Some years ago, white-collar worker Lao Jia left metropolitan Shanghai to live on the idyllicChongming Island. He contracted, more than 200 acres of land, adopting “natural farming” to grow crops without using any chemical pesticides or fertilizers. His wife Li Zi, persuaded, followed along to begin a new life surrounded by nature with him.
Problems about food safety are many. Lao Jia had therefore attracted crowds of urban followers for his “back to rural villages” ideal and unique farming concepts. Local farmers disagreed, however. Some said he wasting this country’s food, because he was only growing crops affordable by the wealthy.
Of his followers, many are young volunteers who worked for him in exchange of accommodation. They had all dreamed about a wonderful village life, but were soon disappointed by solitude, which they are not used to, and lack of material pleasure as they arrived on the farm. Hence it was difficult for Lao Jia to train any youngster to be his successor, and he eventually took his wife as his sole farming disciple. They lived and worked closely together, but Li Zi realized at a later stage that, no matter she gave up on a city life to come to this village with her love, her marriage life had become anything but a happy one. The couple no longer supported each other out of romantic love, but shared the work more like just ordinary co-workers. One day, during a fight, they spoke of divorce. Lao Jia’s mother succeeded in persuading them to stay together; they even had a baby afterwards. Then, on another day, Li Zi had a conversation with some old village ladies. She learned that all of them had lived through the hardships she was living through. They raised their children on their own, farmed and worked, and tried hard to keep the family together. Li Zi finally felt peace of mind through this conversation, since most of the village women share the same fate. She started to accept her circumstances.
Just when the child was almost six months old, Li Zi found out that Lao Jia had been secreting dating another woman for the last three years. Lao Jia then left the farm, and Li Zi’s father also died unfortunately. Now that the two most important men in her life had left, it dawned on Li Zi that life is an ongoing journey. There were times when she happily followed Lao Jia on the farm. They planted seeds and seedlings grew. They harvested rice together, but Lao Jiao had long betrayed her when it comes to love.
About the Director
Gu Xiao-gang, born in Jiangyin City, Jiangsu Province in 1988. Moved to Fuyang City, Zhejiang Province at age 5. Graduated from Zhejiang Sci-Tech University specializing in fashion design and marketing in 2012. Loves painting, cinema and various other types of art. Won in join an entrepreneur’s competition in second year of college, so founded and registered a company. Pursued religious truths for some time. Became fascinated by film in third year of college and tried to learn to make it himself. Was a guest student at the China Academy of Art before starting to make independent films. Has made several documentaries, commercials and drama shorts. Major early works include Bhakta and Even If You Walk and Walk. Has continued to make films since then. Lives in Beijing now.
2012 Planting for Life
From the Director
I met Lao Jiao for the first time in October of 2011. One evening, he and his wife Li Zi came to pick us up by car and took us to his rice field. His workers were busy harvesting the rice; a red reaper, with a bright light, made resounding noises as it worked. On a cemented open space by the field laid rice collected in the day. It was all covered in oilcloth then. Someone had to keep an eye on these harvests throughout the night; my friends and I didn’t hesitate to take up the task. We set up tents on both sides of the space and Lao Jia stayed with us. Late in the night, we saw mist rush toward us like sea waves, and it was unbelievably quiet all around. We made fire and started to chat. We learned about Lao Jia’s life before he came here and why he decided to come. Wood kept cracking in the fire.
It has been three years since we started filming. Those senior village ladies, seeing that I’m always filming in rice fields, start to tell me about their hardships. They say that farmers belong to the low class, and that it is tough to be a farmer. They also say they don’t see why we would want to stay in a rural village, since we don’t look like the underachieved at all. They say that city people aspire to live in a village, and vice versa. But for city people, a rural life represents leisure. For villagers, going to the cities means defying fate. I asked the ladies what would happen if no one wants to farm anymore. They were speechless for a while. Then, someone uttered, “Well, that’d be great!” I know she was just being upset.
I was actually happy to see people like Lao Jia slowly working to rebuild this century-old image of farmers. These people are knowledgeable and cultured enough to take up the task. Many of them are idealistic and passionate. Some even dream of living a hermit’s life. And Lao Jia is their leader. Because his location is near Shanghai, crowds of followers swarm in from the metropolis in appreciation of his “back to rural villages” ideal and unique farming concepts. Young volunteers can often be seen on his farm. Paying labor in exchange of food and accommodation, they have come to learn about agriculture. But locals can’t possible agree with them. Some villagers say this is a waste of the country’s food, and that they are only growing things for the rich to enjoy.
The villagers are opposed to their farming methods because they see it as a step back. After all, they have been using chemicals for decades, and now these people want to resume those archaic methods applied when they were kids. This is almost unfathomable for them. In situations like this, it seems inevitable that villages and villagers get exploited by us, the city dwellers. Speaking of the people, land, water and vegetables there… Well, decades ago, city people told them to use chemicals to grow crops. Decades later, people come to tell them that chemicals are bad and out of date, although a truly chemical-free farming system has yet been established. I don’t think the villagers will ever get the idea. Farmers are diligent; they are hard working. But they don’t get what they deserve. They can’t even support their own families through farming alone.
“New farmers” like Lao Jia have indeed helped to “renew” those old agricultural villages for they contribute new thoughts about agriculture. Together with his wife, Li Zi, who gave up on an urban life to live with her love in the countryside and establish a rural family, Lao Jia becomes an exemplary figure among the new farmers. But, just like the film shows, as the couple lives and works closely together, Li Zi feels that, no matter the effort, her marriage life has become nothing but a happy one. The couple no longer supports each other out of romantic love, but shares the work more like ordinary co-workers. Moreover, Li Zi used to think that they fight a lot because they are very different persons. Now that she looks back, she feels that maybe it’s all because Lao Jia was secretly dating another woman. But only Lao Jia knows the truth.
Li Zi is more of an independent woman. She has rather strong ideas about how her life should be, but she is also kind of an idealist when it comes to love. She is willing to suffer, to wait, and to dedicate herself entirely to her loved one. I was profoundly touched by her in one interview. She recalled, “Some old ladies were growing vegetables in the field. I was kind of melancholic those days, because I had to work in the field and cooked all the time. I was suffocated by life. I asked the ladies how their lives were like when they were younger. Everyone said it couldn’t be tougher. They also had to take care of kids, to cook, and to do hard labor. So I felt I was comforted. Maybe every woman lives the same way.’ Then I was able to accept my circumstances more. I said, ‘OK, since you have all lived through such hardships in youthful and mid-life years, I’d better let things be.’”
Eventually, Lao Jia left the farm. Friends always ask me about my opinions of Lao Jia after they’ve seen the film. But life is full of unexpected twists and turns. No matter what you expect it to be, life develops itself as it wishes. Likewise, I think I have no right to expect someone to play the ideal role I expect him or her to play.
What has truly saddened me is that Li Zi’s father passed away. We met once before his death. Now that the two most important men have left, Li Zi reviews this countryside period she spent with Lao Jia. They planted seeds together; their baby was born. Rice was harvested, and love was betrayed. But the moment she realizes that life is an ongoing journey, she feels she’s free again.
※Best Documentary,Emerging Talent Competition,The 9th First International Film Festival XiNing
※Best Documentary Award,The 22ND Beijing College Student Film Festival
※Official Selection,The 5th Beijing International Film Festival
※Official Selection,The 4th China Academy Awards of Documentary