For the past three decades, the world has watched China's rapid economic development carried out on an unprecedented scale. Facing the global financial crisis of 2008, the Chinese government issued a dramatic $586 billion plan to invest in infrastructure and social welfare throughout Mainland China. Some viewed it as a proper fiscal response to a historic crisis, in a world over-reliant on monetary response and hamstrung by voices for austerity. Others called it the "Second Great Leap Forward", in reference to Chairman Mao’s disastrous plan in the late 1950s to force industrialization on China's agrarian society, tragically costing millions of lives to famine and malnutrition.
In 2010, Chinese documentarian Zhang Zanbo was able to obtain unprecedented access to the implementation of the grand financial plan. For the three subsequent years, he closely documented the construction of a highway in quiet villages of Hunan, a province in central China and the birthplace of Chairman Mao.
Using a rare tapestry of voices, The Road challenges the narrative of a collective psyche of China's workforce. It shifts its gaze to the human fabric within, and provides a nuanced portrayal of exploiters and exploited alike, revealing motivations for corruption, and wrenching accounts of migrant workers forced to endure hazardous conditions and villagers forced out of their communities in order to survive. They have little choice but to partake in the government's uncompromising attempt to transform large remnants of an agrarian society in service of the nation's leading role in the era of globalization.
In its subversive reflection on economic disillusionment, and the possibility of a socially-stratified nation collapsing under its ideal, The Road suggests that power and greatness may be fragile, or even hallucinatory. Its focus on human stories is proposed both as a moral imperative, and a lens for seeing deeper into China’s economic boom.
95 Minutes | Chinese (Hunan and Sichuan dialects) with English subtitles.