Victims of globalisation…
‘Before Christmas’ – Synopsis
A lower class Chinese family moves to a big city for a living. The father and his son Xiao Lee, an 18-year-old teenager who dreams of becoming a singer, begin working hard labour in a Christmas decoration factory. Reluctant to face reality, Xiao Lee decides to make a change to pursue his dream. The tragedy is in store for this young man and his poor family as they become victims of Chinese society.
‘Before Christmas’ – Review
‘Before Christmas’ is an award-winning Chinese independent narrative short-film that has been selected in over 20 film festivals around the world. The film is based on the photograph of China Christmas Factory by the photojournalist Chen Ronghui and deals with the social issue in modern China. Now while reviewing this film I wasn’t entirely sure of the background context that went into the making of the film but I feel it talks about the negative effects of globalization on the people of lower echelon of Chinese society. This film also touches some problems that are also prevalent in Indian society as well and I guess in any developing country.
Opening scenes have a lower class Chinese family moving to a bigger city in China. Xiao Lee and his father start to look for employment. They find jobs at a factory making Christmas goods. Xiao Lee’s father mentions that Xiao Lee is just 18 years old. An 18-year-old boy who has dropped out of school for a job just live day-to-day. Many teenagers from lower income families are forced to drop their education and dreams in order to earn money for living which is a sad reality in many countries even today.
Today, globalization is a phenomenon which has reached practically every nook and cranny of the world (except North Korea maybe) but along with globalization comes some difficulties as well. China has utilized globalization to become one of the leading powerhouses of manufacturing almost anything and everything in the world at much cheaper costs. A lot of this ‘cheaper cost’ is due to some extent of exploitation of human labour who are forced to work long hours under strict conditions and minimum pay. I think Before Christmas is also a story of one such boy. Xiao Lee’s family is poor and so the father and son get a job around Christmas which entails manufacturing Santa caps, you know those red conical caps which are a symbol of fun, frolic and merriment but entails sweat, labour and long hours for Xiao’s family. Every night Xiao’s mother waits at the dinner table till late at night with food prepared but no one to eat it until it gets cold. Globalization is known to increase the rich-poor divide in countries making the rich richer and poor poorer.
Forget food, forget sleep, and forget everything for money – there have been many people around me who had to unwillingly follow this motto every single day. The same motto can be seen as a banner in Xiao Lee’s workplace. People are forced to work extra hours at minimum wage, having to fill in orders coming from all parts of the world by people who are rejoicing and celebrating the holidays while Xiao, his father and the other employees are forced to work late in the nights. In order to compete in the global market, exporters try to reduce the manufacturing/ labour costs. Workers are underpaid and are even devoid of any benefits. And due to the fact that the supply of labour is much higher than the demand, these workers have no choice but to work for minimum pay. The movie also shows inhumane nature of these jobs by showing that the workers are identified by their numbers instead of their names.
I am not too sure about China, but in India, even though the literacy rate is going up and drop-out rates are doing down – still the number of kids who need (or are forced) to drop education are worryingly high for this era. Very few lucky ones get external support. Even then these lucky students need to find some work while studying. Over the years, I have had many classmates who studied with this kind of help. Some managed to get through school, some dropped out of school, some stopped pursuing degree courses, some went on wrong paths and just one managed to get by the initial hardships and started living a slightly easier life. Amongst one of the people that I knew, he leads a similar life. When he resumed studying he had to work two jobs to cover his living expenses and tuition. He used to clean toilets before coming to the college and then from evening he used to serve and wash dishes. On weekends and other free days, he used to wander around for some extra work gigs. He is now doing a respectable job by virtue of getting a higher education. He was mentally strong enough to work while studying. His story is very inspiring but…many people are not fortunate enough to continue their education or to follow their dreams.
Xiao Lee is in a similar situation. He has a passion for music but his situation does not allow him to pursue his dreams. He dropped out of the school, left his band, and moved to a big city to find a job. In the end, even his friends have stopped pursuing music as their dreams and started living in the ‘real’ world. Ironically, his friend has also started a business of making Christmas goods, and Xiao Lee does not even know what the Christmas is!!
Apart from the globalization this film also made me think about chasing one’s dreams. Unrelated to the story, this film made me think about how people in middle class think about ‘jobs’. Unlike many lower class poor families, kids in middle class do not have to worry too much about bringing food to the table daily. They (people from a middle class) have a little more freedom to pursue their dreams as they do not have an immediate pressure to find a way to make a living or die of starvation. Life is not a daily battle for them. Again, I am not sure about China but in India, the majority of people in India are forced to choose fields of subjects related to some traditional subjects like medicine, IT, law or a government job which can offer a stable and secure job. For most middle class people in India, get a stable and respectable job are the only reason for pursuing any education. Education and academics continue to remain a domain for the rich in many of these countries. It is extremely hard to pursue some ‘off-beat’ areas under familial pressure.
I will not say which path Xiao Lee decided to pursue in the end because I would like you to find that on your own. Even though the ending of the movie is slightly vague, I think it is a strong concept and social message that they have come up with. I appreciate everyone behind this short film for bringing up such an issue in a touching manner.