Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, which began in 1978 following the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, resulted in rapid economic growth that catapulted the Chinese nation through a period of intense modernization and development. In this series, we use Chinese youth as a lens through which to understand the corresponding changes in Chinese society, examining films that feature young people as main characters. By turns dramatic and comic, these films take a close look at people’s life experiences during these turbulent years and at how they defined themselves amidst great change.
Out of Phoenix Bridge, 1997
Director: Li Hong
Runtime: 110 minutes
Language: Mandarin with English Subtitles
This groundbreaking documentary from Li Hong, China’s first independent female documentarian, follows two years in the lives of four young women from the countryside who have come to Beijing for jobs. Although they work long hours as maids or street vendors and share a tiny room no bigger than a closet, they savor these years— between living as a daughter at home and returning to the village to marry —as probably the freest time of their lives. Documenting both her deepening relationship with these women and the gulf of experiences and opportunity that separate them, Hong carefully charts their hopes for a better future and dreams of self-determination. In interviews and intimate footage, Hong elicits remarkably candid and complex testimony from her subjects as they frankly discuss their work, pressures from home, and experiences with men. A remarkable achievement, this touching film is a fascinating look at the lives of women whose experiences are rarely explored. As they straddle traditional and modern roles, their stories uniquely exemplify the conflicts between the swift changes in women’s roles occurring in China and around the developing world.