Last Train Home
In the 1960s, we were concerned that the Soviets were going to overtake us.
In the 1980s, we were concerned that the Japanese were going to overtake us.
In the 21st Century, Americans have a new enemy who we fear is going to surpass us as the dominant economic force on the planet: China.
But is China really our enemy?
Essentially, what the Chinese have been doing is working to fill gigantic boats full of clothing, toys, and gadgets to send over to the United States. And in exchange for all of this stuff, they have asked nothing in return but a whole bunch of dollars that we printed and some IOUs.
As enemies go, these guys don’t seem so bad. Certainly not in comparison to Nazi Germany or Al-Qaeda.
I agree that it was naughty of the Chinese government to artificially devalue its currency so it can flood our stores with cheap clothes and run up our trade deficit.
But the solution to this problem isn’t found in military intervention. It’s found in the lyrics to the hit song “Thrift Shop.”
All we have to do is use a little restraint and buy used clothing for a few years and the trade deficit will take care of itself.
The Zhang family’s problems aren’t so easy to fix.
The documentary “Last Train Home” shows us a few years in the life of Mr. and Mrs. Zhang. They grew up in an impoverished rural farming community deep in the Chinese countryside. Soon after they had their daughter – Qin – the Zhangs left her in the care of Mrs. Zhang’s parents and moved to the bustling coastal city of Guangdong to get factory jobs.
The good news is that the Zhangs found decent, stable factory work and saved some money. The bad news is that the Zhangs only saw their daughter once a year during her entire childhood.
Even though Mr. and Mrs Zhang essentially sacrificed their 20s and 30s to try to make a better life for their daughter, their relationship with her is terrible. Whenever they talk to Qin, all they can think to say to her is “study hard, stay in school.”
But Qin doesn’t stay in school. The Zhangs learn the hard way that “do as I say, not as I do” is a lousy parenting technique. Inevitably, Qin drops out of school and moves to Guangdong to take a factory job sewing blue jeans.
Mr. and Mrs. Zhang are in despair. All they wanted was for their daughter to do better than they did. And now she’s just like them.
Director Lixin Fan does a terrific job of presenting his story to American audiences. He shows that the names and places are foreign to us. But their hopes and challenges and regrets are totally relatable.
After watching “Last Train Home,” it’s impossible to view the Chinese as our enemies. They are just hard-working people like us trying to make it in the global economy.