China in the Red

Shot over four years, from 1998 to 2001, China in the Red explores the changing values and expectations of ten individuals as they struggle to adapt to China’s economic reforms. In intimate portraits, the film shows a cross section of Chinese society: young and old, rural and urban, workers and peasants—from the manager of a failing factory to the mayor of a major city, from a millionaire entrepreneur to a peasant dying for lack of medical care. China in the Red premiered on PBS in February 2003 with critical acclaim.

Tian Xiao-wei

Wealthy Peasant

My whole life I’ve been a good-for-nothing woman. My father had a bad class background. My family was poor. Many people in the village looked down on us. Since the reforms, no one will be against you as long as you make money.

Zhang Shu-yan

Laborer in a State-run Machine Shop

My daughter likes to look at how nicely other people eat and dress. I want her to eat and dress well. But I can’t afford it. Now my salary is only $36 a month. My life doesn’t matter. My only hope is that my daughter can go to college and live a good life.

Feng Hui-xiu

Manager’s Assistant at a State-run Machine Shop

Everyone’s worried. I haven’t been this worried in years. People are mad. It feels like someone will murder the manager. There have been so many cases like this: people sprawled all over the office, pouring their hearts out, threatening us with cleavers.

Mu Sui-xin

Mayor of Shenyang

We have to change the way people think. Under the planned economy, workers’ and officials’ lives were managed from cradle to grave by the government. In the market economy, you’re responsible for yourself….We estimate that 450,000 people will be laid off this year. Where are they going to find work?

Nie Zheng


My parents are always telling me, ‘You’re not stable.’ And I wonder, ‘What does stable mean?’ Getting a monthly salary, that’s one kind of stability, isn’t it? But are your heart and mind stable?

Zhang Wu

Successful Businessman

My ambitions are boundless. As long as you have money, you can do anything.

Frontline‘s fascinating view of a changing China is worth the four years it took to get it… The changes so far have left most we meet here fearful, disillusioned and poorer. More happy endings may be yet to come, but for now, this unique Frontline enterprise is a valuable, candid view of a China we seldom see—China in economic shakeout.
— Houston Chronicle
This is no snapshot . . . This is a case in which video trumps the written word. We have human faces, emotionally bruised, attached to the government verbiage. We see declining living conditions, dwindling food and clothes, too. We see a new existential fear in people’s eyes.
— The Boston Globe