Saturday, May 16, 2009

An exercise in democracy, Chinese-style

The video below is the trailer for a documentary exploring what happens when middle-class, urban Chinese eight-year olds campaign in an election for the office of "Class Monitor." [1:57]

Neither the students nor their very involved parents have any experience with elections; that's not how these things have been decided in their past, so they are making it up as they go along. They definitely get into the spirit of the competition.

I don't want to give anything away here (you can and should rent this). But let's just say the twists and turns of the campaign will be familiar to U.S. viewers, though with Chinese cultural touches. In China as well as the United States, a girl running for office encounters gender-specific tests she must overcome, though the content of the tests may be different. Charm and glib verbal ease help too, but they encounter limits. Family privilege is an asset in Wuhan as well as Washington.

I had to wonder, how would this election have been different in the United States? I don't remember us having such contests in third grade -- that sort of thing came later. I remember thinking the school elections we did have were empty charades: the most popular kids would get all the offices. Not being one of them, I didn't applaud.

Almost certainly, the parents would not have been so prominent in the campaign. Even in the third grade, most of us didn't want our parents so intimately involved in our school lives. We may already have had a little of that annoying adolescent scorn for our families.

When I was in elementary school, one difference would have been certain: there would have been no girl in the running at all. Girls weren't even allowed to be crossing guards; that was a boy's job. Good little dyke-let that I was, I was pissed. I'm sure that has changed in the last 50 years.

Do check out these Chinese kids -- this is a film that sticks with you.


Darlene said...

Let's hope the little girl grows up to be President. She is certainly learning about gender discrimination at an early age.

Nell said...

It really does stick with you. I saw it on LinkTV a year ago, and the two non-winning candidates are still vivid personalities. Really engaging film.

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