After of years of empirical work when it became evident that text alone could not capture the distinctive character of urban growth and parallel changes in everyday Chinese life, we embarked on making a documentary film to visually document the complex nature of urban growth. The result is, “10,000 Shovels: Rapid Urban Growth in China,” a 15-minute educational documentary film that integrates film footage of urban development, time lapse photography, and satellite images. This moving visual is aimed at a wide audience with potentially special appeal for university and high school students. The film explores three themes: the physical changes in the landscape as a result of urban development; the transformation of the economy that has driven urban expansion; and the cultural changes that accompany the transition from a rural to an urban lifestyle.
“10,000 Shovels” differs from traditional documentaries that use voice-overs and spoken narratives. Because the changes in China are so visually dramatic, we eliminated a spoken narrative and allows the viewers to draw their own conclusions about the implications of urbanization based solely on film footage and music. The film is intended to be thought-provoking and to stimulate discussion about the complex nature of our relationship with the environment. Its goal is to challenge our conceptual models of development versus conservation, of the modern versus the traditional, of east versus west. More information about the film can be found at the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education website.