I first travelled to China in mid 1995. I wanted to make a contemporary story which would reflect China's changing face.
A story which would invite audiences into the lives of the thirty somethings born during the cultural revolution. A
generation which has experienced enormous upheaval.
This generation has witnessed the excess and idolatry of the 'Mao years' and in turn has grown up during Deng Xiao Ping's
period of economic reform. Many have turned their back on politics. Instead they want to make money, do business and advance
their career. A consciousness of the masses has shifted to a consciousness of the individual. Nowhere is this independence
more evident than in how people dress.
My research revealed a society embracing 'individualism'. Department stores promoted 'how to' makeup demonstrations; street
side magazine stands displayed glossy editions titled 'Love' and 'Fashion' alongside booklets of Mao Zedong's memoirs;
matchmaking programs on local TV promoted 'image design' in order to find your perfect mate; and dowdy business men proudly
left designer labels on the outside of their suitcoats.
'Fashion' was the catchcry. It was everywhere. 'No 1 Fashion store', 'Famous Fashion Shop' and so forth.
With China's booming economy, more and more women are pursuing careers in business and white collar work. They need to dress
smartly and can earn in one month what their parent's earnt in a lifetime. As one fashion magazine editor said, 'now is a very
good time to earn alot of women's money'. However understanding dress sense is still new in China. Many women get confused about
when to wear what! So it is common to see women wearing evening dresses in the supermarket or track suits and jogging shoes at
And so a whole new growth industry is emerging of personal image consultants and fashion designers.
After interviewing many such designers - I settled upon Sun Jian and Guo Pei to be the principal characters in the film. They
were best of friends and were planning to hold a joint fashion show together. Their flamboyant personalities and sense of
humour seemed like a perfect springboard to allow international audiences to connect with the next generation of Chinese
Obtaining a Chinese Film Permit took several months of negotiating. Filming took place during September/October 1996. The
film was completed in April 1997.
Guo Pei and Sun Jian are extremely attractive, vibrant 30 year old women who have known each other since high school.
They were both born in Beijing, 1967, at the beginning of the cultural revolution and their lives have travelled along
similar paths. They began working professionally as fashion designers in their early 20's. Guo Pei worked commercially
whereas Sun Jian chose to do haute couture design for individual clients including makeup, hairstyle and total image.
Both designers are aiming for international success and crave to visit the great fashion capitals of the world.
Sun Jian has shoulder length dark hair, deep brown eyes and expressive dimples. She dresses boldly, preferring strong
colours and masculine clothes. She is witty, confident and not afraid to say what she thinks.
Sun Jian's career is her main focus. Her company is small with a select clientelle. She regularly designs for Beijing
celebrities - TV hosts, pop stars and movie actresses. She does guest fashion spots on the weekly Beijing TV Dating Show
Tonight We Meet - advising viewers on what they should and should not wear. Beijing needs her advice as most people are
still blatantly ignorant about design and happily wear extraordinary combinations!
Sun Jian's family story is enthralling and a reflection of the tides of change which have so typified China's history. Her
maternal grandparents used to run silk houses before the revolution. After 1949 they managed to keep many treasures including
jade, priceless ceramic vases and hand painted lacquered screens. Sun Jian's mother was stylish and wore fabulous silk dresses
and high heeled shoes. Once the cultural revolution began, many people committed suicide but her mother hid her 'bourgeois'
riches, chopped off her heels, joined the Communist Party and worked as a barefoot doctor. Sun Jian's father did not fare so
well and was banished to a remote labour camp to contemplate the wisdom of playing Mozart under communism.
During those years Sun Jian remembers a family treasure chest of old silk clothes belonging to her grandmother. Every now and
then they would be hung out and aired in the shade. Sun Jian admits that from an early age she was inspired by the beauty of
these clothes. They revealed that clothes could be a source of aesthetic beauty - this was rare in those times when the only
colours were dull grey or blue.
Sun Jian comes from a family of survivors and has inherited their spirit.
Guo Pei is petite and also has shoulder length black hair, brown eyes and dimples! But her personality is different to Sun
Jian's. She is softer, and as Sun Jian says, 'she can suck up and wheedle'! Guo Pei is the diplomatic one of the two, able
to twist any situation to her advantage.
Guo Pei was one of the first to study 'fashion design' in the early 1980's. At that time there were still many political
restrictions on women's fashion. Showing cleavage or bare backs was out! So she chose to work in a Children's Clothing
Factory. She had high ambitions but was soon frustrated as there was no room for her creative ideas. After a year she
shocked her boss and resigned. She was one of the first of her generation to leave the State run system of the 'iron rice
bowl' and go it alone. She ran her own business for a while and then joined a company named Tianma as Chief Designer.
Within 6 years this company had become one of China's best. She was named as one of China's Top Ten designers in 1994.
But by 1995 she felt her creativity was not given appropriate independence. She then joined Milano. But after a year the
same problems were reoccurring. The company feared that the designer was gaining more recognition than the company.
This conflict is seen during the film. Guo Pei stands out as an independent woman who knows what she wants and is highly
Like Sun Jian, she works long hours usually returning home late to her standard two bedroom flat which she shares with her
partners' parents. In China the relationship between daughter-in-law and mother-in-law can be duty bound. But for Guo Pei,
her mother-in-law understands that for the next generation the most important thing is their career.
Guo Pei and her partner refused to get married because the bureaucratic paperwork was too much. They are typical of a new
breed of Chinese young people who are postponing having their 'one child' until their careers are well under way. Guo Pei's
mother-in-law even says that if they have a baby she will look after it while Guo Pei continues to work.
Guo Pei has now established her own company and is aiming for international recognition as a designer.
'As a designer, I influence a lot of people. My clothes help people develop taste. Right now in
China standards are really rather low, I hope I can help raise standards. My clothes can change people's lives. The right
clothes give them a whole new outlook. They open up their minds'. GUO PEI
'Young people today may not be all like me, but they are definitely not like their parents. They
prefer to make money, do business and advance their careers. They will not sacrifice their life and personal ideals for
politics. Those days are gone. People aren't like that anymore'. GUO PEI
'I was born during the cultural revolution. I don't remember much but people likedwearing army
uniforms. My father wore a Mao Suit with a high collar, in dark blue. My mother used to wear a grey or blue suit, sometimes
it was open necked. They were shapeless. But she cared about her looks. There were no perms then but she often got a blow
wave when she had her hair done. I'd think how pretty she was. She even had her fringe curled. Not many women did
that.' SUN JIAN
||DENDY AWARD Finalist Best Documentary Sydney Film Fest. 1998 Winner Kodak Eastman Award Windy City Documentary Fest Chicago 1998.
||Nominated Best Documentary Hawaii International Film Festival 1997. Invited to attend as Guest of the Festival.