As a Chinese citizen, democracy remains a deep and heartfelt longing. Living in a Chinese society, there is not much opportunity to practice democracy. That is why the starting point of all my reflections have merely been what I believe in my heart to be fairness and justice. Simply put, democracy should not only be a political or a legal system and should not merely be about making a choice and casting one’s vote. The object of democracy must include two parts: one is rules and regulations which are related to democratic law; the other is the participation of a country’s citizens in the practice of democracy. Hence, we need to ponder upon the questions: What is democracy? Why democracy? Not only must attention be paid to the legal rationality of democratic rules, careful examination must also be given to the potential conflict and confusion that a population’s cultural traits and the spirit of democracy may create.
A consummate democratic system does not necessarily create a perfect democratic society. Why? This is where the “human factor” plays a big role. Ultimately, a democratic system must depend on the people within the system for implementation and compliance. If the people are not equipped with the necessary democratic culture or if there is a conflict with their inherent cultural beliefs, then the democratic system will only be reduced to a stiff and rigid legal provision. It would then be difficult to create a true democratic society.
When I was pondering on the question of democracy in adult society, the image of an eight-year-old boy already aspiring to become the highest official of the Communist Party caught my attention. I rested my sight on that child.
The children are our successors and the future of our countries. However, our societies and our educational systems have complicated the growing up process of children by compromising their simplicity and making their child-like innocence conform to worldly standards. While the universal qualities of good and bad can be found in children, they have also retained the candor and purity that is missing in adults. It is because their instinctive reaction to foreign objects is much closer to the dictates of human nature. If we place the democratic rules found in an adult world among these eight to nine-year-old children, create an experiment and ask audiences to make their own observations, we would surely initiate more questions and more reflections. This would especially be useful for viewers with little interest in democratic politics—and they comprise the majority of the audience. The purpose of creating television programs is not merely to make a film and store it in the filing cabinet but to encourage more people to watch and to reflect.
Because of China’s family-planning policy, a couple can only have one child. The growing up years of these children is usually spent with six adults—their parents and two sets of grandparents. The company of the adults and the lack of opportunities to play with children of their own age have resulted in these children’s early maturity, especially in their thinking and language abilities. While Western children are still immersed in fairy tale stories, Chinese children are already aware that these fairy tales are a sham. Early on, the bad things found in society have already affected them. In addition, the patriarchal system found in Eastern cultures has already become deeply embedded in their psyche. What then would be their reactions when they find a clash between the patriarchal system that they have been accustomed to and its extreme opposite, the democratic elections?
A story about children will always resonate with a wide audience. How will viewers react when they see the rules and regulations found in an adult society placed among these eight to nine-year-old children? It will be easy for the mature audience to see the link between the democratic games played by the children and the democratic system found in the real world. From the innocence of the children, the audience will easily discover the relationship between democracy and human nature. Because we have traveled from our own childhood into a society of adults, the children are our successors and the future of this society.
The children are our future; will it also be the same for democracy?
— Weijun Chen
Weijun Chen, Director
Weijun Chen is a documentary director and producer living in Wuhan, central China. After graduating with a degree in journalism from Sichuan University in 1992, he joined the documentary production department of the Wuhan regional television station. Chen’s first film, My Life Is My Philosophy, was nominated for the best documentary of the year by the Chinese National Association of Broadcasters. In 2003, he completed To Live Is Better Than To Die, which was awarded Peabody and Grierson awards, as well at the Rodlf Vrfba Award from the One World Festival.
Don Edkins, Producer
Don Edkins is a documentary filmmaker and producer based in Cape Town, South Africa. With an academic background in Development Studies and African languages, he has extensive work experience in the field of media and development. He produced the multi-awarded Steps for the Future (2001/4), a collection of 38 films from Southern Africa about life in the time of HIV/AIDS. He was executive producer for the STEPS global documentary project Why Democracy? of 10 longform documentaries and 17 short films, screened by 48 broadcasters in 180 countries. With more than 30 international awards for the films, including an Oscar, two Peabodys, and a Grierson, the films are now being distributed worldwide for educational outreach. He is coauthor of a book about documentary filmmaking, training and outreach published by Jacana Media: STEPS by STEPS. Don is director of Steps International, and executive producer of the new STEPS project Why Poverty?