Beijing Bicycle
Beijing Bicycle
Chinese Film and Society, NEH 2012
Historical background
Biography of director Wang Xiaoshuai
Scene-by-scene guide
Lesson plan 01
Lesson plan 02
Lesson plan 03
Lesson plan 04
Contributors: Jian Guo, Kevin Hurley, Larry Hoffner, Lorraine Romano, Melisa Holden
1) Synopsis:
Beijing Bicycle, with its original Chinese title as “Seventeen-year-old’s bicycle”, or “The bicycle I
had when I was seventeen”, is a story about youth and growth. In the film, two seventeen-yearold boys, one of whom is a country boy coming to Beijing to make a living as a courier, the other
a local city boy with middle class family background, are connected through a bicycle in an
interesting and complicated situation. The bicycle means different things for them and both of
them rely desperately on the bicycle to ensure their “happiness”. As a result, they struggle with
each other to own and re-own the bicycle, though with quite different strategies. The story ends at
a street-fighting scene, with both of them beaten up by a gang. Overall, this film tells a riveting
story about two boys growing up in Beijing. While the story is centered on the two boys, their
friends and people around them, it exposes Beijing at the turn of the 21-century in many other
2) Historical background:
Since 1982 the urban population in China has gone from approximately 20% to 55%. This is one
of the largest human migrations in history. Most of this migration has been in direct response to
the opening up of China’s economy under Deng Xiaoping and the development of special
economic zones, mostly located in the eastern part of China. Beijing is one of these special zones
and being on the eastern seaboard of China, has seen tremendous growth along with cities like
Tainjin and Shanghai. Currently the migrant population in Beijing is 1/3 of the total of
approximately 20 million. This poses numerous challenges as the migrant population has not been
granted full citizenship in their new homes, but rather they and their children remain citizens of
their ancestral origin. They retain their ancestral hukou, or registration documents, which does not
afford them the right to public assistance in the cities and therefore the government does not treat
them in the same regard. In addition to this, many of the citizens of the cities, such as Beijing, do
not hold migrant workers to have equal social standing and look down on them.
Beijing has seen many changes since the early 1980’s, most dramatically in the destruction of the
old style hutongs in favor of wider boulevards and more modern buildings. Much of the movie
has a gritty feel as scenery moves between the city boy’s hutong home and the empty
construction sites around the city. This plays back and forth between the traditional living style
and the modern developing city and could almost be seen as mirroring the tense relationship
1 between the two young men. Hutongs, which are walled communities with narrow alleys and
communal areas, have served as a community within a larger city for hundreds of years. Most of
the demolition of hutongs started in the early 2000’s in preparation for the Olympics which were
held in 2008. In the present day hutongs serve more as a tourist attraction or conservation of the
past rather than as a functioning home or community. Beijing itself has continued with its rapid
pace of construction development and more and more migrants reach the city each year. Though
the film is ten years old, the themes presented are still relevant.
03) Biography of director Wang Xiaoshuai
Chinese Film director, Wang Xiaoshuai, was born January 1, 1966 during the Cultural
Revolution. His parents moved from Shanghai to Guiyang when Wang was two months old.
Guiyang is a small town located in the mountains. Most of the residents of Guiyang come from
neighboring Sichuan Province. When Wang was a child, he studied painting. He also watched
many old revolutionary films, such as Dong Cunrui (1955) by Guo Wei and The Twinkling Red
Star (1974) by Li Jun and Li Ang.
When Wang turned thirteen, he and his family moved to Wuhan, a bustling metropolis known for
it's sizeable "floating population." So the depiction of city residents vs. peasant migrants in
Beijing Bicycle is a experience that Wang knew first-hand.
In 1981, Wang enrolled in the high school affiliated to the Central Academy of Fine Arts in
Beijing, with then intention of becoming a painter. However, the early 1980s marked a revival of
China's film industry and Wang decided to pursue a directing career at the Beijing Film
The film academy exposed Wang to a variety of film and filmmakers that were to have a great
influence on his work. Certainly the fifth generation film directors made a huge impact on the
young film student. But Wang was just as entranced by foreign filmmakers such as Federico
Fellini, Alain Resnais and Yasujiro Ozu.
Wang's unique vision and personal style is readily apparent in his early work, The Days (1993) to
his most recent film, Drifters (2003). His films are notable for their beautifully composed scenes,
and for showcasing characters, that though passive and disenfranchised, still fight to retain their
As Director:
Drifters (Er Di) (2003)
After the War (Jeon Jang Keu I Hu) (2001) a Korean project consisting of three short films, one
directed by Wang.
Beijing Bicycle (Shiqi Sui De Danche) (2000)
Suburban Dreams (Menghuan Tianyuan) (2000) also known as The House or Fantasy Garden
So Close to Paradise (Biandan, Guniang) (1997) also known as The Vietnamese Girl
Frozen (Jidu Han Leng) (1995) released under the pseudonym Wu Ming (anonymous)
Suicides (Da Youxi) (1994)
The Days (Dongchun De Rizi) (1993)
2 As Actor:
Peering From the Moon (Henry Chow, 1991)
The Red Violin (François Girard, 1998)
04) Scene-by-scene guide to Beijing Bicycle
Young, prospective delivery people (all are country people) are interviewed and cleaned up for
delivery jobs in the city of Beijing.
Opening credits
New employees of Fei Da Express Delivery are cleaned up and given new bicycles. They are
given instruction on how they are to conduct themselves as said employees and how they will be
Guei goes out on his first day. He is happy as he pedals the streets of Beijing. He visits his
relative who is impressed that he was hired and impressed at the bicycle he has been given the
chance to earn.
6:27- 8:13
As they eat lunch, Guei and his relative spy on a young woman through a bedroom window as
she changes into different clothes. They are amazed at how rich she is because she has so many
clothes. The relative tells Guei that city folk are never happy, even with such a huge house. “She
never smiles.”
Guei goes back out, pedaling the streets of Beijing. He arrives at his first job in a large,
intimidating building and parks his bicycle out front. He goes inside for the job.
Guei makes his first amount of money and records it in his notebook. Guei goes out on his next
job. He continues recording the money he has made into his notebook. His relative asks him how
long until the bike is his and he says, “Three days at most.” He has been working about a month.
The pretty woman comes walking down the street to purchase soy sauce from his relative’s store.
Guei sneaks looks at her as she walks back home.
Guei is at the business office of the delivery service to settle his account as, according to his
records, he has paid off his bicycle. The woman behind the desk argues with him and says he still
owes money. She and another woman keep saying it’s only 70 yuan; he can make that in one day.
The bike is now Guei’s so he marks it so that he can always tell which bicycle is his, even though
he still has to work one more day for it. He sits with his relative and the relative explains how city
3 people always cheat you. But, he says, it’s only one more day. Another piece of advice he gives
Guei is to not let anyone know you’re not from here (Beijing).
Shots of street life and lots of bicycles as Guei pulls up to park his bike and lock it. He goes into a
“high class hotel” to make a pickup for a Mr. Zhang. The receptionist sends him to the shower
area and he gets undressed as he is told and takes a shower. He is then led into a room with men
getting massaged. It turns out this is the wrong Mr. Zhang and now Guei is being ordered to pay
for the shower he unwillingly took. Guei tries running away but is apprehended. Eventually, the
manager comes out and it is revealed that this is the Mr. Zhang.
Guei walks out of the hotel and loud drums are foremost in the diegetic soundtrack. There are
dancers and general confusion. Guei walks to where his bicycle was and he realizes it is not there
anymore. It has been stolen. He walks back and forth among the parked bicycles, desperately
hoping his bicycle will appear.
Guei is seated on a curb in the dark by himself. He suddenly realizes he hasn’t delivered Mr.
Zhang’s package and runs all the way to the delivery site. He arrives and the place is locked.
Guei is at the offices of the delivery company and the secretary is telling him to stop crying and
that he is lucky the manager didn’t fine him. He goes to speak to the manager who is on the
phone. The manager agrees to hire him back if he can find his bicycle. The manager states, “If
you can find that bike, your determination will get you another chance.”
Shots of street life in Beijing. An ocean of bicycles. Long shots, close ups. Bicycles going left,
going right. Bicycles carrying mattresses, refrigerators, and other large items. Guei is shown
walking the streets looking for his bicycle. Bicycles are in each shot. All long shots. He does this
until it is dark. He is shown at the end of the sequence in long shot standing behind hundreds of
parked bicycles.
Opening shot is young adult boys riding around a construction site inside a building doing tricks
on their bikes. It is obvious that one of the boys is on Guei’s bike.
Jian’s friend is asking him if his dad bought him the new bike. There is a group of young adults—
the ones who were riding at the construction site—and they are dressed like prep school boys.
They take off riding until Jian comes to a screeching halt. We soon see that a pretty young
woman (also dressed in prep school uniform) is having bike trouble and Jian stops to help her.
They then take off on a bike ride together slowly along a beautiful park until they finally say
good-bye. It is apparent that they like each other, or at least Jian likes her and wants to impress
Jian rides his bike back along the route he and the girl took, only this time he is riding along with
no hands on his handlebars, his jacket slung over his shoulder. He is happy and it shows in his
riding style. Many close up shots of him as he rides. He finally makes it home and goes to park
4 his bicycle. He goes to great lengths to hide the bike and now we believe that he is the person
who stole Guei’s bike.
Inside Jian’s house, we are introduced to his father and we learn that his father has promised him
a bicycle, but Jian’s sister has gotten into a very good middle school and they now have to use the
money for her tuition. We learn that Jian is not a prep school boy, but is somewhat poor.
Inside Jian’s bedroom, he wakes from sleep and gets out of bed. He sneaks outside to practice
tricks on his bicycle. He tries not to make noise because he doesn’t want his family to know he
has the bicycle.
Quick cut from Jian on his bicycle to Guei and his relative sitting outside in the dark. Guei has
been looking for his bicycle all day and will not go inside. His relative tells him he is stubborn
and that he is leaving (on bicycle). Guei sits on the curb, small in the frame on the right side. Next
shot he is walking slowly and continuing his search up and down the rows of parked bicycles. As
he is examining the bikes for his mark, he knocks one down and hears someone coming so he
tries to run, but is caught.
He is gotten out of jail by his former boss who says he cannot believe that Guei got caught
stealing a bike and that he also cannot believe all this fuss over a bicycle. He tells Guei not to
bother him again; he is no longer part of the company. He drives away.
Cut to Jian and his girlfriend riding their bikes. Cut to Guei’s relative squatting outside his store
smoking a cigarette. Guei’s bike looms in the foreground as the relative eyes it, slowly
recognizing the bike. We hear Jian off screen talking to someone on the phone. Jian pays the
relative for the use of the phone and they leave. Guei’s relative gets up quickly and runs into his
Jian and his girlfriend are sitting next to a lake with their bicycles parked in front of them. The
camera is behind them. The girlfriend gets up and walks away, calling Jian to follow her. They
both look up at the sky silently and Jian wants to touch the girl or kiss her, but doesn’t. He then
notices Guei looking at his bicycle, which is parked in its original spot. A chase ensues. Jian
leaves the girl as he runs after Guei on the bicycle. Guei doesn’t pay attention and smashes into a
truck. Jian is then able to catch him. Guei has landed in the back of the truck that is loaded with
bags of flour and when he gets up, his face is comically covered in white. He picks up the bike
and begins to walk away, humiliated. The humiliation continues when Jian attacks him and
accuses him of stealing the bike. Jian’s friends appear and begin to call him a bicycle thief. They
start to push him around and try to take the bike, but Guei won’t let go. Finally, they wrest the
bike from him and kick him and walk away with the bike.
Jian and his friends play Dance Dance Revolution at a local game room. The girlfriend comes in
and tries to get Jian out of there, but he won’t leave. When his friend says there are no more
tokens he tells his friends to buy more because he is always paying (which is interesting because
his family does not appear to have expendable income). He goes to purchase more tokens to play
5 as the girlfriend leaves. Jian returns to the game and discovers she is gone so he leaves to go look
for her. Meanwhile, Guei appears in a window, looking for his bike.
Jian returns home and hides his bicycle. Guei has followed him home and appears in the
background as Jian walks away. Jian goes to his home and sees his sister. She seems to know he
has the bike and walks away from him silently. When he gets inside, he discovers his father
cannot find the money he has set aside for Jian’s sister’s school. His father asks Jian if he took the
money and Jian replies no. He heads to his room and on the way sees his stepmother and halfsister and they don’t speak to each other. He goes out onto the roof of his home by himself.
Guei is briefly seen in a very dark setting in the bicycle garage. Next shot is the camera following
Jian to the bicycle garage where he has his hiding spot. We see what a winding little community
it is in the hutong. He finally makes it to his hiding spot and discovers the bicycle is missing. He
looks everywhere in a panic and turns toward the camera. A shot of his sister is shown and it is
obvious she knows what is missing and where the money for her tuition went.
Guei is lying on the sidewalk holding his bicycle. Off screen we hear, “I’ll be damned!
Unbelievable!” Cut to a shot of the manager surrounded by the office women who have been
putting Guei down since he started working. The manager comments on him, “You country folk!
A real ‘little engine that could’” and tells him he can have his job back.
Cut to Jian standing at a window while his friends try to get him to leave with them, but he no
longer has a bicycle so he doesn’t want to go with them. Xiao comes into the picture and also
tries to get him to go with her, but he won’t. She says, “Don’t be so upset. It’s only a bike. You
can always buy a new one.”
Guei rides his bike down the street, dressed in his work clothes. He looks happy as he pedals
around the city of Beijing, riding through the hutongs until he turns a corner and crashes into the
woman from the window. The has been knocked out and Guei and his relative bring her into the
store so she can recover. She gets up and stuffs a huge duffle bag with clothes, puts on her shoes
and walks out silently. Guei and the relative stare after her until the relative says she’s out of our
Shot of a bicycle with a person on it doing tricks. We do not see the person’s face yet. Eventually
it is revealed that he is the local cool bicycle trick guy that all of the others admire. There is a
crowd watching him, including Xiao and even Jian. Jian notices that Xiao is enthralled with him
and his is jealous. Jian and one of his buddies pick a fight with each other. The friend is saying
that Jian stole the bike. The other friends break up the fight. Xiao is seen leaving with the cool
bicycle trick guy. The buddies then sit and begin to discuss a plan on how to get Jian’s bike back.
One of the buddies recognized the name of the delivery service as “Fei Da.”
Cut to Guei riding his bicycle, working. Cut to Jian and his buddies waiting at “Fei Da” for Guei
to return from his deliveries. Guei sees them upon his return and jumps back on to his bike and
tries to ride away. A huge chase ensues with the buddies chasing after Guei and cornering him
6 into a construction site or empty building area. They knock him off his bike and begin to
mercilessly beat him. Guei gets back onto his bike and takes off again. Again he is caught and
they continue to beat him. All done in very extreme long shot. The beginning of the fight takes
place very small on the screen, but then cuts to a closeup of the fight which is very jarring to the
viewer. They ride away and Guei is left on the ground—we see him very small on the screen as it
is another long shot.
The gang of prep school boys watches something we soon discover is an altercation between Jian
and Xiao. He has his bike back and wants her back as well. All is done in long shot. The boys try
to tell Jian everything will be okay as they ride up to Jian’s garage where he hides his bicycle.
Jian looks at something and we cut to his father who is in the garage looking for something. Guei
and the little sister are there as well. Jian jumps off his bike, clearly not expecting his father to be
there. Guei points out the mark on his bike to the father while Jian looks on. The father is
convinced and slaps Jian. This leads to a large argument between Jian and his father. They scream
at each other as Guei looks on. This is where it comes out that Jian stole the money for his bike
from his father. Jian’s father hits him again. Jian’s father gives Guei his bicycle back as Jian
screams and struggles with his father. Guei rides away. The friends look on.
Jian sits by himself on the rooftop and is crying. His sister comes out. This is the first time they
speak. She says, “My mother and your father say it’s their fault.” She tries to make peace between
them. Jian ignores her and walks away.
The buddies again sit around and scheme as to how to get the bike back. The biggest of the bunch
tells Jian, “Just one word from you and we go after him. We’ll get your bike back.”
Medium shots of the prep school gang cut with a medium shot of Guei. We know he is
surrounded. They are in the abandoned work site again where they do their trick riding. They ask
him whose bike it is and he continually states that it is his bike. They threaten him and he
continues to say it is his bike. Jian stands in the background. They keep hitting his head and
explaining that it isn’t his bike anymore. They again try to get the bike away from him until Jian
steps in and says he paid 500 yuan for the bike and it’s his. They pull Guei and try to get the bike
away from him but he won’t let go. They let go when he begins screaming at the top of his lungs.
It is now dark and they are still in the same spot. Guei still won’t let go of the bike. The big guy
says Guei can have the bike if he pays Jian 500 yuan for it. Guei says, “But I’ve already paid for
it.” They try haggling with him but he still won’t give in. Time goes by and they are still in the
same spot. They are getting ready to give up until the big guy comes up with another idea—Guei
and Jian are going to swap the bike every other day and share it.
Guei and his relative eat lunch sitting in the shop. The relative is discussing the “deal.” He walks
away for a moment and the girl from the window walks in looking for something. Guei sits and
stares at her. She cannot find what she is looking for and says nothing, just continues to look,
bumping into Guei but not speaking. A car drives up in the background. A girl says to her mother,
“Look, Mom! It’s like I told you!” The mother says, “Qin, what are you doing here?” The woman
and her daughter are very obviously upper class as Qin runs out of the shop and stands with her
7 head down in front of the mother. She picks up a bag and walks away quickly. The mother and
daughter get into the car and drive away.
Guei’s relative offers his own bicycle for Guei on the days he does not have his regular bike. He
explains it is not perfect and “you’ve gotta pedal hard.” The next shot is Guei struggling to ride
his relative’s bicycle on the street with hundred’s of other bicyclists. His chain falls off as does
the seat. He struggles to put the chain back on as the seat falls off again. Sweat pours down his
face and he becomes frustrated. He leaves the bike on the side of the road as he runs away. It is
decided he will run to make his deliveries. As the sun is going down, he meets Jian for the bicycle
exchange. Their exchanges are wordless as they check out the bicycle out for any problems upon
exchange. The exchanges are wordless until 1:29:36 when Jian asks Guei for his name.
FADE IN. Guei and his relative sit in the store and the relative says, “I would have never guessed
she was a maid.” They are talking about the young woman they used to watch changing her
clothes in the window. When Guei asks what happened to her, his relative says, “She used to
wear her boss’s high-heeled shoes.” And she sold them sometimes. Fired. Disappeared.
Xiao comes out of her home with her bicycle in the pouring rain. She begins to ride and runs into
Jian (who cuts her off and won’t let her go any further). Jian rides his bicycle in circles around
her. Until eventually he stops and she rides off. To meet the cool bicycle trick guy. Close ups of
Jian are juxtaposed by long shots of the new couple. The cool guy rides up (with an umbrella so
he isn’t soaked like Jian) and puts a cigarette in his mouth, asking Jian for a light which Jian can’t
supply. Cool guy supplies his own light (with sunglasses on in the rain). He gives Jian the
cigarette and rides away, humiliating Jian in front of Xiao.
The scene opens with Jian at his bicycle exchange meeting place, waiting, until Xiao and the Cool
Guy ride by and Jian takes off after them. The scene cuts between Jian and the couple, sometimes
with Jian shown in the background or foreground with the couple in the opposite area of the
frame. Meanwhile, Guei is shown waiting at the exchange site for Jian to show up with the
Xiao and the Cool Guy are shown in the far end of the frame and Jian appears in close up from
behind on his bicycle. He is stalking the couple. He picks something up and the camera does a
rack focus on what is now in his hand: a brick. He begins to ride after the couple. They all ride
slowly and the non-diegetic music helps to increase tension. Again, Guei is shown still at the
exchange site and he is now playing with a little boy. Jian and the couple continue their ride
around the maze of the hutong. Off screen we hear, “You bastard!” and a thump, which we
assume is the brick hitting the Cool Guy on the head. We see the reaction of two elderly people
sitting in the hutong in a long shot. The next shot is from closer to the action—we see the elderly
couple now from down the “street” that Jian and the couple went down, as well as others who
have witnessed the brick to the head. Next we see the Cool Guy on the ground with Jian and Xiao
standing above him (in long shot). Jian rides away slowly. The Cool Guy sits up and assesses the
damage to his head.
8 1:39:34-end
Opening shot is Guei standing on the left hand side of the screen at the exchange site. Jian comes
pedaling into the frame for the exchange. He offers Guei a cigarette and tells Guei to keep the
bike and don’t bother bringing it back. He knows he is in big trouble. Suddenly, other bicyclists
show up in the frame screaming, “There he is!” It is the Cool Guy and his gang. They take off
after Jian. Guei is riding his bike behind Jian. Jian asks why Guei is following him. Guei splinters
off and rides away. The gang splits and some go after Guei and some go after Jian. Eventually,
Jian and Guei meet up again. Jian says, “Are you stupid?” Guei replies, “I don’t know the way
out!” Eventually, they reach a dead end. The suspenseful non-diegetic music stops and it is silent.
They’ve been caught. Jian tells Guei to get out of here, but the gang won’t let him go. We keep
hearing Guei off screen saying, “I didn’t do anything! Why me?” The only other noise we hear is
the beatings they are receiving and one of the gang members breaking Guei’s bike. Guei keeps
repeating, “I didn’t do anything! Give me back my bicycle!” His bicycle is destroyed. As the
hoodlum is kicking the bike, Guei walks up behind him and smashes his head with a brick. Jian
wakes up and tries walking over to Guei who is lying on his bicycle. Guei gets up, looks at Jian,
picks up his bicycle, and limps away. The last shots are in slow motion with Guei carrying his
bicycle through the streets of Beijing. We hear the non-diegetic music and the honking of horns
and squealing of brakes.
The story takes place in Beijing, which is located in the northeastern part of China, about a
hundred miles inland from the coast. We never find out where our hero is from, Guei, but we do
know he is a migrant and has come from the countryside to work in Beijing, a city of almost 20
million people.
05) Lesson Plan 01 (by Jian Guo)
Grade Level: 9-12
Subject: Chinese Literature
1. To help students think and understand the characterization of Gui and Jian.
2. To help students understand Chinese society in ways like urbanization, social
polarization, migrant workers, etc.
3. To help students develop creative writing skills.
Set up:
1. Provide historical background (2 minutes; including China’s reform and opening up,
urbanization and migrant workers).
2. Ask questions about their feelings when they first visited big cities which they are not
familiar with (3 minutes to 5 minutes).
Set up and Show film (first part; 35 minutes; ends at Jian’s bringing the bike back and hiding it)
9 (First class ends)
Show film (second part; 40-45 minutes; ends at Gui’s struggle with Jian and Jian’s friends, but
before they reach an agreement of sharing the bike)
(Second class ends)
Homework: creative writing predicting the end of the film, or creative writing that develops the
film (or other topics as listed below).
Third class and fourth class (sharing and discussion of students’ creative writing pieces, then
finish the film--35 minutes; discussion)
Discussion questions:
1. How do you like the ending?
2. What are the characteristics exhibited in Gui and Jian? How do you see that? And your
3. What’s Beijing like in this film?
4. What does the bicycle mean to them?
Other creative writing topics:
1. Choose a scene and write a diary article for one of the characters.
2. Write an imaginative story about the future life of Gui or Jian, say, after 5 or 10 years.
3. What’s your “bicycle”? Write a story about one thing that used to mean a lot to you, but
gradually faded away from the center of your life.
4. Write an essay, poem or a piece of fiction about youth and growing up.
06) Lesson Plan 02 (by Kevin Hurley)
In this lesson, students will explore how China's rapid rise as a force in the global economy has
affected Chinese culture, society and the individual. Students will first discuss the impact of a
massive migration from rural to urban areas. Students will then watch film clips that show how
this migration takes place and the challenges that come with it. Finally, students will consider
future economic, social, and political challenges meaning behind this large migration.
The video clips used in this lesson are from the films China Blue, Beijing Bicycle, and Last Train
Home, which are documentary films dealing directly with rural villagers moving to large cities to
find work and increase their income. Please note that these films are in Chinese with English
By the end of this lesson, students will:
Interpret the meanings of several Confucian teachings seen in the films.
10 ·
Discuss how traditional Chinese family life is being challenged by the circumstances of
migrant workers.
Determine basic market forces in China that are causing this migration.
Understand China’s role in a wider global context
Explain the implications of such a large migration for the future or China and the world.
Sociology, Economics, Geography, International Studies, Social Studies, World History, Current
Internet access and equipment to show the class online video and maps and to display
A world map and a political map of China
Chart: "Confucianism and Filial Piety" (PDF file)
Teacher's version: "Confucianism and Filial Piety"
Article from National Geographic
Video from Youtube
Copies of Last Train Home, Beijing Bicycle, and China Blue
Two 50-minute class periods, plus time outside of class to complete a short essay
Lesson Discussion Starter:
Use a world map to point out where China is located. Explain that the traditional family in China
is changing with the country's rapid industrialization. Today, China has more than 130 million
workers who migrate to jobs in urban areas so they can support their families back home, they are
termed the ‘Floating Population’. Tell students that they are going to watch a series of video clips
that show the circumstances of people whose stories are representative of millions of others. First,
watch this clip
Then follow the guided questions or come up with a list of your own. These questions can be
revisited after viewing each group of clips.
With so many people moving to the cities, what kind of social imbalances do you
think are occurring?
What is likely to be the economic cause and affect of China’s rapid industrialization
and huge floating population?
What kind of divisions can you envision in a society of such rapid growth?
With rapid industrialization, what kinds of things do you think the Chinese are
gaining and losing in the process?
How can China better balance economic development with the needs of its people?
From Last Train Home: Total time 11 minutes
Clip 1: "The World's Largest Human Migration" (length 7:38)
This clip begins at 1:00 with people running through a tunnel and on-screen text that reads,
11 "There are over 130 million migrant workers in China." It ends at 8:38 with the statement "We
don't even know what to say to the kids."
Clip 2: "We Work Far Away From Home" (length 0:40) This clip begins at 55:40 when a man on
the train says, "The train is just too slow." It ends at 56:20 with the line "Life would be pointless."
Clip 3: "A Mother Leaves Her Child For Work in the City" (length 1:10) The clip begins at 14:40
with the statement "We were very poor when we left home in the '90s." It ends at 15:50 with the
line "Otherwise, I couldn't eat anything."
Clip 4: "How Can There Be Any Feelings?" (length 0:31) This clip begins at 34:15 with a closeup shot of Qin, the daughter. It ends at 34:46 after Qin says, "All they care about is money."
From China Blue: total time approximately 29 minutes
Clip 1: 1:00 to 12:20 an introduction to story and characters. (11:20 total)
Clip 2: 27:50 to 35:55 dealing with foreign business partners and paying employees. (12:05 total)
Clip 3: 40:55 46:20 strike and loss of wages (5:25 total)
From Beijing Bicycle: Total time approximately 26 minutes.
11 seconds to 7:48 (total 7:37) first scenes at company and looking at the girl in the window
12:45 to 13:50 (total 1:05) scene of arguing over the bike being fully paid for or not.
25:10 to 34:00 (total 8:50) scene of trying to convince boss to give him his job back and the city
boy enjoying the bike around Beijing.
49:05 to 52:10 (total 3:05) Father is looking for the money
103:15 to 109:15 (total 6:00) boys steal the bike back and the confrontation with the father.
Read the article from National Geographic and write a predictive paper
Additional Resources:
a great guide to China Blue, this raises many other pertinent points and discussion questions
Lots of resources from this site on all aspects of China
07) Lesson Plan 03 (by Larry Hoffner)
• Continue the story with Jian and Guei. The continuation could be immediate or there
could be a time-lapse. These characters are boys; what kind of men will they become?
Imagine if they met years later and reminisced about the bicycle incident which was a
defining moment in their respective lives?
• The respective characters could write a journal about their bicycle experiences and what
they learned from them.
12 •
The “girl in the window” (Qin) proves to be someone she isn’t. Imagine the film being
told from her perspective. This could be a before-during-after structure.
Imagine if the boys met again five years from the bicycle incident and the “girl in the
window” re-enters their lives and becomes the new ‘object’ of their desires?
• A formal research project examining the historical and contemporary value of bicycles in
Chinese culture.
• The students could write a straight forward film review whereby they examine the
cinematic, political, and economic elements of the film. After they have written their
review, they are to select three formal reviews that could easily be located at The students will then react/respond to the respective reviews as they
integrate/synthesize the material into their research. Another version of this exercise
would be to give the students three diverse reviews and have them integrate them into a
formal research project.
• The students will compare and contrast DeSica’s The Bicycle Thieves to Wang
Xiaoshuai’s Beijing Bicycle making specific references to the context of when the
respective films were made.
• What moral dilemma does the bicycle pose for the respective teenagers?
• What does the bicycle mean for both Guei and Jian?
• Why does Jian tell Guei to keep the bike? How have each of these characters
• The opening scene where the disheveled and unkempt boys are interviewed is
immediately contrasted with the same boys in uniform with their new mountain bikes.
This visual transformation is forecasting the psychological challenge and transformation
the young men will face as they move from the rural to the urban.
• When Guei, the messenger, is mistakenly led to the showers when he is on a delivery,
humorously shows the difficulty and the challenges he faces in understanding a ‘foreign’
culture. It could be compared to the excellent immigration film El Norte by Gregory
Nava where Guatemalan immigrants illegally cross the border into California. The
difficulty of adjusting to that which is ‘foreign’ is most prominent.
• The scene where Guei holds onto the bike and gives a primal scream while surrounded by
a gang of hostile boys says (or shows) the psychological importance given to the bike.
• When Jian asks Guei what his name is and extends his hand is most revealing as a strange
bond is established between adversaries.
08) Lesson Plan 04 (by Melisa Holden)
Essential Questions:
13 •
How do filmmakers portray downtrodden characters or outsiders in a film in their use of
shot types?
How are working class people portrayed?
How is editing used to depict sadness and defeat? How is editing used to increase
Common Core Learning Standards
Literature 1: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the
text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining
where the text leaves matters uncertain.
Literature 11: Interpret, analyze, and evaluate narratives, poetry, and drama, aesthetically
and philosophically by making connections to: other texts, ideas, cultural perspectives,
eras, personal events, and situations.
a. Self-select text to respond and develop innovative perspectives.
b. Establish and use criteria to classify, select, and evaluate texts to make informed
judgments about the quality of the pieces.
Films: Beijing Bicycle and Il Ladri di Biciclete
Watch the opening of each film (i.e. first 5 minutes or so) and discuss, cinematically, how
the each director sets up our protagonist—how does the director present to us the
socioeconomic strata in which they live? You may discuss camera movement, shot types,
and/or different aspects of mise en scene. Choose three cinematic pieces and discuss in
500 words.
Read the following essay ( Discuss ways in which DeSica and the Italians changed cinema
after WWII and the reign of dictator Mussolini. Also discuss Wang Xiaoshuai and the 6th
generation filmmakers in a post-Mao China. What are some cinematic differences in their
filmmaking styles? What are their similarities? How does Marxism come into play in
their films?
Scene Redo: Choose a 1-2 minute scene in each film. Re-create the scenes yourself.
Storyboard and shot lists are required. In your journal, describe differences you found
between the filmmaking styles of DeSica and Wang.
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