If youre familiar with Jia Zhang-kes socio-politically conscious efforts, then you probably wont be surprised to learn that the workers in China are on the move. What might astound, however, is the fact that just in the last few years, nearly 130 million, mostly young woman, have migrated from the countrys impoverished provincial areas to its rapidly developing cities. Their goal is to take advantage of Chinas swift economic growth in the global market, which has produced a variety of employment opportunities. Thematically similar to Jias The World (2004), which delineated the lives of migrant workers as they faced numerous personal and financial hardships in their new surroundings, Micha X. Peleds insightful and penetrating documentary, China Blue, portrays another victim of the corrupt and oppressive system.
After trekking from her small farm village in the south-central province of Sichuan, sixteen-year-old Jasmine finds work as a thread-cutter in Shaxi, a town known for its robust garment industry. Her grueling workday at the Lifeng denim factory begins early in the morning and, depending on the number of export orders, often ends around midnight. Overtime? While additional wages are promised, theyre often not delivered, and certainly not on time. Benefits? What? Through narration and hidden interviews, the film ably projects the despotic reality which strongly prohibits any independent labor organizations. Those who dare to protest the violations are sent to "re-education camps" without the due process of law. So its not surprising to hear Lifengs owner Guo Xi Lam -- a former police officer whos also taken a step up the ladder due to economic reforms -- describe his approach as "laissez-faire." His only major worry is to meet the shipping deadlines, which calls upon the management to keep at least a few of the better workers reasonably happy.
Clandestinely shot over a three-year period (Lams initial cooperation was conditional), China Blue also puts the onus on the major Western corporations who apply economic pressures on the factory owners to meet their own demands (which in turn makes the situation even worse for the measly-paid workers). After all, thanks to so-called "globalization," the buyers market has only strengthened: if its not Lifeng in China, then its perhaps another producer in Costa Rica or India willing to deliver the goods for even less. To Peleds credit, however, the film isnt bogged down by unnecessary rhetoric. Ample screen time is spent with Jasmine and her co-worker friend Li Ping in the dorm room they share with about a dozen others. Its remarkable to see the spirit and resolve of these young women, who in many cases happen to be the lone breadwinners. The female superhero Jasmine discusses at one point could simply be a wondrous reflection of her daily reality.
*CHINA BLUE is currently in limited release in the U.S.