…Because those first years of reform, from 1978 to 1989, coincided with my growing up, my experience of how China changed is profoundly personal. From hunger, I began to have things to eat. After only having a radio in the house, we got a television and a washing machine. Where before art and literature had served purely as propaganda for government policy, we started to have popular culture—now we could hear pop songs from Hong Kong and Taiwan. This went on until I graduated from high school, in June, 1989, at the precise moment of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. So my adolescence happened while the state was utterly transforming the lives of each and every individual Chinese. In many ways it is still like this today—perhaps not as pronounced, but each political change, each policy shift has an immense influence on individual lives. And so when I began to make movies, this is where my attention turned.
Since before I was born, Chinese were taught to think in terms of the collective. Every factory worker was educated to think he or she was just a tiny screw in a vast machine. You are not yourself, you are part of something else, and only in this something else does your life have meaning or value. Then, in the 1980s, as the markets opened, notions of self-consciousness and the idea that every individual had a value, emerged. So, as a filmmaker, I have focused on Chinese individuals, particularly those not living in Beijing or Shanghai, but in more remote places like my home province of Shanxi. I am interested in an ordinary Chinese person’s experience, how he feels, and how, even in a peripheral locale, someone’s life can be affected by larger events.