“The first half of my life is gone, in the second half I want to have a good man. Because this is probably my last chance of happiness” says 49 year old Xiao Lihua, a recent widowed woman in China.
German director Laetitia Schoofs begins her documentary Fallen Flowers, Thick Leaves, with a hauntingly beautiful song and half a century old footage of Mao Zedong with the faces of hardworking women plowing fields and working in factories during the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976).
The Communist era in China marked an idolisation and celebration for ambitious women, encouraging their participation in the public sphere — they were known as “iron girls”. Moving into the twenty first century however, the social status of Chinese women has witnessed a drastic shift, with issues the detainment of feminist activists and rising rates of in sexual and domestic violence
In the film, we also meet Wen-Wen, a 32 year old single and successful writer who challenges traditional ideas of the need for women to settle down both in her books and her lifestyle. ‘“ have many girlfriends like me who are also leftovers. Their families put on a lot of pressure [for them to settle down and get married]” she says.
Through this Schoofs introduces to us the term “leftover women” a label that has been increasingly used since 2007 for unmarried or single women passed the age of 27. With the widespread conception on how ‘An unmarried woman is incomplete’ Fallen Flowers, Thick Leaves reveals how these women are often shamed within their families and the wider community for their inability to adhere to traditional gender roles.
“I think it is very normal for human beings to have desires at any age” states Hua-Ying, a young feminist from the Bcome Feminist Group. Commenting on how Chinese women are often silenced or even denied basic rights to sexual knowledge, she speaks of the dangers this poses to the younger generation.
Featuring sexologist Hongli Zhen, the documentary speaks about the stigma in China behind women’s sexuality. Engaging in open discussions of vibrators, masturbation and self-love — Fallen Flowers, Thick Leaves provides intimate and personal accounts of women caught between deeply engrained ancient traditions, socialist values from the Cultural Revolution, modernisation and the rapid economic growth within contemporary Chinese society.
Get tickets and watch this at the Doc Edge Festival 2017 in Wellington on Sunday 14th and Tuesday 16th of May, and in Auckland on Thursday 25th and Sunday 28th of May.