I am watching a Chinese movie called the Little Red Flowers. It is about Qiang, a four year old boy who struggles to fit into a school with many rules. The strict head teacher Ms. Li watches over the class of four year olds, toilet training them and teaching them to dress, among other things. She gives them a red paper flower on an evaluation board each time, to reinforce the good habits.
Qiang cannot poop when asked to, still wets his bed and cannot for the life of him, get his tshirt off over his head. At the end of each day, he demands to know why he has not received a red flower, only to be told of his many shortcomings which he should improve upon. All Qiang wants is one red flower that eludes him every day.
Yuan Zhang has captured the social interactions between four year olds beautifully. Moments such as the one where Qiang finds a red flower on the floor and carefully wraps it up in his kerchief, neatly folding the corners in, are precious. Others like the one where Qiang when playing ‘Doctor’ with his classmate, and Ms. Li admonishes the girl for letting Qiang pull her trousers down so that he can give her an injection capture how we sometimes overshadow the innocence of children with our worldly interpretations. Zhang also captures many moments of contemplation, explanations children give to how adults around them behave, and draws attention to the Pavlovian manner in which we continue to be conditioned, mutually rewarding ourselves for conforming to established norms.
One day in class, when playing a guessing game, Ms. Li imitates an animal they are supposed to guess rather poorly. Qiang is convinced she has turned into a monster. Slowly the news spreads and the four year olds are all convinced that Ms. Li is going to eat them at night, when they fall asleep. The scene where they all hide under their beds so that Ms. Li cannot get to them, is rather cute.
When I was four years old, I used to play at the park near my school while waiting for the maid to come pick me up and take me home. Once my friend and I heard strange noises coming from under the stone slabs leading to the park. I was convinced that a monster was hiding under the park. I cried all night and refused to sleep. I did not want to go to school the next day because I would have to cross that stone slab after school to wait in the park and I was afraid the monster would eat me. When this went on till midnight, my father had to get his LML Vespa out, take me all the way to the park, shine a flashlight below the stone slab and show me that there was nothing there. Only then did I sleep that night.
Yuan Zhang, I love the Little Red Flowers only a little less than I love Amelie.