Having spent many of my formative years in China, my SharedPurpose movie pick is a 2001 film named “Beijing Bicycle” (the literal Chinese translation is “seventeen-year-old’s bicycle”). For me, this movie captures the inherent tensions in modernization, urbanization and the emergence of free-market capitalism in places like China.
Much like Lao She’s seminal book Rickshaw (or Camel Yangzi) of the late 1930s, “Beijing Bicycle” paints a vivid and sometimes-disturbing picture of a contemporary China in which private enterprise in big cities offers great opportunities for brave and hard-working rural migrants. But it also shows the economic and social precariousness for ordinary people striving to improve their lot in life.
Much attention has been given to working conditions in Chinese factories, but there is far less discussion of the hardships, exploitation and unfairness faced by workers in formal and informal sectors of emerging market economies. “Beijing Bicycle” cleverly uses uncertainty over the ownership of a bicycle to explore a tapestry of socio-economic issues, including class, private property, capitalism, theft and rural-urban divisions and change. It’s well worth watching if you want a fresh look at the struggles within this emerging superpower.