Shot over four years, from 1998 to 2001, China in the Red examines the changing values and expectations of ten individuals as they struggle to adapt to China’s economic reforms. In intimate portraits, the film shows a cross section of Chinese society: young and old, rural and urban, workers and peasants—from the manager of a failing factory to the mayor of a major city, from a millionaire entrepreneur to a peasant dying for lack of medical care. China in the Red premiered on PBS in February 2003 with critical acclaim.
“Frontline‘s fascinating view of a changing China is worth the four years it took to get it… The changes so far have left most we meet here fearful, disillusioned and poorer. More happy endings may be yet to come, but for now, this unique Frontline enterprise is a valuable, candid view of a China we seldom see—China in economic shakeout.”
“This is no snapshot . . . This is a case in which video trumps the written word. We have human faces, emotionally bruised, attached to the government verbiage. We see declining living conditions, dwindling food and clothes, too. We see a new existential fear in people’s eyes.”
—The Boston Globe
My whole life I’ve been a good-for-nothing woman. My father had a bad class background. My family was poor. Many people in the village looked down on us. Since the reforms, no one will be against you as long as you make money.
My daughter likes to look at how nicely other people eat and dress. I want her to eat and dress well. But I can’t afford it. Now my salary is only $36 a month. My life doesn’t matter. My only hope is that my daughter can go to college and live a good life.
Everyone’s worried. I haven’t been this worried in years. People are mad. It feels like someone will murder the manager. There have been so many cases like this: people sprawled all over the office, pouring their hearts out, threatening us with cleavers.
We have to change the way people think. Under the planned economy, workers’ and officials’ lives were managed from cradle to grave by the government. In the market economy, you’re responsible for yourself….We estimate that 450,000 people will be laid off this year. Where are they going to find work?
My parents are always telling me, ‘You’re not stable.’ And I wonder, ‘What does stable mean?’ Getting a monthly salary, that’s one kind of stability, isn’t it? But are your heart and mind stable?
My ambitions are boundless. As long as you have money, you can do anything.
Written, Produced and Directed by: Sue Williams
Co-Producer: Kathryn Dietz
Editor: Howard Sharp
Cinematographer: Bestor Cram
Associate Producers: Shenyu Belsky and Larry Guo
Narrator: Will Lyman
Composer: Jason Kao Hwang
Executive Producer for Ambrica Productions: Judith Vecchione
Frontline Executive Producer: David Fanning
Funding for Frontline is provided through the support of PBS viewers.
Major funding for this film is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Joseph E. Seagrams & Sons, Inc., and Fiona and Stan Druckenmiller.
Additional funding is provided by: W.L.S. Spencer Foundation, Coulter-Weeks Charitable Foundation, The Byrne Foundation, Patrick M. Byrne, Vinton Rollins, Albert Kunstadter Family Foundation, Michael & Patricia O’Neill Charitable Fund, The Yip Harburg Foundation, Mark and Anla Cheng Kingdon Foundation, Stewart R. Mott Charitable Trust, and the Arthur Foundation.