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To the Past

Jiang Nengjie

Release year: 2017

Run time: 43 mins

Film type: Documentary


We Chinese people don’t praise the religious belief in our genes, but there are many individuals holding religious beliefs around us.

Jiang Nenghong, one of seven billion in the world, came to his religious belief after he experienced illness and death. Later on his life was enriched by his belief. His short temper even eased. He may at times still be annoyed by life, but he has learned how to manage it.

Recording a hero is just like looking in a mirror. We may recognize ourselves when we film others and observe them.

Our hero Jiang Nenghong worked in Guangdong with his wife and children when he began to have problems with his lungs. His children studied in local school in Guangdong. Even though he led a hard life, he had a happy family. However, everything changed in 2009. His lungs started to deteriorate. For two years, he regularly visited his doctor. In 2011, he had to return to his hometown for an operation in a local hospital. Since then, he has stayed at home with his children while his wife and 60-year-old mother work.

In 2011, his legs started to hurts. His young brother passed away that year because of a deadly disease. And the existing conflicts between him and his mother became more violent. His mother blamed him for not telling her about his brother’s death in a timely manner. All these things annoyed him. What’s worse, as a man, he couldn’t even do physical work for a living, which depressed him the most. He seemed to lose all hope for his life. He lost his patience with his children, didn’t talk much, and indulged in playing cards to kill time. After a few months, though, he cheered up as a result of the care of his family and the persuasion of his neighbours. A neighbour persuaded him to learn a Buddhist rite for the dead (there is a local custom whereby when a family member dies, people pay those who practice to hold a religious rite to help release the souls of the dead from purgatory). Jiang agreed to learn with him. After all, he could use this to get a job and earn some money. Why not!?

Holding Buddhist rites for the dead has now become his job. He even teams up with his neighbour to rehearse in their spare time. He says he feels much better now. Even though he still has some health problems, for which he has to keep taking pills, and there are sometimes still unsatisfactory things about his life, he has courage to face up to these issues. He is doing his best to improve his life and adjust his attitude.

There is a saying: what we have experienced makes us who we are.


Director biography

Jiang Nengjie is a renowned independent filmmaker, documentarian, and director. He was born in Hunan province in 1985 and was member of the first generation left behind by parents looking for work in cities. In 2009 he established his Mianhuasha Film Studio and produced numerous documentary films featuring the countryside in China. In 2010, he made the documentary film The Road, which was nominated for the 7th China Documentary Film Festival. His most well-known film is Children at a Village School (2014), which is about village children left behind by their parents who go to the cities to work as migrant workers. It won Best Documentary Film in the 3rd Phoenix Documentary Awards. He has produced numerous films since then, including The Ninth Grade (2015), Anti-Japanese War Veteran (2015), Jia Yi (2016), The Sichuan Army Veteran Peng Guochen (2017), Yun Jie (2018), and others. His most recent documentary, Miners, the Horsekeeper and Pneumoconiosis (2019), has been very popular online due to the increasing public attention to health issues after the coronavirus outbreak. He is currently working on Rainbow Cruise, which is a documentary film about the LGBT community in China.