Tak­ing the Slow Train Home

The clas­sic slow green trains carry not only old mem­o­ries and dis­tant dreams, but also the hopes and liveli­hoods of the lo­cal peo­ple.

China Pictorial (English) - - NEWS - Text by Gong Haiy­ing Un­cred­ited pho­tos cour­tesy of the pro­duc­tion team of The slow train home

All six 25-minute episodes of the Chi­nese doc­u­men­tary The Slow Train Home are sched­uled to be aired on the Doc­u­men­tary Chan­nel of China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion (CCTV) from Oc­to­ber 22 to 27, 2018.

Choos­ing the once- ubiq­ui­tous slow green trains as the theme, the doc­u­men­tary ex­plores tra­di­tional cus­toms of old Chi­nese vil­lages, van­ish­ing tra­di­tional skills and the his­toric changes that have up­ended cen­turies- old life­styles. At the same time, such im­ages in­spire a strong sense of nos­tal­gia in peo­ple across China.

Nos­tal­gia is at the core of this doc­u­men­tary. “When tak­ing the slow trains, peo­ple could see moun­tains and rivers along the routes, which left them with more vivid mem­o­ries and ac­com­pa­ny­ing nos­tal­gia,” said Ren Chon­grong, pro­ducer and project su­per­vi­sor of the doc­u­men­tary.

Mass mi­gra­tion is a nor­mal phe­nom­e­non in hu­man devel­op­ment his­tory and has fre­quently been a pow­er­ful driv­ing force for so­cial progress and pros­per­ity. China’s cur­rent ur­ban­iza­tion process has been dubbed the largest pop­u­la­tion mi­gra­tion in hu­man his­tory. Count­less peo­ple have left their an­ces­tral homes to es­tab­lish new res­i­dences in cities. Mean­while, nos­tal­gia has ex­ploded as a pop­u­lar emo­tion among the pub­lic.

The slow train, the most com­mon and rep­re­sen­ta­tive ve­hi­cle for long trips in China from the 1950s to the 1980s, car­ries the nos­tal­gia in the pro­duc­tion. The trains are painted green with yel­low stripes and lack cen­tral­ized power and air con­di­tion­ing. They are de­signed to reach a max­i­mum speed of only 120 kilo­me­ters per hour.

With the rapid devel­op­ment of the Chi­nese rail­way sec­tor and the con­stant up­grades in speed and tech­nol­ogy of pas­sen­ger trains, most of the slow trains in the coun­try have been grad­u­ally re­placed by newer bul­let trains with air con­di­tion­ing, elec­tric­ity and higher speeds.

The doc­u­men­tary pro­duc­tion team dis­cov­ered dur­ing pre-pro­duc­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion that only about 20 lines and 40 to­tal slow trains still op­er­ate in China to­day.

The still- fa­mil­iar slow trains are fu­eled with coal, lack air con­di­tion­ing and fea­ture fa­mously hard seats. How­ever, th­ese “stars” of the doc­u­men­tary still main­tain two im­por­tant ad­van­tages over their faster com­peti­tors: Tick­ets are cheap and many stops are made, so for some, the trains re­main an in­dis­pens­able method of trans­port.

Since the be­gin­ning of 2018,

the pro­duc­tion team had ven­tured to many places in China in­clud­ing Sichuan, Hei­longjiang, Hu­nan and Shanxi prov­inces and Xin­jiang Uygur Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion to gather footage.

Back­drops in­clude the snow­capped Daliang Moun­tains in China’s south­west­ern Sichuan Prov­ince, the forested Hing­gan Moun­tains in China’s north­ern­most Hei­longjiang Prov­ince, the mag­nif­i­cent Tian­shan Moun­tains and Tak­li­makan Desert in China’s north­west­ern Xin­jiang Uygur Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion as well as small towns along the bor­der of Sichuan and Hu­nan prov­inces.

From The Palace Mu­seum (2005) to The for­bid­den city 100 (2012), China (2013), Cus­tom-made for Life (2016) and fi­nally The slow Train Home (2018), Ren’s doc­u­men­taries have grad­u­ally shifted from grand themes of his­tory and cul­ture to in­ti­mate por­traits of or­di­nary peo­ple. She be­lieves that sto­ries of or­di­nary peo­ple in the con­text of a great era can be some of the most touch­ing and at­trac­tive such as kids go­ing to school by train, or­ange ven­dors, and a bride from the Yi eth­nic group, fea­tured in The slow Train Home.

Ren added a po­etic and warm touch to her lat­est work. “To­day, thanks to the pop­u­lar­iza­tion of high-speed rails in China and so many young peo­ple mov­ing to the cities, slower life­styles and tra­di­tions as­so­ci­ated with the few re­main­ing slow-speed green trains have be­come a kind of hu­man­is­tic con­cern we hoped to kin­dle through nos­tal­gia,” she ex­plained.

With the once-ubiq- biq­ui­tous slow green trains as the theme, me, the doc­u­men­tary y The Slow Train Home ome is full of po­etic and nd warm sto­ries.

In a still from the sec­ond episode of the doc­u­men­tary, young Uygur poet Niyazi Ali (sec­ond left) talks to other pas­sen­gers on a train.

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