Doc­u­men­tary ex­plores the im­pact of re­form and open­ing-up

A doc­u­men­tary ex­plores the im­pact of four decades of China’s re­form and open­ing-up through the rec­ol­lec­tions of 40 peo­ple,

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Xu Fan re­ports. Con­tact the writer at xu­[email protected]­

Bei­jing na­tive Zhang Yang be­gan to col­lect vin­tage tin toys in 1997 and now has a pri­vate gallery of up to 5,000 decades-old an­tique play­things.

His col­lec­tion re­flects the huge trans­for­ma­tion and un­prece­dented ex­pan­sion of the Chi­nese toy in­dus­try over the past a few decades and is fea­tured in the doc­u­men­tary se­ries, Forty De­tails of Our Lives.

Co­pro­duced by Ten­cent Pen­guin Pic­tures and the Bei­jing-based com­pany, Five-Star Le­gend, the 12-episode se­rial is avail­able on the stream­ing site, Ten­cent Video, with the fi­nal three episodes re­leased on Mon­day.

As of Dec 25, the nine episodes al­ready re­leased had ac­cu­mu­lated nearly 4 mil­lion “clicks” — a small fig­ure among top en­ter­tain­ment pro­grams but a com­par­a­tively good per­for­mance for a small-bud­get doc­u­men­tary.

Re­cently, the na­tion­wide cel­e­bra­tion of the 40th an­niver­sary of China’s re­form and open­ing-up has seen a lot of films, TV dra­mas and doc­u­men­taries flood into the­aters and onto on­line plat­forms.

While most of the doc­u­men­taries fo­cus on mile­stone in­ci­dents or break­through projects, Forty

De­tails of Our Lives em­ploys a fresh an­gle that looks back into the past through the per­spec­tives of or­di­nary peo­ple.

“The re­form and open­ing-up has ex­erted a broad and far-reach­ing im­pact on the coun­try. It has cre­ated an en­vi­ron­ment that has al­lowed Chi­nese peo­ple to change their lives through hard work. That’s the core mes­sage the doc­u­men­tary aims to con­vey,” says Zhu Lex­ian, gen­eral man­ager of the doc­u­men­tary stu­dio of Ten­cent Pen­guin Pic­tures.

Cov­er­ing fields such as agri­cul­ture, au­to­mo­tive, toys, lit­er­a­ture and cloth­ing, the se­rial fol­lows 40 peo­ple from a dozen in­dus­tries.

A year of prepa­ra­tion and six months of shoot­ing saw the crew travel thou­sands of kilo­me­ters from Hei­longjiang province in North­east China to the metropo­lis of Guangzhou in the south.

Hu Qun­feng, the chief di­rec­tor, says that the doc­u­men­tary is tai­lored for on­line view­ers, whose av­er­age age is much younger than tra­di­tional TV au­di­ences. So each episode is short.

“We’ve done a sur­vey and dis­cov­ered that most young peo­ple can only at­ten­tively watch a story as short as around seven-and-a-half min­utes,” he ex­plains.

So, ev­ery episode — which spans around 25 min­utes — con­sists of three short sto­ries. Usu­ally, a doc­u­men­tary aired on TV is dou­ble that length, and a the­atri­cally re­leased pro­duc­tion lasts at least 90 min­utes.

In the first nine episodes, a ChiSpiel­berg nese-Swiss rail­way en­thu­si­ast trav­els around 120,000 kilo­me­ters to take 400 rides on trains in one year; a land­scape ar­chi­tect tries to re­model ur­ban build­ings’ roofs into farms; and a mi­grant worker-turned-writer finds true love with a pen pal.

But for Hu, the di­rec­tor’s most im­pres­sive story is the “le­gend” of an 85-year-old mother of six daugh­ters. The el­derly woman, named Wang Qun­jing, was born in a poor fam­ily in Nan­ning in the Guangxi Zhuang au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

She has suf­fered and sac­ri­ficed much to raise the chil­dren. Like most thrifty Chi­nese women of her gen­er­a­tion, she scarcely pur­chased new clothes and hardly cared about dress­ing up.

A turn­ing point came dur­ing the Spring Fes­ti­val in 2016. Wang vis­ited her youngest daugh­ter’s home in Guangzhou, tak­ing only a few cloth­ing items with her. How­ever, she was forced to bor­row a set of dry clothes from her daugh­ter be­cause of rain.

When Wang put on the gar­ments, her daugh­ter was sur­prised to find that her mother car­ried her­self like a tall, skinny model. The young woman took pho­tos and posted them on the so­cial me­dia app WeChat. The pic­tures quickly went vi­ral and made Wang an on­line celebrity overnight.

Wang has since been signed by a few fash­ion brands to model their clothes.

In the past, Chi­nese peo­ple took warmth and pro­tec­tion against dirt to be the top cri­te­ria to se­lect clothes, and women tended to tailor gar­ments at home. With the na­tion’s rapid eco­nomic growth and the rise of per­sonal in­comes over the past four decades, peo­ple are used to reg­u­larly pur­chas­ing new clothes and up­dat­ing their wardrobes to fol­low the lat­est fash­ion trends. “Wang is the epit­ome of that evo­lu­tion,” Hu says.

In­ter­est­ingly, the change brought by the re­form and open­ing-up is also in­flu­enc­ing those who are be­hind the doc­u­men­tary. Most of the crew mem­bers — who are born in the 1990s — be­gan to un­der­stand the strug­gles of older gen­er­a­tions in the early years as the coun­try sta­bi­lized fol­low­ing a decade of tur­bu­lence.

“We hope we can record the era and bring life to this his­tory,” says Zhu, head of Ten­cent Pen­guin Pic­tures’ doc­u­men­tary arm.

It (the re­form and open­ing-up) has cre­ated an en­vi­ron­ment that has al­lowed Chi­nese peo­ple to change their lives through hard work.” Zhu Lex­ian, gen­eral man­ager, doc­u­men­tary stu­dio of Ten­cent Pen­guin Pic­tures


The on­line doc­u­men­tary se­ries, looks back at the coun­try’s four-decade trans­for­ma­tion through 40 or­di­nary peo­ple, in­clud­ing vin­tage tin toy col­lec­tor Zhang Yang (pic­tured top) and Wang Qun­jing (pic­tured above), an 85-year-old model. Forty De­tails of Our Lives,

A poster of Forty De­tails ofOur Lives, a 12-episode on­line doc­u­men­tary.

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