Archive for September, 2010

Up the Yangtze

September 23, 2010

Recently I watched a documentary movie called ‘Up the Yangtze.’ Set against the backdrop of the of the Three Gorges Dam project, the movie illustrates how the lives of various people of differing backgrounds are altered by the controlled flooding of the mighty Yangtze River.

Most documentaries on China – particularly modern China, seem to have a large focus on poverty, and the same is true here. One of the films subjects is a small family who live in a beaten down old shanty by the shore of the river. The family grows their own vegetables and effectively lives with little to nothing, merely scratching out an existence with their bare hands and feet.

The families’ eldest daughter, who later takes the English name Cindy, wishes to continue her studying but in a common scenario, the family cannot afford it. Instead, she is sent to work on a ship which cruises up and down the river, entertaining foreigners.

On the ship we also meet one of the other main subjects, a cocksure arrogant young fellow named Jerry who comes from a middle class family. While charming and endearing at face value, Jerry has learned how to siphon tips from the tourists and his increasing over-confidence ultimately leads to his downfall on the ship.

The movie covers various themes though the issue of poverty and displacement is the most harrowing.

While at times the movie felt staged, I feel it was more trying to tell a story of the people of the river, rather than stage a soap-opera style drama. Having lived in China, I found it both familiar and depressing and a really fantastic view of a country that has so many layers that we rarely see even half of them.

If anything, one of the primary feelings I felt throughout, was distaste for the foreign guests aboard the ship. While they weren’t doing anything necessarily wrong, and if anything were helping the staff aboard the ship with their generous tips. Though deep into the movie when an old white man was singing an atrocious song about the Chinese language, I couldn’t help but feel repulsed by the way in which we often look at this amazing, old culture


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