In the movie Not One Less, a thirteen-year-old girl is asked to be the substitute teacher in a small Chinese village. The teacher tells her that when he returns, if he finds all the students there, he will pay her ten yuan—less than two American dollars.
Although money is involved, it isn’t much. When one student, Zhang Huike, stops coming to school, Wei Minzhim, the thirteen-year-old substitute, follows him to the city.
There are several themes in this movie. The most powerful to me were the value of an education and not losing face. If Wei loses Zhang, she will fail the responsibility the teacher gave her. To succeed, she must keep all the students and teach them.
Confucius taught the Chinese that an education was the great equalizer and the key to leaving poverty behind. Most Chinese believe this with a passion.
Zhang Yimou was the director. He says, “Chinese culture is still rooted in the countryside. If you don’t know the peasant, you don’t know China.” Because of this, there is a strong message in this movie about the urban–rural divide, which is being addressed as China sews the nation together with high-speed rail and electricity.
This a powerful movie about children, education, and poverty that shows the challenges China faces in lifting the lifestyles of almost eight hundred million Chinese, who don’t live in the cities. The challenge is to do this without losing the values that made China what it is.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
His latest novel, Running with the Enemy, was awarded an honorable mention in general fiction at the 2013 San Francisco Book Festival.
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