I used to work at television stations in China and traveled to different parts of the country for my job. The sharp contrast between the lives in cities and the countryside always struck me. Submerged under the glamour of the modern metropolis, the poverty in the vast rural area is overwhelming. I started to focus on the migrant workers, who I believe have contributed the most to China’s prosperity but benefited the least. Aside from many hardships in life, they also have to bear constant separation from their families, who are left behind. I decided to document the lives of this group in a unique position in China (and the world’s) history.
The annual migrant exodus between cities and countryside during the week of the Chinese New Year provided me a perfect background for the film to closely examine the plight of the workers. The Zhang family’s story speaks for millions. Though their story, the film scrutinizes social inequality raised in a nation’s industrial endeavor, and how the process is affected by globalization on both a social and humanistic level. By observing the fate of one family, the smallest and seemly stable cell in a fast evolving society, I hope to articulate the complexities of a nation’s ambition to rise and its impact on culture, society and the individual.
On a cultural level, Confucian values of filial piety (respect for elders and ancestors) have long played a big role in Chinese lives. Being away from one’s family was never encouraged, but a changing society shifted people’s values toward a more pragmatic approach of bettering one’s material life. Parents work away from home; they send all their savings to the grandparents and kids. Sadly, providing material comfort alone does not translate into filial affection. Without parental presence and emotional support the children who are left behind do not connect or sympathize with their parents, and the gap between them can widen into an irreparable split.
On a national level, China is dashing to become a richer country. I hope that Last Train Home encourages viewers to ask: Should tradition, morality and humanity be drowned in a world of tireless rumbling factories? For the government, keeping the fine balance between economic development and the welfare of all its citizens is the ultimate challenge in a time of change.
In Taoism, we know that in nature, opposites must coexist harmoniously; a balance of opposites creates the best situation for harmony and calm. This is what we hope for the future.
— Lixin Fan, Director/Editor/Director of Photography