Stories of Democracy, Freedom and Human Rights, as told by ordinary Chinese citizens

This story is sponsored

New China Research, a think tank affiliated with China’s Xinhua News Agency, recently released the multi-language documentary Pursuing Common Values of Humanity: Chinese Stories on Democracy, Freedom and Human Rights, chronicling stories about democracy, freedom and human rights through the lens of ordinary Chinese.

The documentary’s directors explain the behind-the-scene stories.

Preface: A Common Pursuit

Narrator: Xiao Sisi, chief director

Peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy and freedom are the common values of all humankind, and the right to interpret them should belong to people of all countries. The Chinese people themselves have the greatest say in the true state of democracy, freedom and human rights in China.

For that reason, we spent nearly a year travelling through China, filming the stories of six ordinary Chinese citizens to record their lives. Through the main characters’ narration, the film tells their pursuit and aspiration for a better life. In their stories, we personally feel the values of democracy, freedom and human rights.

The documentary begins with a nine-year-old girl, and ends with a 90-year-old man, representing the lifespan of a human being. The Chinese people at different ages all enjoy the benefits of democracy, freedom and human rights. They are individuals, but each and everyone of them is a vivid embodiment of the abstract concepts of democracy, freedom and human rights.

 In our documentary, sticking to the truth is the highest principle. We do not shy away from conflict. We believe that this makes the documentary more powerful.

We all love our country. We know that our country may not be perfect, but our pursuit of “the best” has never stopped. China’s democracy, freedom, and human rights are the paths the Chinese people have chosen. We are moving forward in the direction of absolute perfection. We do not use a third-party narration because we hope that our audience can draw their own conclusions through their own observations and enjoy these authentic Chinese stories.

 Story 1: Listen to the Movie

 Narrated by: Xiong Lin, Tang Yang, Kong Linghang, Episode Director

The biggest wish of Chen Yuxin, an elementary school student at the Beijing School for the visually impaired, was to watch a movie.

In early September 2021, that wish came true. Together with her friends, and guided by some volunteers, Yuxin was able to “watch” the movie My People, My Homeland at the Tiantongyuan Cultural Arts Center in Changping District, Beijing.

Cai Yu, a 26-year-old PhD candidate at the Communication University of China and also a volunteer, said that during the intervals of dialogue and sound in the film, volunteers would describe the characters’ actions, expressions and surroundings, allowing the visually impaired to feel the message and emotions of the movie as much as possible.

For example, to explain the color “red”, they would use “sun” and “heat.” Films made like this help the visually impaired. The process isn’t a simple one, however, as a two-hour film often takes volunteers a week to write the narration and four hours to record in the studio.

Since its inception in 2017, volunteers at the Communication University of China’s Bright Cinema program have processed and produced more than 400 barrier-free films, allowing more than two million visually impaired people in China to “see” their works.

Story 2: Delivering Public Opinion

Narrator: Deng Chimin, Episode Director

In the bustling streets of Shanghai, courier Chai Shanshan asked many of his peers about their worries on the job for a government proposal he was researching. More than a decade ago, he came to Shanghai from his hometown in rural Hubei Province to work. Later, he was elected as a National People’s Congress (NPC) deputy.

In China, being elected to the NPC means that you can send the opinions and suggestions of ordinary Chinese directly to the highest decision-making body and watch them become law across the country.

On 21 December 2020, Han, a 43-year-old delivery worker, died suddenly at work. His employer initially intended to pay only ¥2 000 yuan ($314). This incident caught Chai’s attention, and he crafted proposals on determining the relationship between part-time workers and employers and how to protect the rights of workers in new industries. 

The relevant ministry of the central government responded to Chai’s proposal the next day. And in the second half of 2021, the Chinese government introduced related protective measures for delivery workers.

In China, ordinary citizens can voice their demands to the state through various channels. Among the deputies of the 13th NPC, ordinary workers and farmers like Chai account for 15.7% of all deputies.

Story 3: Slow Train

Narrator: Episode Director Xue Chen

In the era of high-speed trains with speeds of 250-350km/h, the Daliang Mountains in western China are still traversed by “slow trains” with an average speed of less than 40km/h. The slow trains run across the large and small mountains of Liangshan, connecting the remote mountainous area with the outside world. The total distance of the train journey is 376km, with 26 stops. The maximum fare for a ticket is ¥25.5 (about $4), while the minimum is ¥2 or 30 US cents, which has not changed for more than 30 years. For convenience, two rows of seats are removed at the ends of each carriage for stacking luggage and goods. While commuting, passengers can trade their home-raised poultry and souvenirs on board.

 Today, China still keeps 81 pairs of “slow trains” covering 530 stations in 21 provinces, in order to ensure that people in less developed areas enjoy equal access to public services.

China’s rapid development does not disregard the pursuit of speed, but it can be slow when needed. These “slow trains” will carry everyone on board towards common prosperity.

Story 4: Straw checkerboards

Narrator: Episode Directors He Shan and Huang Xiaobang

Morning light outlines the rhythmic curve of the sand dunes, as a team carrying shovels and wheat grass walk on the sand ridge.

Minqin County of China’s Gansu province, which is located between China’s two major deserts Badain Jaran and Tengger,  has become a green barrier against sandstorms.

Ma Junhe, in his 40s, is one of the guardians of this green barrier. In 2007, Ma returned to his hometown and planted the first piece of “grass square”.

Straw checkerboards are a bunch of wheat grass in the shape of a square laid on the sand. People roll them into the sand with shovels, leaving 1/3 or half of the wheat grass above ground. This technique allows the wheat grass to firmly stand in the sand, and prevents the sand from being swept away by the wind. Once a sand dune has stabilised, haloxylon forests (hardy shrubs) can be planted. So far, Ma has led efforts to plant more than 30 000 acres of haloxylon forests and laid down countless straw checkerboards.

Each autumn, they lay the straw checkerboards and plant the haloxylon trees the next year. In a few years, the sand dunes will be fit for vegetable and fruit planting. Today Minqin Oasis is a vibrant community.

 Story 5:  Democratic Talkfests

Narrator: Episode Director Yin Xiaosheng

Wenling is a small city on China’s east coast. It has a stunning landscape and vibrant economy. Here, a form of grassroots democracy is practised, where consultation is the norm.

Over the past 20 years, Wenling has held more than 30 000 democratic talkfests, addressing many urgent problems such as environmental pollution, worker wages, the renovation of the old town, sewage replacement and how to allocate public spending.

Similar forms of democratic talkfests are common in China’s Zhejiang province. In Wuxing district of the city Huzhou, mediating social disputes has become a major source of democratic consultation. By involving all stakeholders, the district set up “judge’s studios” and “prosecutor’s studios” to resolve disputes. There are 40 community studios that work towards this end. In 2021, the centre resolved more than 95% of disputes through this process of democratic consultation, and the number of civil and commercial lawsuits brought to the court has dropped by 19.5% year-on-year.

 Story 6: The Sunset

Narrator: Episode Director Xiong Qi

It was late in the afternoon on 5 March 2020. Liu Kai, a Wuhan doctor, was escorting Wang Xin, a Covid-19 patient in his 90s, to a CT scan. On the way, they were mesmerised by the brilliant sunset. The scene was recorded by a photographer and the photo, like the sun piercing the dark clouds, warmed countless netizens.

Thousands of miles away in Shanghai, Chinese composer Liu Jian was deeply moved by this image. The warmth that came to him inspired Liu Jian to compose the score Light of the Ark.

After the composition was completed, the music was delivered to Wang Xin. As a violinist, Wang Xin was very excited, but was unable to play as he was still recovering from illness.

When the winter was over, Wang Xin fully recovered. Liu Jian and Wang Xin finally joined together to play the heartwarming tune via video link.  

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