Documentary Review: Children at a Village School (2014) by Jiang Nengjie

&#8220Children at a Village College&#8221 is the second installment in Jiang Nengjie&#8217s ethnographic documentary trilogy about the life of youngsters in provincial China, a lot more precisely, Guang&#8217an village in Hunan Province. The twenty or so youngsters he follows as they study and go to college in the span of 5 years from 2009, are but a tiny aspect of the 58 million youngsters in rural China who are left to reside with grandparents or other relatives, although each of their parents operate low-waged jobs in the larger cities. They are recognized by the term &#8220left-behind youngsters&#8221. Of the 22 youngsters in Guang&#8217an village, seventeen fall in this category.

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Early on in &#8220Children at a Village College&#8221, the twenty remaining youngsters are gifted a new college by the provincial authorities. It is a dreadful affair, overly lengthy speeches by older males in mismatched suits, lukewarm promises of a vibrant future. Just yet another day for these tiny-time officials, but one thing vital for the whole village and its young inhabitants. As their grandparents inform them all the time, as do their parents when they have the likelihood to meet them, so they don&#8217t have to be peasant farmers like the very first or overworked menial laborers like the second.

The new college is undoubtedly a step up from the areas the youngsters go to college in the earlier entry in the trilogy, &#8220The Road.&#8221 The developing is fairly huge and spanking new, by far the most modern day in the whole village, its focal point, even. But only on the outdoors, and only to a degree. Go a couple of meters out of the facade and you will be greeted by bags of cement, swaths of rocks and sand. It is also in these areas exactly where the students play for the duration of the breaks. Inside, the circumstance isn&#8217t that considerably much better. Cold empty rooms without the need of heat in the cold winter days, and possibly no windows, filled with ancient-hunting desks, undoubtedly from the earlier college the student attended. An empty shell of a developing that although hunting a much better than the earlier private schools held in villagers&#8217 homes, delivers practically nothing to the youngsters.

The empty shell of a developing is also a great metaphor for the education the beautiful youngsters at Guang&#8217an (and possibly of other forsaken rural locations in China) get. On the surface, they are studying difficult (or at least the ones who don&#8217t play on the building web-sites about the college) and finding out factors. They memorize poems, the multiplication table, and other factors. But when asked the simplest query like who is China&#8217s existing leader or what is the capital of their nation, they all fumble. They nonetheless think that Mao Zedong is ruling them and none of them have heard of Beijing or Tiananmen Square. Possibly mainly because that is what the poems in the old books they use in college inform them. As such, they are literate and educated, but only technically. In reality, sadly, they are not.

It is really simple right here to blame the teacher for the failure of his students to know even the most widespread of factors. And to a degree, director Jiang Nengjie does so. He portrays the teachers, or at least a single of them mainly because the teachers transform a lot of instances in the span of shooting the documentary, as obsessed with monetary bonuses from the government, not the students&#8217 education. But at the exact same time, via masterfully subtle observations by the documentarian, we see that the teacher is a victim of the technique, just like his students. The government, we are not told, but we quickly subsume, does not care about these people today and all other people like them, irrespective of age, gender, or hierarchical position. They are all abandoned and forgotten.

Or possibly not forgotten per se, mainly because the youngsters from the village are nonetheless necessary by the government. And, sadly, it is not for what their parents and grandparents want for them. Rather, it is for the precise exact same heavy, low paid, and exploitative menial jobs their parents are toiling at, so they can spend for their youngsters&#8217s education. Providing them, and their whole households, empty hopes for a much better future, all the although perpetuating the existing technique. Right here as well, we the symbol of the visually pleasant, but eventually hollow, new college shows itself.

At the finish of the documentary, a group of volunteers wearing T-Shirts with &#8220Love Journey: The Forgotten Young children&#8221 written on them enable two of the youngsters, two naughty brothers who choose playing about the village than studying, get in touch with with their parents more than Skype. As the crying mother begins admonishing her sons to study and memorize their lessons, a lot of of the volunteers start crying uncontrollably. We, as well, can&#8217t but really feel emotional, not only mainly because the youngsters are forced to reside without the need of their parents, but also mainly because the toil of the older generation for their beloved youngsters will most most likely not advantage them. Definitely sad and unfair circumstance, specifically thinking about the like with which the youngsters are presented in this critical piece of ethnographic filmmaking.



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