives obviously focus on economic issues, these two films are, in my opinion, first and foremost stories about women rather than stories about economics. The scripts detail what is expected of the protagonists as women as well as how they choose to live their lives. These two films reveal the powerful incentives beside money that lead women to choose to migrate. The films also demonstrate how the cycle of gender inequality in China continues regardless of economic development. Furthermore, as the stories of the two films take place during what could be considered two different stages of China’s economic reform (Phoenix prior to the Tiananmen Square incidents of the 80s versus Perfect Life in the late 90s) they also represent very different responses to two important historical moments.

Out of Phoenix Bridge

Out of Phoenix Bridge is a documentary about four female migrant workers (Xiazi, Afeng, Jailing, and Xiao Wang) from a small village called Phoenix Bridge in Anhui (a poor province in southeastern China) who come to Beijing looking for low-skill manual jobs as housemaids and street vendors. These jobs, although low-paying by city standards, already compensate ten-fold over what is possible in Anhui. The verite style reveals in detail how these women manage their lives in highly compressed spaces. The narration, which comes from the director’s own diary, describes how even taking a bath in the living quarters requires a laborious maneuver because of the lack of space and facilities. Throughout, the film uses several such verbal vignettes to indirectly reveal the women’s material and social condition.

The women spend most of their waking time working. From their conversation, we learn how harsh their working conditions are. Life in the big city is not as desirable as they expected. When the filmmaker discovers that these women do not know anyone in Beijing other than their landlord and have never toured the city even after a whole year of living there, she takes them out to visit Tiananmen Square. But even this kind invitation is accepted with suspicion, indicating their unfamiliarity with the wider world and strong insecurity with “strangers.” In metropolitan Beijing they live a life completely alienated from their urban hosts. The filmmaker, a Beijing native, admits she’d never been aware that such a congregation of migrants lived only 50 meters outside of the city.

Unlike other films about migrants, Phoenix moves quickly from a focus on the hardship of migrant living to the women’s personal histories. First, they talk about their lack of schooling in their native villages. Afeng and Jailing say their parents did not allow them to go to school because they were girls. Afeng describes one incident when she tried to go to school only to have her parents physically stop her. First, her father grabbed her as she left home. When she attempted to circumvent the parents by taking a detour around a river, her mother blocked her. Sadly such a description of women (mothers) helping to reinforce discrimination against girls is repeated further along in the film.

In another conversation on family matters, Xiao Wang and Afeng talk about wife beatings and other forms of violence in their homes and among their relatives. They also describe an educated woman in their village, rejected for her independent mind. All the men avoided her. All four women have a common memory of family life that is one of human (rather than economic) suffering. Women’s desires and opportunities in such a pre-modern, rural setting are shown as either blocked or controlled by the men and women surrounding the young women.

But the rebellious Xiazi challenges this control. Her strong and independent character enables her to resist her domineering parents, especially in matters of career and marriage. She opposes rural restrictions, sexual repression, and provincial boredom. When the filmmaker follows her to her hometown and meets her mother, the audience is led to a surprising realization—mother and daughter actually share similar thoughts. In the film, during much of this visit, the mother laments hardships she has endured as a wife and a mother. She was mistreated in her first marriage and she believes that she would not have had to marry a second time were it not for her children. She also thinks she would have had a better economic life if she had never married at all. Even so, she insists her daughter pursue a similar traditional marriage, lived in submission to her husband. So while the mother’s story is sad, her subjectivity, as a product of different social institutions, is contradictory. The bitter cycle of gender inequality gets reinforced from one generation to another, from one economic situation to another. Women themselves can perpetuate the oppression of women via their subjugation to an oppressive tradition.

Xiazi’s stepfather expresses a great deal of anger toward her because she rejects his authority. He has nothing good to say about her. He owns a barbershop which functions like a gossip mill. There rural folks gather to speak poorly about girls who go to work in the city, saying how greedy, sexually loose, etc. they are. The villagers’ inconsistency and hypocrisy is apparent when one realizes that some of these gossipers probably receive money sent back by their girls—just like the four women in the film who send most of their money home in spite of the bad treatment they get from their parents. Similar to many other underdeveloped regions of the world, this village benefits from the economic input of women working in urban areas far from home. But even though these women’s hardship makes possible the primitive accumulation of capital in their home village (which is, after all, the source of capitalist success), their contribution is ignored, denied, and even chastized by their communities—when in reality these courageous women should be championed as heroines. Their history of sacrifice is erased. In its place, a group of mostly men, with Xiazi's father as one of the opinion leaders, initiate and control a discourse of sour criticism against female villagers.

Unlike her mother, Xiazi lives in an unique socio-historical moment which allows her to reject an oppressive tradition and renegotiate a different kind of social relationship and identity. Throughout the film her desire for autonomy and respect is made possible to a certain extent because of the economic opportunities offered by the new capitalist system.

For example, the four women are clearly happy when the filmmaker takes them on their first shopping trip. It is the first time that the audience sees a smile on their faces. Their consumptive power definitely has some positive effects. That these new consumers savor their power to choose is seen in the way they measure themselves in front of the mirror as they try on their new sweaters. This is so even though in other more important issues they have no choice. That is, their resident status in the city is determined by the political system; their marriage can still be determined by their families if they go back home; or their vocation, if any, is determined by an economic system beyond their comprehension. In contrast, this small power to consume seems to give some of them the hope for further improvement. However, the audience will soon discover that consumptive choice is not the only freedom that Xiazi pursues.

Despite the almost intolerable hardship of working in Beijing, one thing that keeps women like Xiazi coming back is that there at least she can gain some control over her own life. Economic reform brought forth by the capitalist system makes it possible for women to relocate, a move that gives them hope to overcome economic hardship and cross-generational gender oppression. Their optimism represents the lingering traces of the optimism of the larger society generated during Deng Xiaoping’s era of economic reform.[19] Deng's policy of “Reform and Openness,” labeled by Chinese intellectuals as the “New Era” (also the “Culture Fever” era), generated not only an openness to the then new capitalist system but also an openness in regards to many other aspects of society. As such, even though for many Chinese substantial economic improvement had not yet occurred, changes in ideology, lifestyle, values, and worldview were already manifesting themselves. For Xiazi, and to a certain extent the filmmaker herself, hope to overcome pre-modern rural conservatism and inequality via the modernization process kept her optimistic. It ensured her return to the city.

A Perfect Life

The second film, A Perfect Life, has two protagonists —Li Yieying and Jenny Tse. They seek a better life by migrating to the industrial/commercial centers of Southern China—Shenzhen and Hong Kong. This film can be read almost as a sequel to Xiazi's story. She could just as well be one of the two women. While Phoenix Bridge has the cultural ethos of the Reform Era, Perfect Life’s story corresponds to the new centennial. This is the era of Jiang Zemin (1993-2003). When the film begins, Li, a woman from Shenyang (an industrial city in northeast China), is trying hard to move out of her hometown. She attempts to join a performing arts group but is not good enough at playing the music they need. During her audition, the leaders of the group can hardly recognize the western music she plays. Li seems to represent a different type of migrant woman, who so far has not been portrayed in most other films.

She has a factory job, but money does not seem her primary or exclusive concern. She is curious and adventurous. She attempts to learn English in order to give herself a chance to move out of her environment. She tries a few small jobs but is not happy with them. People in her town are provincial. They are not kind, including her mother, who who is relentlessly angery at her. Visually the town space is dull, backward, dirty and cluttered with dilapidated buildings. Li wants to find new experiences and explore new places. In fact, such character motivation actually is consistent with research which found that over half of migrant women have “(gaining) more experience in life” as their incentive for mobility versus almost all male workers who put money as their primary goal.[20]

Li finally lands a promising job as a cleaning maid in a mid-level hotel, which provides a more upscale world with modern media gadgets. She exhibits much curiosity about the guests. After all, a hotel offers the opportunity to meet travelers with diverse backgrounds. She has a short-lived romance with hotel guest, Brother Wang, who ends up asking her to deliver a parcel to Shenzhen. This fits her desire to move away so she makes it a one-way trip. Yet that's not the end of her journey. When the film concludes, the audience learns that Li has managed to find a Shenzhen grocery store owner to marry. But then one scene later she is seen running away from her newlywed husband with a married businessman from Hong Kong.

Li is constantly moving and searching for something better or something more satisfying. But it seems that she can’t really find it. Even the last trip that she embarks on, the trip to Shenzhen, does not seem to bring her happiness. Unlike the better-off men she meets, such as Brother Wang, or her grocery store owner husband, or the Hong Kong businessman with whom she elopes, Li has no financial success. It seems that she is driven by her desire to “see the new,” which she achieves not so much by her hard work but by her romantic relations with the men who pursue her.

Li’s story of moving/drifting away is contrasted with the story of another woman—Jenny. Jenny moved from mainland China and has settled in Hong Kong for over 12 years, where she married a Hong Kong man (we can guess he is a Hong Kong person by his Cantonese). In the beginning of the film Jenny is in the process of a hostile divorce.

Parallel editing accentuates the fact that Li and Jenny do not know each other. They lead separate and unconnected lives. While Li is trying to move south, further away from heartland China, Jenny will eventually move north, back to Shenzhen. While Li is trying to get into a relationship/connection with Hong Kong, Jenny is trying to get out of it. Jenny’s conflict-ridden marital failure brings back memories of the mainland. In various scenes, past photographs of Jenny remind her of her friends back home. She ruminates on the materially simple but happy and innocent life there. At the end of the film Jenny finalizes her divorce. Unable to find a job in Hong Kong she moves back to Shenzhen, where she finds herself, so to speak, “back to square one.”

New economic opportunities have not really benefitted Li and Jenny very much. They work hard. They move out of their hometown and try hard. But that does not help them move up the economic ladder. Their search for a piece of “success,” be it money or new experiences, does not seem to go anywhere. Their short moments of minor success are largely dependent on their relationships with men. Even though the economic development of China from the late 90s to the new millennium was astronomical, and many men achieved success, the life trajectory of these two women has not improved proportionally. The strength of Perfect Life lies in its ability to capture the mood of these women, whose effort is akin to treadmill running. Their constant attempts to achieve some degree of self-fulfillment cannot come to fruition.

After a decade of Jiang Zemin’s consolidation of capitalist practice, the contradictions created by socialist capitalism become more apparent. Previous optimism from Deng’s New Era about the positive, liberating power of the new economic order has been replaced by doubt, anxiety, and uncertainty. People realize that the change that will bring in the “bright socialist future” will not come without considerable sacrifice—personal and/or social. Many Chinese intellectuals and international China scholars have described this period as the “Post New-Era.” It is marked by the centrality of the market in China’s social life, fading of ideology, isolation of the individual, fragmentation of society, and rupture of the social fabric.

The story of Perfect Life is situated at this moment when the globalized commercial society and commodity fetishism are already a given (as shown in the scenes in the mid-level hotel, the city of Hong Kong, and Shenzhen). Material excess is more obvious in this film than in Phoenix Bridge even though the situation for the women in Perfect Life remains even bleaker. Both women remain alienated from the new society, which does not provide meaningful entry for their participation. While Li continues to pursue the new capitalist imaginary (travel, new environment, luxuries), Jenny has proven these fantasies to be illusionary. Both women remain uncertain if not disappointed in their pursuit of fulfillment, even while the wealthy (men) surrounding them become wealthier and more well-traveled.

Thirty years of modernization clearly has not diminished pre-modern gender inequality. Furthermore, in the Post New-Era, women face an added danger of being left behind. Neither film gives any resolution for these searching women. For them there are only sideways movements from one point to another. It is important to see how these two films, directed by women, bring up significant aspects of migrant women’s experiences that are not so carefully explored in other films—especially women’s dreams and desires for themselves.

Notes

1. http://www.eetasia.com/ART_8800461340_499488_NT_6db2a622.HTM
[return to text]

2. http://www.researchinchina.com/Htmls/Report/2010/5923.html

3. http://www.scribd.com/doc/72690303/Global-and-China-Digital-Still-Camera-DSC-Industry- report-2011

4. http://www.jimpinto.com/writings/chinachallenge.html

5. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/story/2010/07/19/china-us-energy-consumer.html

6. http://www.caradvice.com.au/99939/china-to-produce-40-million-vehicles-by-2020/

7. Bianca Bosker. “Foxconn Factory’s Violations: iPad Factory Workers’ Grievances Detailed in Report.” In The Huffington Post. March 29, 2012. See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/29/foxconn-factory-violations_n_1389664.html

8. Sally Kincaid. “China’s Migrant Women” in Perspective Column. Socialist Review. Jan. 2012. See http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=11875

9. Arianne Gaetano and Tamara Jacka. On the Move: Women in Rural-to-Urban Migration in Contemporary China. NY: Columbia University Press, 2004. P.2

10. ibid.

11. I chose films made by filmmakers outside of China because many films critical of China’s migrant situation made by filmmakers inside of China are banned and thus not easily available for study.

12. A third documentary Manufacturing Landscape (2006) by Jennifer Baichwal, although not focusing on women migrants, is another important film by a filmmaker outside of China on the subject of modernization. It features Edward Burtynsky’s photo/video journal, mostly shot in China, and captures the landscapes affected by globalization and industrialization.

13. The producer indicated to me after a public screening of the film at Stanford University in 2010 that the cameraperson felt morally obliged to stop his camera during the fight and mediate the family dispute.

14. In the over 400 page China Film Annual Reports 2010, which covers both industrial and art/cultural films made that year, migrant workers were mentioned only tangentially.

15. A similar comment was made by anthropologist Arianne Gaetano. “Rural Woman and Modernity in Globalizing China: Seeing Jia Zhangke's The World” in Visual Anthropology Review Volume 25, Issue 1, pages 25–39, Spring 2009.

16. Arianne Gaetano and Tamara Jacka. On the Move: Women in Rural-to-Urban Migration in Contemporary China. NY: Columbia University Press. P.2

17. I would even say it is an experimental narrative film as its narrative structure is unconventional in the sense that it is a mixture of a fictional story with a documentary film. The film was shot on digital camera and won the first prize in Vancouver film Festival, 2009 and Hong Kong International Film Festival (digital film section), 2009.

18. Marchetti, Gina. From Tiananmen Square to Times Square: Transnational China and the Chinese Diaspora on Global Screens, 1989-1997. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 2006. p. 88.

19. Although the film is made a few years after Deng retired from his leadership position, the ethos of his period still lingered on.

20. See footnote no. 16.


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