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Happy Chinese New Year!

Tomorrow is Chu Yi (初一), the first day of the lunar new year on the Chinese calendar. For those of you keeping track, it marks the beginning of the Year of the Pig.

All across China, people are making their way, if possible, back to their hometowns, in what is often billed as the world’s largest human migration. Everyone, from migrant workers to young professionals to university students, is on the move—in most cases returning to small towns and villages in the countryside to visit their families.

And they do not return empty-handed. Since gift-giving is such an important part of New Year celebrations, and is also a primary way of expressing love in Chinese culture, the travelers are laden down with gifts of all sizes and shapes.

When the holiday-making comes to an end, and the workers, yuppies, and students head back to the cities, they will be taking with them, not only memories, but special gifts that will remind them of home.

Film director Jia Zhangke teamed up with Apple (yes, it is a marketing effort for the iPhone XS) to produce a short film, titled The Bucket, about a young man whose mother sends him back to the city with a very heavy bucket. It’s a gorgeous and sweet film, and you’ll need to watch the video to find out what is in the bucket!

This short film touched more than one heart on the ChinaSource team. Hannah Lau, who loves films and reviewing them for our readers, also wrote about The Bucket.

The Bucket
Directed by Jia Zhangke, produced by Apple
China, 2019
6 minutes, 44 seconds in duration
Mandarin with English subtitles

The taste of home will always bring us back.

Recently, Chinese director Jia Zhangke (who I’ve reviewed before) partnered with Apple to create a film about Chinese New Year, all shot using an iPhone XS. This kind of partnership pairing is both significant and exciting for the art scene in China. 

The film is short, only six minutes long, and the story is simple. A young man who lives in the big city travels back to his rural hometown for Chinese New Year. As he gets ready to return to the city after the holidays, his mother gives him a bucket that she has packed to bring back with him. It’s heavy and difficult to carry but mother insists. Throughout the movie, the bucket is itself a character in the film. As it’s packed, as it travels, and finally when its contents are revealed. The bucket symbolizes the taste and flavor of home.

What I love about this film (and about Jia’s work in general), is that it is full of what I would describe as “Chinese soul.” It’s more than the typical elements of imagery, storytelling, and symbolism. Jia brilliantly captures the nuances of Chinese culture, the things that define what it means to be Chinese.

The Chinese soul, the essence of being Chinese, is something that can only be fully understood from the inside the culture, and only partly understood by observing from the outside. Even as I write this, I am frustrated that it’s not something I can fully articulate, even as a Chinese person myself. I am Canadian Chinese, my parents are originally from Hong Kong. I grew up in Canada knowing other Chinese children of immigrant families and then, as an adult, I moved to Asia and met Chinese people from all around the world. What I’ve found is that the Chinese soul is the same everywhere.

There is a “way” about the Chinese soul and it is part of every area of life. It’s the Chinese pragmatism, the way we express our feelings, the way we communicate, view money, spend time, value relationships, make decisions. If you have a Chinese friend or relative, think about how that person approaches those things I just listed. You might find yourself saying, “it’s so Chinese!” and indeed it is.

Jia Zhangke captures all of this beautifully and thoughtfully. He reminds those who are Chinese what it means to be a part of this unique and intricate culture, especially during the Lunar New Year season. For those who are not Chinese, he opens a window into a culture that is better understood through experience than explanation. 

They’ll [the things in the city] never be as good as these from home.

Take six minutes and celebrate the New Year by watching The Bucket.

On behalf of the entire ChinaSource team, Happy Year of the Pig! 

Header image credit: Fanghong [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons
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Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio

Hannah Lau

Hannah Lau

Hannah Lau was born and raised in Canada. Growing up with immigrant parents from Hong Kong gave her a rich perspective on both Eastern and Western cultures. She has spent her adult life in Asia, beginning in China serving through work in the marketplace. With a colorful and hard-earned career in …View Full Bio

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