New documentary on new generation in China highlights challenges they face

Children in gowns and mortarboards run with smiles during their kindergarten graduation ceremony in a kindergarten in Handan, Hebei on June 20, 2017.
Children in gowns and mortarboards run with smiles during their kindergarten graduation ceremony in a kindergarten in Handan, Hebei on June 20, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A five-episode documentary about those born in the decade after 2000 has made its debut on China Central Television.

"No dramatic scenes were needed for this documentary," said media professor Zhang Tongdao at Beijing Normal University, who is also the director of the documentary, titled Post-00s. "Every detail or line comes from their lives. What I did is to capture them."

Some typical teenage issues are featured in this kaleidoscope of teenagers' daily lives, including education, relationships with parents, and their confusion in interpersonal communication.

For example, in the documentary, there is a mother who quits her job to take care of her son. However, her relationship with the son seems to be an obstacle for the teen to make friends.

"I want to be a perfect mum," she said. "But sometimes you cannot be too perfect, because problems will come up. I know it, but I'm doing all this for love."

Other parents with high expectations get their children registered for extracurricular activities, such as programming robots, which are probably not of interest to the children.

But there is a downside. As one child said: "When I really get focused, my parents think I should be more talkative."

Some social issues are also reflected in the documentary. For instance, teens are often confused when their younger siblings are born. After decades of family planning in the country, the second-child policy has created challenges.

Sending children abroad to study is another tough decision for Chinese families. In the documentary, what Prof Zhang's team has done is like what American director Richard Linklater did in Boyhood.

In 2006, Prof Zhang chose some kids who were in kindergarten for his documentary on education. And he followed them for a decade.

In that period, the children have changed a lot.

For example, someone willing to make friends in kindergarten has become a teen who prefers life online. And a quiet boy has become an outdoor sports fanatic who rode a bicycle with his father to Lhasa from Sichuan province.

"Even the craziest screenwriter could not imagine this," said Prof Zhang. "Each kid is like a seed, and all of them need to be watered," he said. "However, no matter how we water the seeds, a cucumber will not become an eggplant."

In the documentary, he finds that optimistic, extroverted and talkative students are preferred by parents and teachers, and are usually seen as models.

"I'd like to use the documentary to make people reconsider: Whether our current education system matches the new generation's needs? Whether our schools and parents are helping or harming the kids?"

He also said some parents are choosing unorthodox education systems that emphasise more on individuality.