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Understanding modern Chinese society

September 25, 2017

Award-winning director Nick Torrens spent 11 years making "China's 3 Dreams," a documentary about how one young woman investigated how Mao's Cultural Revolution (1966–1977) affected modern Chinese society.

In the 1970s, the Chinese people had three dreams: To own a watch, a radio and a bike but nowadays they are pursuing a better life. But, what is better life? Is it just looking for a car, a house or making more money to buy whatever you like?

Nowadays, as one of those interviewed in the film says, girls born in 1990s have a motto: "I'd rather cry in a BMW than laugh on a bicycle." There are restless hearts under fabulous brand-name clothing in China.

The film mainly explores these issues through Zhang Lei, a young woman, who sees the disconnect between China's past and future. The country has experienced traumatic events over the past hundred years but most Chinese youth know nothing about them.

As part of that, Lei seeks to better understand the effects of the Cultural Revolution upon modern society, a decade of bloody turmoil that older generations dare not speak of. 

While the government intends to cover up what occurred during that period, its consequences continue to influence the country. Chinese society may be ignoring the wound but the wound is still there.

In her search, Lei visited her grandfather, uncles and mother, all of whom went through the Cultural Revolution. She also interviewed former Red Guards. Not only did she learn how the Cultural Revolution affected her family but more broadly how it stunted Chinese society as well.

She found that while the Chinese people have gotten richer they have lost their beliefs and morals. In modern China there is no honesty, no credibility any more. Society's focus is just about making profits and fake products are common. All this is due to how the Cultural Revolution shattered beliefs and destroyed morality.

As one of former Red Guards stated in the film: "The seeds of all this are in that revolution which destroyed all our basic moralities."

Lei believes that by only being honest with history can the Chinese find their true identity. History is like a mirror, not only giving Lei an answer to why things are, but it allows the viewer to reflect upon communist China's rising influence and power in the broader world and what this may mean.

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