Deqi is a seven-year-old Chinese girl who is learning drums and guitar at a famous music school in Tianjin, China.

Her father comes from an impoverished rural family but in the late 1990s he established his own business and began to get rich. Today, he spends a lot of money on a private boarding school for Deqi. He has bought a flat in Tianjin, where Deqi lives with her grandmother, and every weekend he drives nearly 300km from the family’s home in Qinhuangdao so he can accompany his daughter to the music school.

On Saturdays and Sundays Deqi practises drums for more than 10 hours a day. She is doing so because her father now wants her to compete in a percussion competition in Italy. We follow Deqi and her father as they travel to Italy for the competition in which more than 500 competitors will take part.


How did you first hear about the rock music school in Tianjin?

I used to be a photojournalist working in Tianjin, where this music school is located. I made a photo essay about kids playing rock music there. So, I came up the idea of making a documentary focusing on this story. 

Vincent Du is a documentary filmmaker and photographer based in China. He used to be a photojournalist working for several newspapers and Reuters in China from 2004 to 2010. Hundreds of his pictures have been published by several renowned news organisations around the world. His documentaries and photo essays cover topics that include Chinese homosexual society, the cancer village, Chinese soldiers, and Chinese society on aging and so on. He started to make documentary and multimedia video from 2008. 

Why did you decide to focus on Deqi and family as opposed to any other students?

Firstly, Deqi's family reflects the progress of Chinese society in transition period perfectly. Her father was from an impoverished village and was among the first generation of migrant workers going to the city for a better life in 1980s after The Cultural Revolution. He became wealthy owing to China's economic reform. Like a typical Chinese parent, he is investing everything in his daughter for the future of their family.

So, as I see it, the documentary is not only about the little girl, but also about the whole family in contemporary Chinese society. Secondly, compared with other characters, we got more interesting and dramatic sequences from Deqi.

We travelled with her to different places in China, as well as Italy for an international percussion competition.

Deqi and her family go to great lengths so that she receives good education. How common is this effort in China? And does it put a strain on families?

Traditional Chinese culture and values, which are upheld by a large majority of parents in China, put an emphasis on children to be 'the best' students. 

Academic achievement in China reflects successfully strict parenting. The stories documented in my film undoubtedly focus on this kind of upbringing in China. Westerners may not accept it, but I think owning to tradition, strict parenting is not a big problem for Chinese families.

This phenomenon can be seen in most East Asian countries, for example China, Japan and Korea. To some extent, children should sacrifice a happy childhood in order to gain a brighter future; otherwise you will be a loser when you grow up.

Do you think Deqi has a good school-life balance?

Deqi attends an international school attended by children of wealthy parents. Students there do not need to participate in national university entrance examinations because they will study abroad when they complete their high school study. So compared with her counterparts studying in normal schools, Deqi has more freedom in different subjects.

Were there any difficulties filming with a seven-year-old main character?

Sometimes it is a bit difficult to film a child, who is usually curious about your filming process. On the other hand, children never act in front of the camera, that is to say, they never perform, which is a positive when filming a documentary about children.

What do you think about rock music in China today?

Nowadays I believe rock music is really popular in mainland China, even more than in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Music diversity can be seen in many music festivals, pubs and public stages across China. A multitude of rock musicians have a huge amount of space to express themselves, which was hard to imagine 20 years ago. That is one of the reasons why an increasing number of parents send their children to study rock music rather than classical music.

What were the highs and lows of the production?

The highs - the Viewfinder Asia workshop allowed me, for the first time, to cooperate with professional people in documentary production, such as my executive producers Fiona Lawson-Baker and Chris Mitchell from Al Jazeera and OR Media respectively, my sound engineer Luo Hao and editor Gigi Wong. They were all really helpful. 
The lows - maybe if we spent more time on Deqi and her family, there would be better shots we could have used.

In Pictures:

Source: Al Jazeera