You are here

Last Train Home

14 posts / 0 new
Last post
clay dube
Topic replies: 1894
Topic Posts: 604
Last Train Home

Fan Lixin's Last Train Home is an amazing documentary achievement. Fan takes us inside the lives of a single rural Sichuan family. The parents left Sichuan 16 years before to seek work that would improve their family's living standards and increase the options available for their children. The grandparents were left to care for the family's daughter, and later, a son. Grandpa has passed away, so now grandma is doing most of the childrearing. The distance hasn't been easy on the parents or the children. The stunning scenes from the annual migration workers make back to their home villages dominate the film's trailer and posters, but viewers will surely remember the less crowded but no less tense scenes in the family's Sichuan home.

Click here to visit the film's website (the dvd became available 2/22/2011).

We were privileged to have Fan Lixin screen the film for an overflow audience in December 2010. Click here to read our preview of the film in Talking Points.
edited by Clay Dube on 2/27/2011

clay dube
Topic replies: 1894
Topic Posts: 604
Message from Clay Dube

Kenneth Turan reviewed Last Train Home for the Los Angeles Times in September 2010. The review begins,
"Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping may or may not have actually said "to get rich is glorious," but his country acted as if he did, pushing China to the first rank of global financial players. The Chinese economic miracle, however, came at a wrenching human cost, one that is beautifully explored in an exceptional documentary called "Last Train Home."
"Directed by Chinese-born Lixin Fan, "Last Train" takes its name and its overall framework from Chinese migrant workers who toil for most of the year at factories far from their home villages. They return, often by train, to see their children and parents only for the Chinese New Year."

Click here to read the full review.

Anonymous (not verified)
Anonymous's picture
Message from bneubauer

Clay showed a clip of this film at the Chinese Economy seminar a few weeks ago, and although I had to leave before seeing the end, I could tell that it would work perfectly for my Human Geography class. I showed it last week as the wrap-up for a unit on development, and my students loved it. Although it is a documentary, it plays very much like a feature film, with a strong story line and beautiful shots of the Chinese countryside. For my purposes, it illustrated a number of concepts I've taught this year: periodic movement (going home to celebrate the new year), global popular culture (Qin's haircut), core-periphery relationships (Chinese workers creating goods for export), diffusion of religion (Buddhist rituals). The trip home, with its movement from the industrial city to the agricultural village and its myriad forms of transportation, neatly encapsulated the history of development in reverse. Given all the talk of China's economic rise, it was a useful corrective for my students to see the conditions under which the family lives and works. The film also made it easier for them to see why geographers consider China part of the "semi-periphery." We also had an impassioned discussion about the daughter's decision to defy her parents (this was a room full of 12th-grade girls) and the ways in which culture shapes familial roles and expectations. Informative, engaging, and moving. Thanks for the recommendation, Clay!

Anonymous (not verified)
Anonymous's picture
Message from rwinkler

One of my colleagues who attended the first Saturday seminar told me about this film. I ordered it on Netflix and showed it to my four AP Human Geography classes this past week. We are studying urbanization and this video provides the negative aspects of the changing economy and culture of China due to rapid industrialization. It corresponds nicely with the book we read for a summer reading assignment called "Where Am I Wearing" by Kelsey Timmerman. It is a book in which the author travels to trace the factories and people that made his favorite articles of clothing. He traveled to China where his flip flops were made and later visited the workers home villages just like in the film. Each illustrates the breakdown of the family unit as the dark side of globalization.

If anyone is interested in using the book along with the film, I created a series of questions for each that I'd be happy to share.

Anonymous (not verified)
Anonymous's picture
Message from mfraser

I watched 'Last Train Home' last night. The cinematography was, at times, quite stunning and very artistic. Though the shots of the crowds from above with all the diferent colored umbrellas was repeated too often..I found it interesting. HOW BLEAK is the life of the chinese migrant worker!! HOW AWFUL! I found it so grim, really..so sad.

clay dube
Topic replies: 1894
Topic Posts: 604
Message from Clay Dube

Yes -- the life of a migrant worker is hard and mostly dull, though we see Qin enjoy the bright lights of the city. Why do they endure it? Mostly because opportunities back home are too few and because of our amazing human ability to imagine that sacrifice today will yield good things tomorrow.

Other films that I'd encourage you to see: China in the Red (a PBS Frontline documentary: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/red/, you can watch it online) and China Blue (screened as part of the PBS Independent Lens series, we were fortunate to have the director here in fall 2009: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/chinablue/).

Anonymous (not verified)
Anonymous's picture
Message from

I learned a lot from watching this movie. I loved the rainy effects which reminded me of some older cultural movies from some time ago. Contrary to many opinions, I found the lifestyles of Chinese migrant workers to be very interesting.

Thank you

Anonymous (not verified)
Anonymous's picture
Message from gjauregui

This film was painful to watch. I felt the stress of getting on the train and the long hours at work. This movie reminded me of the Mexican migrant workers who come to the United states and work hard to send money home for better living conditions. However the immigrants cannot go home due to their immigration status.

Anonymous (not verified)
Anonymous's picture
Message from

It's a sad movie. I know, i'm a little bit melakolic, but overall i love this movie. The idea behind this movie really amazed me. And the most thing i love from this movie is about its angle on how they captured the environment, really stunning.

Anonymous (not verified)
Anonymous's picture
Message from sashton

Would it be possible to use the film "Last Train Home" in an economics class to teach globalization, or is it really more suited to a geography classroom?

Anonymous (not verified)
Anonymous's picture
Message from akohen

When going through the list of movies that I collected throughout our seminar, it was difficult to decide which movie I should review. As I went down my list I noticed a trend. In nearly each class, someone mentioned the Last Train Home to me as a movie that both I and my students would enjoy. While there were parts of the movie that I thought went slow, I have to agree that overall this movie sends a powerful message to its viewers. It gives you a better understanding of the family, work, values, economics and overcrowding in China. What I liked about the movie was that it displayed real issues with real reactions. At first I think that my students will feel as though they can't relate to the film, perhaps they all live at home with both their parents or they don't live in a rural area farming their own food. However, anyone who has worked with teens, knows that they don't like to be told what to do and often times find the need to go against authority. Ultimately, my students will relate to the younger characters in the film.

In the movie Qin left her grandmothers home in the countryside and chose to move to Xitang city where she worked in a factory producing jeans. Qin enjoyed the idea of making her own money, yet as her parents calmly her, she had no value for money and didn't use any of it for the betterment of her family, like her parents did when they moved away for 16 years. Instead she used it to "stimulate" the Chinese government by buying things at the mall, including a new haircut, something that I think a lot of teens would do, regardless of where they live.

Outside of the people being stuck at the train station for days, the scene I found most shocking was when they captured the father reaction to his rebellious daughters language. In front of their family, grandma included, Qin spoke to her father in a disrespectful tone using inappropriate language. I think this scene, if I were to show it to my students, would reinforce the level of respect that parents demand in China and show the difference in discipline in China . Overall, I think that this movie would fall perfectly into my unit on East Asia. I would show this film at the end of the unit, allowing students to get a visual of what modern China looks like including population concerns, holidays, religion, food, work, advancements and family values. This would make for a great end to my unit.

Anonymous (not verified)
Anonymous's picture
Message from fjauregui

When I watched this film "Last Train Home", I was amazed by the determination of the Chinese migrant workers to make it home of the New Year celebration. It is unfortunate that an economic super-power can not improve its own infrastructure for the benefit of the nation and its people. This film also, showed the detierotion of the family unit due to the economy. Had the parents been able to support the family by working in the village would the family remain united?

Anonymous (not verified)
Anonymous's picture
Message from

Truly speaking, I dont have any interest to watch lots of movies. but as i found a thread in googled so i thought why not try to watch it. And you dont believe i liked it.. and now i want to say thanks to you for sharing this online by your side..

Anonymous (not verified)
Anonymous's picture
Message from cbacon

Last Train Home was a very telling documentary following a family and their journey as a part of 130 million migrant workers who attempt to return home for the Chinese New Year. What I liked about this movie is that it examined the relationships between 3 different generations and explored issues/topics such as migrant work and the seemingly shifting perceptions of filial piety within the Chinese culture.


The film really focuses on the hardships faced by migrant workers and the effects of their choices on their relationships with their families. On one hand, one can completely understand the difficult decision of parents to leave children for a faraway job that will enable them to provide their kids with a better life in the long-run, but on the other hand, one can also empathize with the children who feel a certain disconnect from their parents due to this long separation. What really struck me was the fact that upon finishing the film, I realized that the word “love” was not used once in any form of reference or dialogue between the “characters” in the movie.
In my World History class, I would probably use this video, or scenes from this video, in the both the section about modern China and the section about Modern Issues, specifically, migration and industrialization. The film does a great job in showing China’s use of their manpower to fill these factories that would expedite their economic development and rise as a world power. We can discuss globalization and economic interdependence (i.e. the scene when Qin and her friends/co-workers check the mall store if the jeans they carried were the brand made in their factory = the very jeans that my students wear could have been made in a factory in China). Finally, in the last chapter of our World History book, there is a section about the push-pull factors that cause people to migrate from their original homeland. The movie highlights one of the most dominant of these factors – seeking of economic opportunities/stability.


In my classroom, it is important to me to go beyond exploring just content or what’s in the textbook. I can also use this film to make the students reflect upon the sacrifices made for them by their parents or guardians and even appreciate the advantages afforded to them relative to what other kids their age might have.
I can also use this movie as an opportunity to discuss stereotypes, particularly those of Asians. While this movie displayed certain stereotypes attributed to the Chinese (and Asian culture, in general) such as Asians being hard-working, docile individuals who emphasize education and family loyalty, it also showed characteristics not thought of as “typical,” especially by the newer generation. Qin is a classic example of the more modern generation Chinese young adults who shatter these traditional stereotypes. She is a strong-willed young woman with a mind of her own, who dropped-out of school despite her parents wishes and sacrifices.


Despite my personal opinion that she should’ve stayed in school, I like that they showed Qin making the journey home with her parents so that she would hopefully realize firsthand what they have to go through to spend even just a few days with their family. I would be interested to see if my students would have the same reaction as I did to how she was laughing at the seemingly hopeless situation of being stranded at the train station. Would they view her as an immature ingrate? Would they reflect upon or question what they themselves would do in that situation?
edited by cbacon on 6/27/2011