Plastic China: An emotional journey of two families living in a town of plastic.

Transcription of the Discussion of the Movie “Plastic China”

Group: Ginger, Anthony, Arthur, Matt


Anthony: It was really intense to see the people living like this

Ginger: It was sad to see how these people are forced to live like this, exposed to the chemicals. And that they don’t understand the harmful nature of the chemicals in the plastic

Matt: They’re fishing is taking dead fish out of the river. They still eat the fish, even though the fish probably died from digesting the plastic so the young kids are eating the chemicals that are in the fish.

Matt: They left their village because the father of 5 got arthritis and couldn’t farm. The owner of the plastic plant is doing this because he only has knowledge of dirty jobs.

Arthur: The little girl is acting older than her age because she has to take care of everyone, her little brothers and sister. She has a big burden on her shoulders. She looks 7 but has the responsibility of a 15 year old.

Ginger: It is bad enough that all this waste gets shipped to china, that’s how racism comes into play because it gets sent to certain areas in china. These companies are sending waste to China to the point where it’s everywhere, these kids are playing in it. Classism comes into play in the fact that these poorer areas suffer from the waste. Rich areas, like Beijing, dont see the plastic. This people living in poverty are living in it and can’t get out of it because they can’t make enough money to move.

Matt: It said in the leading graphic that china was the leading importer of trash from japan usa and europe.

Arthur: These employees work long hours and get paid close to nothing so it’s very difficult to have a good living in a nice atmosphere.

Matt: they don’t have a very high tech and efficient system considering their machines looked very old

Anthony: did notice though that the whole concept of the american dream isnt just to america. This guy was telling this to his kid, telling him to study and work hard and he can reach his dream. This idea isn’t specific to america

Matt: The parents are putting this idea on their kids with the hope they will go far and help them in the future. The children will live a better life and will help their parents in the future. Also, it is important that the documentary wasn’t told by the filmmakers, but rather by the people in the area. There was no forced narrative like a lot of other documentaries. It just filmed the lives of these people in this place and showing how they live.


One important aspect of the documentary that we discussed was the emotions it evokes. The way it follows the family without any voice over allows the viewer to connect with them. It evokes a lot of emotions, which is what we think the documentary creators wanted. This part of the discussion was not transcribed because it occurred on our walk out of the classroom we in.

More information on the film:

This film was produced in Shando, China. It has been released for the first time in 2016 during the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam. The producers are Ruby Cheng, Chao-Wei Chang and Ben Tsiang who are the founders of the non-profit CNEX Foundation Limited. This is a platform which aims to promote domestic and international documentaries. The main goal of this platform is to make people aware of what is happening around the world to make them react.

This documentary portrays a major disconnect both nationally and internationally. First off, this film shows where the plastic wastes ends up and who deals with it. Most people do not know where their waste ends up, they just know its out of sight and therefore out of mind. This film shows the disconnect nationally when one of the fathers brings his son to Beijing. The city is a very different place, with people living very different lives from those in Shando. There is no other interaction between the places. No one from Beijing, or otherwise, comes to Shando unless they are driving a waste truck and are dropping off a load. The only “mediators” between these locations would be the people in Shando, or perhaps their children. One man made a point to tell his son to study hard so one day they can go to Beijing and live like rich people. The children of these families will be allowed the ability to do something else with their life, while having the experiences in Shando. They grew up surrounded by plastic, but hopefully they can live the rest of their lives somewhere else. Even if there were other mediators, it would not help much. Although there is technology, it is hard for the people of Shando to go elsewhere. They have to work constantly and cannot afford to travel and voice their concerns. Additionally, China is a very busy place and has a lot of other pollution sources. There are many other issues to look at, so getting attention on this issue and this town would be tough in this day and age.

Unlike other documentaries, Plastic China doesn’t utilize voice over narration or title sequences to inform the viewer of facts throughout the film. Very few post-production effects were added, but a lot of attention was put on the folly of the film. The soft rustling of plastic can be heard in every scene. The soft-film look adds to this quiet perspective, and it allows for the viewers mind to relax. Once the viewer has let their guard down, the film can then impose its narratives on them. This “soft” feel to the film also makes it much easier to relate to the story being told since there is forced shock value in the film. The viewer isn’t forced to see the burning piles of garbage or the fact that the families in the film use plastic bags as firewood to cook their food. Instead, the director focuses on the family, and the dark reality is in the peripheral of the frame,which is how the family views the recycling process as well, and the viewer becomes fixated on this seemingly backwards world of trash.

The families featured in this film have very few options in terms of what they can do for work. The individual who own the plastic recycling operation can’t exactly leave because he only knows how to run that particular process. He cannot farm or turn to “healthier” job alternatives because of his class. This leads to the prior concept of the classist trends that environmental issues revolve around. These people have no other choice but to deal with the waste of others simply because of their financial status. By accepting the waste of others for profit, these lower income classes are immediately at a disadvantage. Their living conditions grow worse and they have to continuously accept waste to survive. Then, the cycle continues and they remain in poor living conditions with no way out.

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