Directed by Jiuliang Wang
China is by far the world’s greatest plastic importer. Every year, developed countries from around the world send China ten million tons of plastic waste. While we’ve all heard about the environmental toll this takes, it’s not often we hear about the human toll. Chinese filmmaker Wang Jiuliang’s PLASTIC CHINA shows the brutal reality of working Chinese families whose lives revolve around manually “recycling” plastic waste in scrappy workshops. Jiuliang focuses on workshop owner Kun, a father and husband in his late 20’s concerned about getting his son QiQi a good education. QiQi is good friends with the children of Peng, Kun’s employee who admits that he prefers spending his money on booze over his family.
But the real star of the film is Yi-Jie, Peng’s resourceful young daughter, who serves as a mother figure to the children of the workshop, despite being only a few years older than them. She holds the babies when they cry and rummages through the waste for toys for herself and the other children to play with after they’re washed with the very same filthy water they have no choice but to drink.
All of the children make the best of their situation, but even their games reflect their family’s desperation. At one point, Yi-Jie and two of the boys pretend to purchase train tickets, something they were unable to do earlier due to Peng’s lack of official identification.
Nonetheless, no one in PLASTIC CHINA seems to have lost hope. Kun ends up buying an expensive car he can’t afford in order to show off the prosperity he hasn’t yet found. The adults pray to Chairman Mao for a promised utopian China that will never exist. China may be a powerhouse of the 21st century global economy, but the rising tide has clearly not lifted all boats.
Screening made possible by: Asian Columbia Alumni Association (ACAA); China Institute; Asian American Journalists Association NY Chapter