A way out

A film by Qiong Zheng
94 min., 2016

A way out is a documentary film the Chinese filmmaker Qiong Zheng about three Chinese teenagers who have different family backgrounds,financial conditions and living environment striving to find their future under the same education system. The three subjects, one from Beijing, a metropolis; one from Xianning, a small town of Hubei Province in the middle of China; and one from Huining–a small village in the remote mountains in Gansu Province, the most poverty-stricken area of China, handled their crucial decisions of their life in their own way, which results in different fates. The film traces their dreams, expectations, fears and hopes when they start their new journeys, and tries to explore the life of three young people looking to find their way, their worth and their world in traditional China’s newly emergent modern society where success is the only thing that counts.

The 17 year-old Hanhan Yuan used to be a student of the High School Associated to the Central Academy of Fine Arts. In the year of 2008, concerning her repeated absence from school, Hanhan gave up the education with her mother’s approval. Then Hanhan felt so bored staying at home that she decided to open a bar. Before summer comes, she rented an small room covering an area of 8 square meters near Nan Luo Gu Xiang street in Beijing, decorated with counters, stools and paints all made by herself. Only two guests arrived on the day of opening, her classmates who also dropped out of school. Sitting in the corner quietly with no one visiting, Hanhan realized that isolation can’t protect her from boredom which consistently follows her no matter she’s at home with her parents or staying in her own space.

Hanhan Yuan is a girl of talent who has been passionate about painting since she was a child. After she quitted from school, her mother tried every way she could find to send her abroad for further education. First for America, then she paid all her attention to Germany, preparing application paperwork required by German schools as she heard that Germany is better for students to study arts. Her mother believes that studying abroad is the best way for Hanhan. Although Hanhan was not so interested in studying abroad, she had no intention to be against her on it. She tried her best to create new paintings on request, hoping to get a satisfying offer and go abroad smoothly before the Spring Festival.

In 2010, Hanhan received the offer from Bauhaus University in Germany, and stayed in Weimar from September 2010 to September 2011 learning German. During that time, she went to Prague to send an application for her friend for Prague Film School by chance and found that she loved Prague much than Bauhaus. So she made every possible effort to transfer to a school in Prague. However, after one year’s study, she decided to leave Prague and go back to Germany for she had no senior high school diploma asked by the college and didn’t want to make a fake. In September 2012, she went to Düsseldorf Art Academy and started all over again from first year of college. Her families hope she could stop traveling around, finish her study in one college and get a diploma, but Hanhan seems pretty sure about what she is doing. She told her mom that she would never stay in the same place for long, and she would always be on the journey.

Jia Xu is 19 years old; he lives in Xianning, a small town of Hubei Province in the middle of China, where the only choice for a decent future for young people would be to get into a university. For the national exam of 2007 and 2008, Jia Xu got 497 twice, which is only enough for a third-level –the lowest level–university in Hubei Province. Obviously, Jia was not satisfied with such an outcome. In his opinion, there will be better opportunities and brighter future only if he can enter a better university. Therefore, he decided to take the national exam for a third time, going back to the same high school with his brother who is two years younger than him. Their mother, a woman from rural area, rented a room of 20 square meters near the school for the brothers, and all three of them live under one small roof. They only sleep five hours a day and spare no efforts for the college entrance examination.

Jia Xu’s parents have little education. They don’t want their children to repeat their tragedy, for they know how it feels like when rural migrant workers are discriminated in cities and those who are not educated would live at the bottom of the social forever. Xu Jia’s father who has passed away used to tell him that he would do everything he can to make sure that the kids can get good education. In the year of 2009, the two brothers were admitted to the universities as they wished, and got financial help by a local TV station. Jia entered Hubei University of Technology, and started his academic life of his dreams.
2012 is Xu Jia’s last year of college. With less academic work, he paid his attention mainly on finding a decent job. In order to get better job opportunities, he was busying going from one interview to another, hungry, exhausted and tired. He always felt unsatisfied with his performance in the interview. In general, the interviewer would tell him to wait for the message, so there would be another endless waiting when he got back to school.

The 12-year old Baijuan Ma is in Grade two of Wild Sparrow Valley Primary School, Chengmu Village–a small village in the remote mountains in Gansu Province. There’ are two grades, two teachers and five students in that school, and Baijuan has one classmate only. After finishing the second grade, Baijuan will continue her study by transferring to Chengmu Village Primary School, which means she needs to cover 32 Li, or 16 Km of distance every day. She never complains because she wants to go to school. She hopes one day she could go to a university in Beijing, and then find a job to make money so that she can buy bread, build a house and dig a water-gathering pit for her family, for they never have enough food to eat nor water to drink. She also wishes to try a train trip to Beijing, and have a look at the wide streets she’s never seen before. The furthest place she’s ever been is Touzhaizi County, about 15 KM away from her home, and she went there with her elder brother by tricycle.

The place she living suffers severe water shortage. They gather rain water to drink, and Baijuan knows nothing about shower for many local people have never ever taken a shower since they were born. However, she is happy, because she can go to school every day. And she hopes the dream will never ends.

In 2010, Ma Baijuan’s elder brother moved the whole family from Gansu Province to Zhongwei City in Ningxia Province where his younger brother and sister can continue their studies. Ma Baisheng dropped out of school half a year later and Ma Baijuan continued her study in a local school. Under the huge pressure, Baijuan found it’s really hard for her to catch up with her.
View the trailer below.

More information about the film: Author and director Cherelle Qiong Zhen