Thirty Years of Solitude — A Closer Look at the One-Child Policy in the Film ‘So Long, My Son’
Should auld acquaintance
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance
and auld lang syne?
The Chinese translation of the song is called “Long live friendship”, which echos the Chinese name of Berlin film festival award winning film “So Long, My Son”. This Scottish folk song brings with it the rising of liberalism, which is often discussed in the works of the sixth generation of Chinese directors. As in “Mountains May Depart” by Zhangke Jia, the song “Go West” by British band Pet Shop Boys represents people’s longing for the west back in the 1980s.
The film “So Long, My Son” tells the story of a traditional Chinese family, with a time span of 30 years starting from
An era of rising liberalism
At a small party in a state-owned factory dormitory, a cassette with western folk music like “auld lang syne” is brought home by Xinjian, an avant-garde character, who is the first batch of the generation to dress in wide-lapel shirts and bell-bottom jeans. Cassette tapes were one of the few sources of entertainment back then, breathing an air of freedom into the dull lives of the factory workers.
The forbidden is always what’s most thrilling. Restless souls seek to break free regardless of the times.
A dark-light dance, as its name implies, is a dance party held in a dark room, where any form of imaginable indecency is made possible.
It’s quite interesting when you look at the west during the same historical time period, how “decadent” young people pursued their desires to their hearts content, in something that seemed like a parallel universe. In Bohemian Rhapsody, the four boys were dressed up in bell-bottom pants and sunglasses. They smell like emancipation, rock-n-roll and the desire for more caused by the material abundance previous generations didn’t have.
Massive layoff — the irreversible trends of the time
What comes along with the strong collision between collectivism and individualism are the massive layoffs in state-owned enterprises, which were more prominent in northeastern China.
In the once so prosperous industrial zones of China, some communities were built around factories. With most residents working in the same factory, their lives, social circles
After 40 years of
The younger generations couldn’t imagine what it would be like if
In “So Long, My son”, the factory rallied up all the workers for a conference. The director sat on a grand stage, under the spotlight. He expressed his concerns for the fellow employees and delivered the bad news in a mild tone, explaining that the layoff
When the heroine’s name is called in the
There are usually two ways to pursue a better living after the layoff, go south, or go abroad.
In the film, the couple resolutely chose the first path. Having lost their only child, they didn’t hesitate to embark on a journey to the south. They started their own business in a small fishing town in Fujian province, and every evening they watched the sunset by the sea.
In the late 80s, Guangdong (Canton) was the dream destination for most people looking to make good money, there is a saying that goes like this; “Make a fortune, come to Canton”. However the couple didn’t choose to reside in prosperous places like Guangzhou or Shenzhen, they were there for a reason, to forget their past traumas, the drowning of their only son.
For decades, they no longer know what it’s like to feel cold in the hot fishing town. Having difficulty in understanding the local dialect, they lead a rather tranquil and lonely life. Just like the heroine said, “The time has stopped for us here, the rest is just slowly growing old.”
The protagonist’s mistress (his friend’s sister), however, took the second path. As a symbol of a new woman in that era, she studied TOEFL and moved to America after giving birth to the protagonist’s child and left the child for him and his wife to raise.
However, some feel like moving to the west is not exactly a solution, it’s more of an escape from reality. In “Mountains May Depart”, set in a foreseeable 2025, the offspring of the
One-child policy — a history of sophistication
Ever since the late 80s, family planning turned from optional to mandatory. Families that give birth to more children than regulated would receive a severe penalty in their workplaces or pay fines. Back in the day, in rural areas, members of the family planning commission would bring demolition teams to move
Birth control, which on a macro level benefited the nation, caused disturbance to individuals. In “So Long, My son”, the policy, to some extent, became the source of all tragedies. When the heroine is pregnant with the second child, her friend Haiyan, an officer at the local family planning commission forced her to abortion, and she just thought she was doing the right thing. She couldn’t possibly imagine what would happen to the family in the years to come.
On the hospital bed, Haiyan confessed her guilty feelings that had been tormenting her for decades, “we are rich now, you can get pregnant.” Two grey hair old ladies solved their old grudges and made peace with themselves before falling into eternal sleep.
Time is an irreversible trend, the past thirty years is what makes China what it is today.
Featured photo credit to 1905.com