Kindergarten by Beijing born documentary maker Zhang Yiqing is a simple yet fascinating look into the world of a Wuhan based boarding kindergarten in China’s Hubei province.It follows 14 months in the lives of children in junior, middle and senior classes from the soul destroying first day when children will leave their parents for the first time to the friendships (and enemies) that they form with their classmates. Other than the timeline, the documentary does not have a plot as such but this makes it no less compelling. It is a mixture of fly-on-the-wall filming with the children just going about their daily routine and interviews conducted by their teachers.
The interviews with children are often hilarious as their teacher inquires into whether they fancy members of the opposite sex or questioning how they feel about the Chinese soccer team. The answers can also be quite a shock when you see how young the hatred of the Japanese is instilled into some of these kids, particularly when the question of what they want to be when they grow up is asked. This is met with the usual policeman, nurse, fireman responses with the exception of one boy’s career ambitions is to build weapons in order to blow up Japan. These racist views of the Japanese as well as some interesting thoughts on America, 9/11 and the war in Iraq are obviously mirrored views of their parents. This serves as a cautionary reminder that our children are sponges taking in opinions and values of the adult world.
Interesting too, was that in a country so rich in history, culture as well as many natural wonders, the only school excursion shown here is a trip to a Coca Cola factory where the children marvel at the size of the factory and guzzle down free cans of Coke. Whether this was a subtle comment on the changing face of China, I am not sure, but it was a little sad to see the admiration these children had for a massive American corporation.Kindergarten shows how universal the innocence of childhood is whilst reminding parents that children of this age are a true reflection of themselves and the responsibility that this involves. It is a fine accomplishment that a documentary so simple can leave an audience thinking so deeply.