Apple released a short movie for Chinese New Year which has been widely shared in China. There hasn’t been a single dinner this week where the movie didn’t come up in conversation.
For one, it was been entirely shot on an iPhone X and directed by Peter Chan who is a well-known director. For another, the movie touches deeply on cultural and social themes. It serves as a nice way to learn more about Chinese culture (it’s a super nice and touching story, too). The following is my attempt to capture some of the themes.
It foremost touches on the meaning and importance of Chinese New Year, called Chunjie (春节). It’s a long-standing tradition that goes deep through Chinese culture and history. It’s the time when people return home to their families and are willing to take on long journeys (the Nanning to Harbin express takes 6 days). It is much larger than what Christmas is for us – the whole extended family comes together for this. And it’s a 7-day holiday that is much less capitalistic but value-driven (the average employee contract in China offers 5 days of holidays – so this is huge).
- Anecdote #1: I had to wait 42 minutes last night for my Didi since all drivers have returned home.
- Anecdote #2: My photography friends are calling this “high season for roofing” because all construction workers are gone which allows them to climb up tall buildings.
- Anecdote #3: my friend told me her grandma still raises a pig all-year round just for CNY.
- Anecdote #4: The Chinese government has been investing a lot into "soft power" recently. One of the things they want to promote around the world is the celebration of CNY – hoping to make it as big as Christmas or Halloween.
Then there is the train ride which is symbolic for the Chunyun (春運), the epic annual travel season around CNY – the largest mass migration on earth which last year culminated in 3B+ trips taken. What it speaks volumes of is how geographically unbalanced Chinese resources are (economy, talent, education, etc.) and how a lot of the demand for those resources is centered in urban areas where people migrate to for work (25 of the world’s 100 largest cities are in China and the urbanization rate has surpassed 50%). The train ride therefore symbolizes a lot the notion of “from home to hope” and “from poor to rich” as more and more people leave their homes to find better paying jobs and then send money back.
In the meantime, a lot of children have to grow up with relatives back home and barely get to see their parents. The movie further touches on the hard work ethic of Chinese. On that, I recommend reading Mike Moritz's (founder of Sequoia) recent piece in the Financial Times on how the work ethic in Chinese companies far outpaces their US rivals (make sure to also read the backlash his article caused):