Film Response: “Young and Restless in China”
The film reviewed for this paper is called “Young and Restless in China.” It is a documentary that features nine different Chinese young people and their stories, struggles, choices, and plans. One by one, they appear during the film, first to be introduced and then for the revisit so that the viewers know the beginning and the development of their stories. The main characters represent different social classes, cities, regions.
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They are of both sexes, and their age varies between the early 20s and late 30s. Some of their stories unravel with a great deal of success, and some continue to face obstacles and challenges. The documentary demonstrates a collective image of the Chinese youth and the problems it has to deal with on a daily basis. The first participants to appear in the film are Lu Dong, and Ben Wu, both of them are businessmen working hard on the creation of their new companies. The men speak fluent English since they used to live in the USA or Canada. The two businessmen end up building successful businesses.
The next participant is Wei Zhangyan, a village girl fighting poverty and thriving for independence from her family and from old-fashioned traditions forcing her to start an arranged marriage. She ends up breaking off her engagement and finding a man she truly likes. Wang Xiaolei is a young rapper heavily influenced by the African American hip-hop culture. He works hard to break through as a performer making a band and working at a club.
Xu Weimin is another businessman; he builds a very successful 4-star hotel. Zhang Yao is a medical resident who witnesses poor people without health insurance in need of medical care every day. Yang Haiyan lives in a village trying to find her mother who was kidnapped and sold by the human traffickers 18 years ago after she finds her, the mother refuses to come back home because she has people to take care of. Finally, Zhang Jingjing and Mirada Hong are businesswomen, the former is a lawyer, and the latter works in advertising; both of them experience issues trying to balance their work and relationships.
The overview of the participants clearly demonstrates how large the gap between social classes in China is. For example, the participants from villages live in tiny houses with their families. The conditions are poor – leaking roofs, environmental pollution, and hard physical labor. At the same time, the other featured individuals build their own companies, have high incomes, live in beautifully decorated apartments, and can afford diamond rings. The experiences they have are also very different. Low-income individuals deal with such issues as human trafficking, arranged marriages, online scamming, while richer ones are troubled about the success of their businesses, careers preventing the development of relationships, having children. It is interesting to notice that all of the participants are very closely connected to their families.
It becomes clear that the representatives of all classes of Chinese society have very strong family values and see helping aging parents as a very important duty. Money is another great value of Chinese society. It is very noticeable that the poorer participants pursue money as the source of confidence and security, while the richer ones note that the definition of happiness in their society lacks spiritual or romantic elements. Instead, the Chinese understanding of happiness is based on the material valuables the people can afford. The social position of the individuals shown in the film provides a clear demonstration of how one’s financial status affects their desires and goals.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is applicable here, and the people whose basic needs, such as the need for food and shelter, are not satisfied to find it hard to focus on higher needs such as self-realization and spiritual growth. Richer individuals, Wu, Jingjing, and Hong, pursue social change and want to improve Chinese society. Lu Dong even compares it to a hungry child in a candy store, deprived of pleasures; it cannot get enough of them (Williams, 2008). Although the poorer participants such as Xiaolei, the rapper, and Zhanyan, the factory worker still pursue immaterial things such as love and art.
The impact of Western popular culture in Chinese society is very noticeable throughout the film. First of all, two of the main participants are fluent in English and have lived abroad for a while; they carry Western values and religion. Besides, the marriage proposals and engagements of some of the couples look very Western. For example, Miranda Hong has a wedding ring, which is not an element of the Chinese culture, and Zhang Yao proposes to his girlfriend with a diamond ring at a McDonald’s restaurant.
The strongest influence of the Western popular culture is noticed in the life story of Wang Xiaolei, who copies the traditional for the African American rap culture style of dressing, and has a large collection of American movies and music at home. Besides, he often adds American words to his speech. Poor and lonely Wei Zhanyan owns some items with Mickey Mouse on them, such as slippers and pictures, and wealthy businessman Ben Wu builds an Internet café themed with New York scenery and a huge UFO in the middle.
The subject of westernization in Asia and in China, namely, has been argued about by multiple experts. Some point out the overwhelming Western presence in Beijing with its KFC restaurants at every corner and American brands replacing everything traditionally Chinese (Stern, 2009).
The others maintain that “westernization” as a term should not be applied to China at all because the influence is not one-sided; China adopts Western brands and goods adding its own authentic culture to them; so a Chinese 7-Eleven store is nothing like those in the USA (Slaten, 2010). The fact is that China is modernizing and it transforms the country’s culture, society, lifestyle, and values. The strong western presence can be observed throughout the world, but so can the presence of China if we pay attention to all the items manufactured in China we can find on the shelves of every store in the world. The forceful westernization that started in the middle of the 19th century has caused a series of financial and social crises in China; as a result, today, the country is thirsty for good life (The Chinese Dream and the path of modernization for China, 2013).
To compare the lives of the youth in the West to the experiences of the Chinese young people, the western youth has far fewer troubles, especially of financial character. The level of poverty in the West is much lower; this is why the biggest troubles of the Western youth can be referred to as “first world problems.” They would make many poor Chinese young people laugh at the insignificance of the issues such as iPhones of the wrong color, absence of Wi-Fi signal on a plane, too small closets, and inability to access a movie on Netflix.
In conclusion, the film definitely puts a face on Chinese society and problems. Demonstrating the issues the Chinese people have to deal with through the real stories of actual individuals serves as an excellent educational strategy for the societies of the wealthy West.
Slaten, K. (2010). A War on “Westernization” in China. Web.
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Stern, S. (2009). Sarah Stern on the Westernization of China. Web.
The Chinese Dream and the path of modernization for China. (2013). China. Web.
Williams, (2008). Young and Restless in China. Web.