Every year China's port cities erupt in chaos as 130 million migrant factory workers scramble to make their yearly pilgrimage home for the New Year. This astonishing spectacle, the largest human migration in the history of the world, is captured in heart rending detail in the new documentary, The Last Train Home. The film is a shocking portrayal of a country casting tradition and humanity aside in a free fall toward global economic primacy. As the film makes clear, the cost of this ascendancy is more than we can imagine.
The Last Train Home focuses on one couple, the Zhangs, peasants who leave their farm and two small children for factory work in a city over a thousand miles to the east. Their days and evenings are spent hunched over sewing machines stitching garments for the American market. Each night they scrub their clothes and feet in a bucket and escape to a narrow cot in a dormitory, drawing a thin curtain for privacy. The only hope in their otherwise hopeless lives is that their paltry wages will someday buy their own children a better life. But as the film unfolds, we see the horrifying irony of their lovely and lively daughter Qin growing into bitter adolescence, quitting school, and boarding a train for her own frightening ride east to the factory.