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China Screen: Madame Duan

Year: 2021, 52 mins
Code: IC-CSMadame

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Striving for dignity and a meaningful life in the stream of economic reforms.

Duan, who comes from a remote village in Hunan in the South of China, is a street cleaner in Canton. She lost her ability to speak at a very young age due to an accident. Nevertheless, she manages to do her job well. Every morning before dawn, when everybody else is still asleep, she begins her new day.

With her broom, she finishes cleaning and tidying up the streets of the whole neighbourhood within a few hours. She collects all rubbish, empty bottles, and full plastic bags lying in the darkest corners. She also washes the house walls of posters and all sorts of illegal publications or taggings. When, at sunrise, she takes her full garbage carriage to the dedicated assembly place, she is proud of herself to have once again turned her district into a neat area. Since about 10 years it gives a meager salary, as well as her well-deserved dignity.

Her husband, who originates from the same village, works in Canton as well. Together they share a humble flat and struggle to earn a living. At the moment, they are putting money aside for train tickets to visit their son who lives with her family back home in the countryside. Not having seen their son for long months, they would like to use a brief break during the spring festival to pay him a visit.

As she and her husband get to the station and actually manage to go home, we understand that this kind of destiny is far from exceptional, even in modern day China. Despite the overall increase of welfare in China during the years of economic reforms, the accumulated new wealth is not spread equally across the society. Even so, Duan and her husband are doing their best to live an honest and meaningful existence. The reunion with their son will be the occasion of a festive family meal, symbol of the hope that in the future, they will be able to see each other more often.

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