For six years the film follows 3 young Chinese from different social levels, different regions and different mindsets into their adult lives.
Yuan Hanhan, a girl from Beijing, dropped out of high school when she was 17. Doing nothing except watching movies and reading books, Yuan felt it boring to stay at home. Hence she started her own bar, which is located in Gulou Hutong. However, the business was bad and slow, so she had to close it three months later, as expected.
Three years later, having traveled almost every countries in Europe, Yuan decided to apply to her dream school—kunstak ademie Düsseldorf, and luckily, she made it. At college, she barely went to the studio to draw. The monotonous life in Germany made her feel lonely, so she would often try to have fun walking her rabbits in the park or going to Weimar to hang out with her boyfriend.
In the summer of 2015, Yuan became an intern of an art gallery in Shanghai in order to get some practical knowledge of the running of art business. She said that she actually had no definite plan for her future, only she wouldn't spend the rest of her life in Germany--a place for old people to enjoy their old ages, she thought. This year, in Beijing, Yuan has registered her art investment company.
19-year-old Xu Jia from Hubei Province, the middle of China, is going to prepare for the annual national college entrance exam for the third year in Xian Yang. Stressful as the work can be, his mother, a woman without education, still hopes that Xu could bet on this year and hopefully can end up getting into a good college. As far as they are concerned, getting into a good college means a bright future as well as the only way out.
Luckily, Xu got into a second-tier college of China as he has wished. In his third year of college, Xu tries very hard to find a job as the other students do. He sents out many resumes but few interviews were informed. He finally accepts the offer of a company, but after signing the contract, Xu feels nothing but emptiness as though he has just sold himself.
Having been working for two years, in October 2015, Xu decides to marry his girlfriend whom he has been with for four years in order to reduce the burden of his mother. Xu says, a man should get married before he starts his career. Furthermore, he hopes he can be ready to take more responsibilities of the family after he gets married.
Ma Baijuan was a 12-year-old girl from Gansu Province, the western of China. She was a second grade student in Yequergou Primary School, where there was only two teachers and five students. Harsh as the condition is, Ma is so filled with happiness, for she loves school so much. The girl hopes one day when she grows up, she can go to Beijing for university, gets a job and make some money after graduation. She dreams of earning one thousand yuan each month so that she can buy flour and have a well dug for her home, as flour and water are still badly needed for her family.
In 2012, Ma's father and brother managed to move from Gansu to Ningxia so that it is easier for Ma to go to school. However, Ma dropped out of school only one year later because she failed to catch up with her classmates.
Now 15-year-old Ma goes to a completely new city by herself, trying to find a job. But she is turned down for every job she applies for due to minor age and inadequate education. Ma is lost pacing back and forth along the bank of Yellow River.
Cherelle Zheng (Zheng Qiong) founded "Beijing Channel Zero Media" in 2000. a leading production company in China that focuses on documentary films.In addition to operating own workshops, film screenings, an e-journal and a fund for the promotion of Chinese filmmakers, Channel Zero Media concentrates on international co-operations and distribution. In 2009 Cherelle Zheng launched the first officially authorized independent International documentary film festival in China, "iDOCS". She was jury member of DOK Leipzig 2011,Adelaide Film Festival 2013 and DOC Aviv film festival 2015. Zheng Qiong has started working with the international documentary filmmaking crew from Taiwan, Canada, Netherlands,France and Germany since 2006 and also participated in producing international documentary films, such as Giraffe (German/2016) ,The Journey to West（France/2014),A Diary of Pigeon (Netherlands /2014), The Chinese Bubble (Netherlands/2011), Sunny Side of Sex (Netherlands/2010), Rainmakers (Netherlands/2009), How Long is the Road (Taiwan/2008), Short & Male (Canada/2007), Tales of A Yellow Bicycle (Canada/2007)
Stars in My Eyes （90’ documentary 2017） (director & producer)
The Psychiatric Hospital’s ‘Educated Youth Division’ ( in production)
(90’ documentary, 2010-2017 as director & producer)
A Way Out （94’ documentary 2016） (director & producer)
Giraffe (90’ Germany documentary, 2016 researcher &producer in China)
The Journey to West (60’ ARTE documentary, 2014 researcher &producer in China)
A Diary of Pigeon (78’ VPRO documentary, 2014 researcher &producer in China)
The Folk Troup (68’ documentary 2013 producer, Special Jury Award of DOK Leipzig 2013)
The Chinese Bubble (52’ VPRO documentary, 2011 researcher &producer in China)
The Sunny Side of Sex (52’ X3 documentaries, 2010 co-researcher &producer in China)
Rainmakers (78’ documentary 2009 researcher &producer in China, 2011 Sheffield Green Award)
Sisters (20 X 45’ documentary 2005 producer & distributor)
This film explores the life of three young people looking to find their way, their worth and their world in traditional China’s newly emergent modern society.
I was such a refreshment program student myself twenty-six years ago, staying in the last year of high school for three years. Eventually, I still disappointed my parents who had wished me to entre a university. Back then, my parents, regular citizens without any power themselves, nor any connection to the powerful, together with me, experienced the uncertainty of a long, dark and stressful tunnel of me staying home jobless, job hunting, working in a plant. And later, I left the small town for Beijing, where I did menial jobs, working industriously to make ends meet. During this period of time, the grievance arose from following the majority without necessary critical thinking, uncertainty over the future, as well as hesitation and frustration of not knowing where the future would be.
Therefore, it touched my heart when Hanhan’s mom told me the story of her daughter in a relaxed chatting manner. Totally different from me, who came from a rather remote small town, Hanhan has such a variety of options, such an abundance of opportunities, and so many resources in her life. The situation for me was an absolute shortage of everything, from choices to opportunities, without any social resources available at all, whatsoever. Especially, I was shocked at the fact that she gave up the education at the Middle School Associated to the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, which has been the dream opportunity that so many other teenagers have tried all their might to grasp, with such an ease of mind. I was shocked significantly and could not help wondering what exactly exempted her of the necessary pondering over the potential outcome when she took an action like that.
Through constant conversation with her, I was sharply aware of her independent thinking abilities resulted from a multitude of choices available since her childhood. This gave me a strong inspiration and desire to produce a story about her. However, a story only about her would not mean much, because it would not be contrasted and it would be difficult for the audience to figure out the reasons. Upon such realization, I decided to go back to the Xianning high school where I used to study myself, to find a student with similar experience in taking the national exam multiple times like myself, for whom the only choice for a decent future would be to get into a university. In China, especially in small and medium-sized cities, the traditional belief holds that getting a university degree means a decent job and a bright future, because more and better chances would be presented to them. Moreover, the better a university they can get into, the better and the more the opportunities there will be.
Many students have to repeat the last year of high school study in order to get a higher score in their university entrance exam. Some students have repeated two, three or even ten times. Because universities only use this score to assess the student’s qualification for entry, this once a year exam is critical for students interested in higher education.
For most students in small cities, gaining entrance to a university is the first step to move beyond the traditional family life with which they have grown up and play a role in the modern world. This role has different meanings for different people. For the boy, Xu Jia, for instance, the only thing he was concerned about was getting into a good university and then finding a well-paying job. The philosophical quest of “what do I live for” never occurred to him. Xu Jia represents the majority of Chinese who have a strong desire to improve their lives by enjoying a better material life style.
For the girl, Ma Baijuan, who lives in a small village in the remote mountains, survival is her life’s priority. She doesn’t feel bored with life like Yuan Hanhan, nor does she feel anxious like the ambitious Xu Jia does. Her livelihood comes from land, and her future life lies there too.
In present-day China, an extreme rich-poor gap separates people into different social classes. Xu Jia, Yuan Hanhan and Ma Baijuan are representative of these classes.
People trying to survive off the land must endure heavy pressure and anxiety while pursuing traditional success. Those individuals who are striving to enjoy the fruits of middle class are also beginning to wonder about the meaning of life and to explore spirituality.
This film explores the life of three young people looking to find their way, their worth and their world in traditional China’s newly emergent modern society. It is a wonderful journey as we observe the three not only learning how to live, but also understanding how life works in present day China.