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Follow Your Heart: China’s New Youth Movement

Distributed by Third World Newsreel, 545 Eighth Avenue, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10018; 212-947-9277
Produced by Duncan Jepson
Directed by Duncan Jepson
DVD, color, 91 min.
Sr. High - Adult
Sociology, Asian American Studies Music, Popular Culture, Social Sciences

Reviewed by Karen Coronado, George Fox University, Newberg, OR

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 4/14/2011

In 1972, Richard Nixon became the first U.S. President to visit China. Slowly, China has been opening to the world and to the influences of Western culture. The new generation of China’s youth has been brought up in a different world than their parents, one with ever expanding choices, freedoms, and opportunities. With fewer offspring and increasing family income, there has been a shift in focus from the necessities of life to art, self-expression, and the study of all things foreign. Not relegated to the expectations and limitations of such a suppressed, closed and highly controlled society, China’s young generation eagerly embraces the freedom to change and to explore new experiences and expressions of art, music, fashion, media and culture. Youth culture is marked by positive attitudes, high aspirations, savvy consumerism, belief in what they can attain, hopes of stardom and an inheritance of increasing wealth.

This documentary film looks at a graffiti artist and several independent Hip Hop artists who embrace a genuine meaning that they have found in the true tradition of these art forms. Intolerant of commercialization or stereotypical expectations, these artists seek to express their freedom, emotions, beliefs, and experiences with other Chinese youth through music, dance and graffiti. There is a wide range of musical influences throughout the different regions of China with greater proliferation of the commercialized Western influence in the wealthier coastal areas than in smaller interior cities. The young artists join forces in Guiyang, one of these interior cities, to put on a multifaceted show introducing other young people to the freedom of expression that they have found in their music, dance and painting, eager to see if there is an interest. They care about the true art forms, self-expression, human rights, and self-development. They also realize that in order for genuine hip hop to be accepted and grafted into Chinese society, it will need to be branded with Chinese culture and expression. Rap, jazz, hip hop, disco and many other art forms from the West are embraced and recognized as superior to the stagnant art forms of China but they also seek to blend the best of their culture with their new found loves and create their own style of original artistry.

Generational differences and traditional values and culture are at odds with the lifestyle that these artists have chosen as evidenced by parental views, but there is also an understanding and appreciation for the freedom and opportunities that continue to open up to the young people of China along with concerns for their future and ability to transition to adult responsibilities. No one is quite sure where all of this is heading but they are full of hope and they are enjoying the ride.

Throughout this film there are a few expletives and mildly provocative visuals. Video, sound and cinematography are excellent. Mandarin and English are spoken, mainly Mandarin, with the appropriate Mandarin and English dialogue subtitles throughout. In addition, English and Mandarin captions for descriptions of maps and other visuals are included. Though the title suggests a broader range of discussion or a more generalized overview, the dominant focus is on hip hop with bits about dance and graffiti art interspersed. The young people are articulate and provided interesting perspectives and thought provoking opinions and attitudes about the new youth movement in China and questions about the future. This is a lengthy but well done, energetic and colorful documentary that would provide students and teachers with many jumping off points for discussion on youth culture, consumerism, China, hip hop, and more.


  • Best Documentary, Urban Mediamakers Film Festival, Official Finalist Award, Las Vegas International Film Festival