The China Hustle
Directed by Jed Rothstein, Magnolia Pictures
USA, 2017, 1 hour, 24 minutes
The China Hustle is a documentary that has gotten a lot of attention since its release in 2017. Mainstream cinemas, film festivals, and reviewers across America are jumping on this exposé about one of the biggest instances of fraud, and one that most people, particularly in the nations that are involved, don’t even know about.
To date, the films that I have reviewed have been films made in China by Chinese people. The China Hustle is an American documentary written and directed by Jed Rothstein but it is a film that raises important questions about what is currently happening in China and the impact on Chinese society.
Although the details, financial figures, and happenings may make the situation complicated, the premise is quite simple. According to the film, hundreds (and maybe more) of small companies in China were able to enter the US stock market by falsifying the size of their operations and earnings. By the time the truth is discovered, the money is long gone, having made Chinese business owners very rich, while leaving the American investors with nothing. The amount of money lost is in the billions, and that’s just what has been uncovered.
As a film that is meant to inform and educate on the realities of the American and Chinese financial systems, I was left with more questions than answers.
What does it all mean?
At a national level, China continues to grow rapidly on all fronts and how it regulates itself and interacts with international players will have major implications for its position in the global community. At a societal level, China needs the stability of structures, laws, and frameworks to stabilize itself within. At an individual level, the citizens of China struggle with regulations that are moving targets. And finally, for Chinese Christians, it is a hard road to walk as they fight to live with honesty, integrity, and God-centered values within the realities of their current environment.
What if it’s just a matter of time?
Historically, China has not had the cleanest of reputations. I am in no way condoning fraudulent behavior but whenever I hear bad press about China, I often wonder if it’s a matter of time.
Yes, there have been problems—fake food, melamine in milk powder, people falling to death through faulty escalators. But China’s reputation has also been improving over the years. There was a time when trust was so low that nobody wanted to buy anything in or from China, at least not if there was another choice. That time wasn’t so long ago. Today, people are buying mobile phones, cars, yachts, and all sorts of things from China. Are we simply expecting that China be something that it will eventually become but just hasn’t yet? Do they just need more time to get there?
Is the story one-sided?
Probably. There are certainly fraudulent things happening in China’s financial sector but not everything in China is fraudulent. For the film to make blanket statements (using profanity no less) regarding the state of China’s financial system is rather unfair.
As a Canadian-born Hong Kong Chinese watching this film, some credibility was lost when, while unpacking the intricacies of the fraud, the footage showed a Hong Kong cityscape—not mainland China. The “is Hong Kong really a part of China?” discussion is a murky one but what can certainly be said is that the financial sectors in these two places are very different.
During one part of the film, the main character is seen arriving in Hong Kong, taking a taxi to a hotel, and then later giving a speech at a conference about the uncovering of the scandal. Viewers are easily led to think that, at that moment, he is doing this in mainland China, when in fact he is presenting in a place that does not abide by the same system under discussion.
Despite certain things that could have been better, the film is still valuable because it brings to light what may otherwise not be publicly known. However, I hope that as viewers watch they do not slide into panic or suspicion towards China but instead would take a balanced approach and consider all that is not being said. There are, after all, two sides to every trade.
Hannah Lau is a marketing consultant for ChinaSource, managing external communication and marketing processes including social media. Originally from Canada, Hannah served for a time in China where she began her career in advertising. A few years ago she left the corporate sector and took her skills to the non-profit... View Full Bio
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