Christine Choy’s 'No Fifth Grade'

Filmmaker focuses on lack of educational opportunity in rural China

Christine Choy (L) and Karen Koh (R) in Hong Kong on April 16, 2012. (Asia Society Hong Kong)
Christine Choy (L) and Karen Koh (R) in Hong Kong on April 16, 2012. (Asia Society Hong Kong)

HONG KONG, April 16, 2012 — The realities of rural life in China were vividly rendered here when Asia Society held a screening of Christine Choy's latest documentary No Fifth Grade, followed by a discussion.

No Fifth Grade is the story of Zhuanjiao Village in Shanxi Province, where children in the fifth grade and above have to move to a bigger town to continue their education because of the education bureau's policy of merging smaller schools together and the lack of teachers in the countryside. The mayor of the village used his own money to save the school, but with limited success. Meanwhile, parents who decide to send their children to school in town are faced with an economic burden of paying for tuition and room and board. More often than not, the children, especially girls, are taken out of school.

"Making a documentary film helps to deliver the message to the world," said Choy, who is a professor at the film school of New York University and a Fulbright Fellow in Beijing.

Choy has spent the past decade making documentary films about China's rural residents and migrant workers. She makes these documentaries because she wants "to give a voice to people who don't have a voice."

Although her latest documentary addresses the impact of Chinese government policies, Choy said she was able to produce the film because she collaborated with Shanghai TV, a local network. The Shanghai-born filmmaker also said that she doesn't criticize the Chinese government directly but more discreetly by "talking from the average citizen's feelings."

Newsreels, propaganda, and TV pieces are often characterized by pre-scripted narration and formulaic storytelling. “Chinese film is built on logic, not emotion. That’s why they’re boring, dead,” said the director. Yet she elaborated that the future of Chinese documentary filmmaking is promising because the higher-ups are realizing that Chinese documentary is not receiving adequate international recognition.

Choy's next project will be on migrant workers because, as she explained, she is fascinated with what she sees as their dignity and community.

Reported by Audrey Yoo