Not One Less

Not One Less

Not One Less is a film about a determined little girl hoping to triumph over ignorance and poverty in modern-day China.
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A thirteen-year-old schoolteacher overcomes the challenges of rural poverty, and total inexperience on the job. Photo Credit:
Not One Less takes place in a rural mountain village in China, where thirteen year-old, Wei Minzhi, is set to the task of teaching an entire classroom during their teacher's month long absence. With the lure of economic opportunity in the city many students have already left their rural upbringing and village education to seek employment. Aware of this threat, the teacher, upon his departure, informs Wei that if she is able to keep all the students in school, not one less, she will receive a much needed bonus.

The viewer is immediately drawn into the depth and difficulty of Wei's task. She is barely older than the students herself; she lacks any actual teaching skills and is in dire need of the promised ‘bonus.' Her determination and stubbornness are what drive the film and she has no limits when it comes to keeping the children in the classroom. It is this determination that eventually sends the viewer on a journey from the rural countryside to urban life in China as Wei follows one student to the city to bring him back.

Director Zhang Yimou is responsible for the historical masterpiece Raise the Red Lantern among other notables such as the House of Flying Daggers , Hero and The Road Home . And although not as well known, but winner of the Golden Prize at the Venice International Film Festival, Not One Less is an example of the success and creativity Zhang brings to film. In many of his films he employs amateur actors to emphasize certain themes. In Not One Less most of the actors are essentially portraying themselves. All the students, including Wei Minzhi are actual students from rural villages in China and the Mayor is portraying himself, as well as the TV station manager. This casting choice makes the effects of rural poverty tangible and accurately contrasts the disparities between rural village life and the city.
Not One Less does an honest job of portraying rural village life and the issues surrounding migrant communities and the lure of urban prosperity.

This disparity is evident in Wei's journey to the city in search of the student Zhang Huike. Although an authority figure back in the village, in the city she struggles to even be acknowledged. Wei is ostracized by the city life and suddenly finds herself a poor village schoolteacher with no opportunities or connections.

Although China is continuously noted for its bolstering economic growth and progress in recent decades, the poor in the rural areas remain and are often forgotten. This cycle is perpetuated as children leave rural villages seeking urban employment, finding themselves without an education and little economic mobility. Not One Less does an honest job of portraying rural village life and the issues surrounding migrant communities and the lure of urban prosperity. The village children, perhaps because of the authenticity of the role they are playing, seem tangible and believable. They are interested in their education, yet are troublemakers at the same time. They have the same issues and concerns any school age children would have. And although the film brings to light the many disparities between poverty in the village and wealth in the city-the film ends by offering hope for the future and opportunities to close the gap between rich and poor.

Not One Less (1999)

106 minutes, in Mandarin with English subtitles

Written by Xiangsheng Shi. Directed by Zhang Yimou

Contributed by Cami Martin, a writer for Global Envision. Cami has a BA in English from the University of Oregon and works for Mercy Corps.

To read a Global Envision article about education and migration in China, see Access to Education in Beijing.

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