China, the world’s most populous country and fastest-growing economy, is undergoing profound changes. Faces of China takes an insider’s look at China. Each episode reveals a small part of the human drama behind the enormous changes – to present a compelling mosaic of China today.
Gai Ming and his wife Cai Jing are part of an ancient tradition that is on the decline; storytellers who travel from one valley to the next, spreading news from the outside world.
Three Strings follows the couple and their young family and then returns to visit them 10 years later, when their children have grown, to see whether ancestral China has been able to stand up to the assaults of modernity.
When the antique loudspeaker announces Gai Ming and Cai Jing’s show, the peasants of the isolated valleys of the northern part of China gather to listen in awe – escaping their everyday problems through the traditional stories told with the help of a three-string instrument.
Storytelling used to be a successful business, but Chinese society has changed rapidly and it is becoming increasingly difficult to make a living from the art form. “People prefer to watch television, nobody takes an interest in us,” Gai Ming says.
Cai Jing resents her husband for his failure to envisage a different future for their children and while he persists in teaching them the art of the three strings, Cai Jing opens her own business – a road side snack stall offering grilled lamb offals to the villagers.
She earns a reputation as a fine cook and, in particular, a specialist in mutton offal. Gai Ming sometimes resigns himself to helping her set up the stall and also offers his services as an occasional handyman to other people. But he is reluctant to give up storytelling.
When we return to the family 10 years later, Gai Ming and his wife still live in the same house in the town of Anbian. Their children now have children of their own. But they have not followed in their parents’ footsteps. Liang has become a cook and his sister Jing a beautician.
We follow them as they gather for a family reunion. After lunch, their instruments as well as the famous loudspeaker are loaded into the car. The couple is to give a performance in a neighbouring valley. Even if the casting of the little orchestra is bigger – the duo is now accompanied by three young apprentices – the few spectators are much less enthusiastic than 10 years ago.
But, the show goes on and the couple adapts the old stories to current realities – fighting to keep the tradition of ancient storytelling alive.