Huaqing Jin’s “Blossom with Tears” focuses on two young children, Yuan and Xiang, as they undergo studies and training at Wuqiao Acrobatic School in Hebei Province, China. Their story is one of suffering and survival, and follows the gruelling regimes and tortuous practices they must undertake every day as they struggle to improve their skills. The pressure on the children is immense, as they strive not only for themselves, but for their families, carrying with them their hopes of a better future. Yuan and Xiang each have their own personal burdens, and the two are affected both physically and psychologically as they learn to try and find happiness in their lives against this backdrop of intense competition.
“Blossom with Tears” is an exceptionally moving documentary, and it’s fitting that Huaqing Jin was awarded the prestigious 2012 UNICEF Prize for his efforts, the film having been selected from 335 entries from almost 60 countries for recognising and drawing attention to the severe realities that children in some parts of China are subjected to. The film unflinchingly depicts the harsh lives of its main protagonists, many of the daily routines that Yuan and Xiang have to follow making for painful and tough viewing. While some may associate gymnastics and acrobatics as being for healthy exercise or fun, here they are deadly serious, and come with a price, as seen in one scene where Xiang has to hold a painful handstand for six minutes, and another where Yuan struggles to spin a large drum with her feet. Away from their homes and families, a tragic loss of childhood and innocence is observed, the children becoming surrogate parents themselves as they take care of each other.
Though capturing the children’s plight in itself is accomplishment enough, Jin also delves into the reasons behind their presence at the acrobatics school, which adds another layer of emotional involvement and social commentary to the film. Yuan and Xiang, like many of their classmates, come from deprived backgrounds and poorer areas, and with their parents coping with poverty, divorce and disease, they are forced to take the desperate dreams of their families on their young shoulders. Thankfully, Jin is an experienced documentary director (his works, which also include “Living with Shame”, “Heavy Metal” and “Lament of Yumen” have won 27 international awards between them), and manages to avoid taking too many cheap shots or tugging at the heartstrings in portraying this.
“My parents pin great hopes on me. They want me to be successful so that we can move to live in the city. I must be outstanding in the troupe,” says Yuan in the film, with Xiang trying to find success so that he can help his family pay for expensive eye surgery for his younger sister. It’s this kind of depth that makes “Blossom with Tears” more than just an expose of the grim lives of children, and Huaqing Jin offers here an often heart-breaking look at wider social problems in modern China that unfortunately have no easy answer.
(“Blossom with Tears” screens as part of the 2014 Chinese Visual Festival on Tuesday 13th May in London.)