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Screen of dreams for rural children

Updated: Jul 25, 2022 China Daily Print
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"Taking Movies to the Countryside" makes its first stop at Gouba Conference Red Army Elementary School in Zunyi, Guizhou province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Visionary movie project inspires a young audience as it shows heroic deeds that built modern China, Xu Fan reports.

As night fell, the summer heat faded away. On the playground of Gouba Conference Red Army Elementary School in Zunyi, Southwest China's Guizhou province, nearly 200 children and teachers sat on their stools to watch the movie 1921, a 140-minute revolutionary epic that recounts the founding of the Communist Party of China.

In front of them was a large white projector screen tied to two erected bamboo poles. For most of the children in grades one through six, it was the first time in their lives that they had watched a movie on such a "giant" screen, as there is no cinema in Gouba village, which has approximately 760 households.

Xiao Xiangrong (left, front), dean of the School of Art and Communication at Beijing Normal University, and Yuan Qian (right, front), deputy head of Bozhou district, Zunyi, at the event. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Xu Longsheng, a 21-year-old from Beijing Normal University, and four of his fellow students worked as projectionists. Although the story is set against a complex backdrop containing many historical figures, most of the children still showed intense interest, asking the college students a slew of questions.

The event is part of a project, "Taking Movies to the Countryside", which was recently launched by Beijing Normal University and the China Film Archive.

The university is scheduled to send 12 teams of students and teachers to around 50 rural areas, with Zunyi being the first stop and Ganzhou in Jiangxi province as the next destination. The project aims to improve aesthetic education in rural primary and secondary schools, as well as providing the students majoring in education an opportunity to get a taste of their future career.

Xiao (left) and Xu Hong, the principal of the Gouba school. [Photo provided to China Daily]

As it is named after the Gouba Conference, a lesser-known yet historically pivotal meeting, which laid the foundation for victory on the Red Army's Long March, the elementary school has a tradition of highlighting its revolutionary culture and history. The five students designed two lessons, both concerning the village's Red heritage. The program has been filmed to make a documentary.

As the "protagonist" in the documentary's first episode, Xu serves as the lecturer of a public lesson, which is themed around Liu Hulan, a revolutionary martyr who sacrificed her life at a young age.

Explaining that the connection between Liu and the movie 1921 is "youth"-because the delegates to the CPC's first national congress had an average age of 28 as depicted in the film-Xu says he hopes the lesson will encourage the children to believe that "everything is possible when you are young" and bravely pursue their dreams.

A native from Qianxinan Bouyei and Miao autonomous prefecture in Guizhou province, Xu, a sophomore majoring in Chinese literature and language, says he was impressed to discover that the rural school in Gouba village had installed a variety of facilities for art and physical education, setting up classrooms for electric piano, chess, painting and calligraphy, as well as pottery.

"When I was young, I also studied at a village school. There was only one class in one grade at my school, making me believe that every elementary school was the same size," recalls Xu.

"After I started studying at Beijing Normal University, I found that most of my schoolmates (from urban areas) were quite versatile. Some of them could play piano, and some could play guitar or dance quite well," says Xu, revealing that he had once dreamed of learning to play the piano.

For Xu, the visit to the school is like a window, through which he can view the huge transformations brought about by China's decadeslong effort to eliminate poverty and the country's vision of rural revitalization.

Xiao Xiangrong, dean of the School of Art and Communication at Beijing Normal University, says that the project was inspired by the Beijing College Student Film Festival, an annual event also hosted by the university.

"I have often thought recently about how acclaimed movies could reach and influence more people. I also think that it's important for the students majoring in education to delve deeply into primary and secondary schools, thus making them more emotionally connected and able to understand the value of their job as a teacher in the future," explains Xiao.

Last year, China launched a project to enroll students with a series of beneficial policies, including exemption of tuition fees and lowering the college entrance examination scores, for colleges training teachers. Those students will be dispatched to work as teachers for six years in 832 counties, which have eradicated poverty in recent years, but are still short of educational talent.

Also one of the five students joining the Gouba visit, Li Ruoyu, a 19-year-old majoring in English at the Beijing Normal University, benefited from the program. Li says she was moved by the sincerity of countryside children.

Recalling that most of them are "left-behind" children, referring to those who remain in rural areas while their parents leave to work in cities, Li says: "We could see the light in each of their eyes. They are so curious about the outside world and yearning for knowledge."

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