Chitu is a Chinese word, referring to the poor who only afford to eat dust or soil. It is commonly used for the Chinese new generation that has been limited in their economic growth. However, it has been not too long that Chinese society emerged from extreme poverty; but it is still an on-going problem. In a comparison to the rapid economic growth of the Chinese coastal cities, some of the rural parts of China are still covered with the dust of poverty.

Raised From Dust is available from Icarus Films

“Raised from Dust” is a Chinese independent movie that shows the rural life in China decades before. This movie captures the poor life of a Chinese Christian in the Northern part of China. Xiaoli is the only breadwinner in her family as her husband has been hospitalised with silicosis. Xiaoli is troubled by her husband’s medical expenses as well as the tuition fee of her young daughter Sheng Yue. She makes money by collecting bricks from old buildings. Despite her struggles, she is still pious and her life, in short, belongs to her religious beliefs. At a humble dinner table, she sincerely prays before the meal with her daughter and gives thanks to God for everything. Although her neighbourhood is also living in a similar situation to Xiaoli, which is not very affluent, they are helping each other. The local society revolves around the church in the village.

The movie does not have a specific accident or any events that make extra trouble to Xiaoli. Instead of using drama, this movie shows the daily routine of Xiaoli, who is trapped in poorness. She prays, takes care of her husband and daughter and works. Her neighbours cheer her up and say ‘pray to God’ to help her. Although there is no change in her life inside this poverty, she attends her neighbour’s wedding, in a mixture of Chinese and Christian style. She wears Chinese Mao-style uniform to go to the wedding at the church. After the wedding, her neighbour collects small money to give her. Instead of paying the hospital, she makes a decision. She pays her daughter’s tuition fee and her husband leaves the hospital. In the end, she still sings a hymn at the dinner table with her daughter.

The Christian society in this movie is portrayed as the alternative community that retains humanism, such as helping each other, and religious belief. Inside the village, the Chinese tradition has been removed. Seeing only their devotion, the residents look like the Christian communities in Western countries. This imagined rural village shows the ideal image of society. Xiao’er Gan reveals that through the dialogue . One pastor in the movie says ‘there is only money in the big city and the faithful live in the rural area’.

Modern state establishments, like hospitals or schools, did not give any hand to Xiaoli. Instead, the system even aggravates her life. She already knew that if her husband left the hospital then he would die soon, but she cannot help with the high hospital bills, only prays for her husband’s relief in heaven. Religion is the only saviour of her painful life. Like the title of the movie, the faith raised from humble dust.

One of the key factors that change the mood of the movie is hymning in Chinese language. It colours the monotonous movie, which may look like a silent film at times. Xiaoli is not talkative and does not expresses her emotions even during tragic circumstances. She listens instead of talking. The only time she volumes up her voice is when she sings and prays to God, which seems like a magic spell to herself. This endurance applies to her daughter as well. Her well-behaving daughter Sheng Yue does not talk that much but follows her mother’s prayer. During the dining scene, no conversation between Xiaoli and her daughter commences but they both pray and sing  hymns. The audience can only understand the emotional changes inside the characters through the verses of hymning and bible reading sound.

According to the recent reports, Chinese Christian church has been cracked down and the rich-poor gap has widened. It is hard to imagine that there will be another Xiaoli who secretly finds her relief from church.