China Blue


Year: 2005

Type: Documentary film (87 minutes, in Mandarin and English with English subtitles)

Director & Producer: Micha X. Peled

Production Company: Teddy Bear Films

Availability: on DVD (£10.99 on, US$16.19 from, US$295 from Bullfrog Films, with reduced rates for activist & grassroots groups, & price on enquiry from Teddy Bear Films), online trailers and clips (on YouTube here, here & here)

Page reference: Spicer, S., Horgan, A., Rastall, M., Mayers, J., Frost, A., & Donald, R. (2012) China Blue. ( last accessed <insert date here>)



China Blue is an intense, personal, behind-closed-doors investigation into China's denim industry (Source: Agnew 2006 p.4).

It follows a pair of blue jeans from manufacture to sale and focuses on the lives of teenage girls that make the clothes we wear (Source: Anon 2007, p.F4).

The film is a unflinching indictment of globalization and the unfettered consumerism that fuels it. The cheap clothes we wear come at a high price, for real people (Source: Staff Report 2007 np link).

China Blue (Peled 2005) exposed American and European design companies in their  unscrupulous push for lower prices in the production of blue jeans in China; the oppressed and  over-worked young women comprise the victims of a ‘free market’ economy and ‘quick response’ system (Source: Heaven 2009 p.4 link).

Peled’s film is not a bleeding-heart tract on globalization and capitalism. It is a layered portrait of sweatshops (Source: Johnsen 2007 np link).

CHINA BLUE, a fascinating investigation of the denim industry in China that puts a very human face on globalization. [Director Micha X.] Peled introduces us to both the staff and the boss at the Lifeng Clothes Co. Ltd. where workers take the wage cuts so name brands can buy cheap (Source: Whyte 2005 np link).

[Lifeng’s] biggest customer is Wal-Mart (Source: Pedersen 2008 p.11).

China Blue takes us inside a blue-jeans factory, where two teenage girls, Jasmine and Orchid, are trying to survive the harsh working environment. Their lives intersect that of the film’s other protagonist and factory owner, Mr. Lam. Providing perspectives from both the top and bottom levels of the factory’s hierarchy, this film brings complex issues of globalization to the human level (Source: Films Transit nd np link).

The next time you try on jeans and notice a few stray threads, you won't be so quick to judge the workmanship if you see the documentary ‘China Blue.’  After all, working seven days a week - sometimes through the night or, at the least, into the wee hours - can affect your ability to keep your eyes open, let alone spotting every loose thread or piece of lint lodged inside the denim pants. ‘China Blue’ ... documents life for a couple of rural girls who have left their families for factories in South China. Conditions are like something out of America's dark, distant past, with 12 girls sharing a single dorm room and laundering their clothes in plastic buckets (if they want hot water, they have to pay for it) and the company providing their meals and deducting the cost from their meager pay, which takes months to collect. When faced with big orders and tight deadlines, exhausted workers fall asleep at their sewing machines or against a mound of jeans destined for taller, heavier, wealthier wearers. The company counts on the girls from the rural provinces being docile and compliant as they earn $60 or so a month (Source: Vancheri 2007 np link).

Your jeans will never fit quite as comfortably again after you've seen this small, quietly angry and finally heartrending documentary by the man responsible for the anti-WalMart Store Wars. Unlike the earlier film, this has no single, multinational corporate villain to hiss at. Instead it implicates the whole interlocking system of global "free trade" by which the affluent in the West can get good value out of the labour of Third World poor, while middle men get rich. The poor in this case are the millions who pour into the southern Chinese city of Shaxi looking for work in the garment factories. Many are like 15-year-old Jasmine, the film's engaging main character - naive, fragile, vulnerable, and so keen on the chance to make some money that they are easy prey for the sweatshop operators. The film takes us into the lives of Jasmine and her mates, who make a few cents an hour working as long as 20 hours a day while living in cheerless dormitories. What little they do earn is routinely withheld to guarantee loyalty (Source: Calder 2006, np link).

The heart and soul of ... [the film] is 16-year-old Jasmine, a farmer's daughter who displays a talent for writing, faithfully keeping a diary and dreaming of being a martial arts princess. Instead, she works at the Lifeng factory in Shuxi, China, working 17-hour days and making 6 cents an hour. She is one of 130 million Chinese who have a factory job (Source: Johnsen 2007 np link).

Over 130 million Chinese peasants, mostly young women, have left their villages in search of jobs in the globalized economy.  They comprise the world’s largest pool of cheap labor, and are the main producers of clothes and other commodities for Western consumers. As the documentary unfolds the horrible working conditions, the cramped 12 person dormitory living conditions, the manipulation of the workers relative to how much and when they are paid (and fined for being late or falling asleep) are shocking to a Western audience (Source: Heaven 2009 p. 11-12 link).

You get to see everything from the working environment, the employee meals, their sleeping flats, how they live, how they work, how the management works, how they interact with their personnel, how people get paid (or not) etc. Working shifts up to 20 hours, a maximum of 2 toilet breaks, 1 lunch/dinner break and a salary of only $6ct per hour seem unreal compared to our western standards but unfortunately they aren’t …Although the film crew had a hard time filming this entire documentary due to intervention of the Chinese police and the country’s tight control over foreign media they succeeded in making it. This movie is a real eye-opener for the entire western world, allowing everyone to know how that €100 pants we’re made and what the factory-personnel sees from that large sum of money (Source: godyvdb 2010 p.2 link).

You work 14 hours or more a day and when you slump off home, it's to a factory dormitory you share with 11 others. You're not sure what your hourly rate of pay is or when you'll see the money. If you get sick or make a mistake or slip out to do chores, your wages are docked. The food at the factory canteen is deducted from your pay and you eat it in the cramped dormitory because the canteen doesn't have chairs. They charge you for a bucket of warm water for washing. That's not a Victorian workhouse scenario, but daily life for millions of young Chinese workers, migrants from poor rural areas who come to the cities in search of work. They may well be making the jeans you're wearing (Source: Boyd 2006, p.5).

Jasmine, the second daughter in a society that prefers male offspring and where families are supposed to have only one child, goes to work to help support her older sister's schooling … Living in cramped dormitories under strict conditions with 11 other girls, Jasmine works long hours cutting loose threads from the jeans. She is paid about 6 cents per hour. The jeans sell for about $4 wholesale, $1 of which goes for labor.  Lam nets a profit of 20 cents per pair, or $40,000 selling about 200,000 pairs a month. The factory employs about 750 workers (Source: Clark 2007 p.10).

"We must be fast and can't miss any of the loose threads," Jasmine says. "I need to brush the lint from the inside and out. Need to look in all pockets for pebbles. In one hour, I can make about half a yuan [about 6 cents U.S.]" (Source: Walmark 2007 p.R63).

She's put to work as a thread-cutter, picking the stray threads and lint from the finished jeans before they're shipped off. She's paid by the piece, though nobody knows exactly what the fluctuating pay rate is. A note on the blackboard informs workers when there is overtime to be done -- the factory just keeps on working through the night when there are orders to fill. She's a bright spark, but the film shows her being worn down by the relentlessness of the work and the petty tyrannies of the factory floor. When payday finally rolls around, several weeks on, she misses out. It turns out her pay has been withheld because, as a new worker, she has to prove she's going to stick around. The film shows up the factory owner, Mr Lam, with his black Mercedes and comfortable lifestyle, but he's not the main target. In a crucial scene, Peled cameras sit in on the negotiations between the factory boss and a British buyer, and show how the buyer drives down the price. To retain the contract at that price, Mr Lam squeezes the workers even harder. "They don't have a salary, they don't have a contract, he pays them by the piece and he can just reduce that any time. This is a system that has been created, and is driven, by the multinational corporations," Peled says (Source: Boyd 2006, p.5).

Most workers start as youths like 15-year-old Jasmine, who's never traveled before and didn't want to leave home. But she feels duty-bound to take advantage of the opportunity to send wages home, even if she'll now only be able to visit her family every couple of years or so. Entering at the bottom of the totem pole as an excess-thread cutter, Jasmine makes about 6 cents an hour, and is charged by the factory for room and board. She also has to work shifts that can stretch to 20 hours. Weeks pass before she gets a glimpse of the city - months before she gets her first paycheck, between the factory's cashflow-strapped payroll delays (which at one point prompt a brief workers' strike) and the custom of withholding initial payout as insurance a worker won't jump ship. Mr. Lam's thinks himself a relaxed manager, proud of his operation and open about letting the filmmakers shoot as they will. But when deadlines approach and employees complain about endless hours or ever-postponed pay, his real attitudes leak out: They're "uneducated, low-caliber" types sans work ethics, lazy and devious. Of course, after a 20-hour shift with no paycheck in sight, what kind of employee can you expect? In Lam's defense, it's noted that independent worker-rights inspectors consider this factory's conditions better than many, and that the buyers for Western brands and store chains negotiate manufacturers like Lam down to the half-penny - the real profits are made, and kept, in first-world countries (Source: Harvey 2005, p.25).

[China Blue] is commendable in its fair depiction of the problems faced by the textile industry. Even Mr. Lam, the factory owner who is less than sympathetic to the plight of his employees, is given a fair shake. The only finger-pointing done is at the international retailers of name brands who demand low wholesale prices that drive down the worker's pay (Source: White 2007 np link).

... even the bosses are also caught up in a cycle of exploitation that ends ultimately with the foreign buyers insisting on ludicrously low prices. Funny, moving and intelligent: the film shows you how we can get such unbelievable deals and why China has become the workshop of the world (Source: nickhornby 2006 p.3 link).

In a key scene, an English buyer bargains denim suits down to a few dollars a unit - suits that he can sell for 30 times the price (Source: Calder 2006 np link).

International retailer Wal-Mart orders a big shipment, forcing Jasmine and her friends to work around the clock - to the point where they snap and decide to go on strike. In one scene, it's Chinese New Year and Jasmine is refused leave to go home (Source: Philippidou 2006, p.37).

The scene that sticks in my mind, and brings tears to my eyes just remembering it, is 16-yr old Jasmine and a goldfish. She has worked a 20hr shift, her pay is late, she won't be able to use the three days off a year she gets to visit her family because she can't afford the train fare. If she falls asleep on the job she can get fined two days' wages. The girls joke about staying awake and sometimes use clothes pegs to hold their eyes open. They feel lucky to have the job. Left alone at New Year, Jasmine gazes at this goldfish, the only thing in her world onto which she can project her pent up feelings of love and frustration, and says, "You are so lucky, you can sleep any time." Even sleep, the most basic of pleasures we take for granted, is mostly denied her (Source: Chris_Docker 2006 p.1 link).

’China Blue’ does more than picture scenes of exhausted workers drooping over their sewing machines, keeping their eyelids open with clothes pegs. It also manages to weave a love story into the plot and portray a tale of survival in the urban jungle (Source: Philippidou 2006, p.37).

Bleakly Dickensian as all this sounds, much of “China Blue” is charming, because its subjects are. Finding amusement in the few spare moments they can, sweet-natured Jasmine and her more citified zipper-installer friend Orchid (who's found time for a boyfriend) are disarmingly natural on camera. Their welfare becomes of real concern to the viewer as the exhaustion and ill-health wrought by brutal work stints grow apparent (Source: Harvey 2005, p.25).

Although they are homesick and miss their families, it is hard for the girls to save the money to go home, a train trip of two days and two nights at the cost of approximately one month’s wages. In the film, Orchid succeeds in making the journey back to her village to introduce her boyfriend and celebrate her 20th birthday. Through this, we get a glimpse into the rural life and family ties that these girls left behind (Source: Pedersen 2008 p.11).

’China Blue’ is more than an exercise in cinematic activism. Patiently following Jasmine - who uses precious sleep time to write stories about a female superhero - and several lively co-workers as they fight for their wages and plan visits to their home villages, the film develops a natural dramatic structure that's profoundly affecting (Source: Catsoulis 2007 np link).

Director Micha X. Peled calls into question the whole system of global free trade and points at the responsibility retailers and ourselves – the consumer – all share. In the words of Jasmine: “Who are the fat, tall people who buy these jeans we make?”  (Source: Nixon 2006 np link).

It’s a sobering assessment, rescued from being entirely depressing by the sunny, matter-of-fact disposition of Jasmine and her mates. But when she talks to the owner of a pair of jeans she has worked on, it is impossible not to be touched. And when she asks, “Who are the fat, tall people who buy these jeans we make?” it is impossible not to feel implicated (Source: Calder 2006 np link).

At the end of the film [Jasmine] leaves a letter addressed to one such person in the pocket of a pair of jeans. The film simulates the journey of this letter from the boxes in the port, to the ships that transport them, and finally to the up-scale store that stocks the jeans, implying the complicity of Western consumers in the exploitative dynamics of transnational capital (Source: Moll 2007 p.163-4).

Elsewhere in this illuminating film, independent investigations into ethical standards are exposed as a sham, with workers told what to say to inspectors (Source: Agnew 2006 p.4).

Director Micha Peled followed the girls for a few months.Then, according to the end titles, she and her crew were booted out of the factory and denied access to Jasmine, Orchid and the rest of the workers. By then, however, Peled had compiled a damning amount of evidence ranging from the intimate connection with Jasmine and her factory to the testimony of workers fired from other factories for, among other things, becoming pregnant and being labor organizers and monitors sent in to to make sure that the factories follow labor law. The factories falsify documents, including hiring guards to punch the clock for workers still on the job, and none pays the proscribed minimum wage. They say they couldn't compete in the global market if they paid a living wage (Source: Wolgamott 2007 p.6).

The film includes ... interviews with a labor activist and with a member of a Chinese institute, which investigated more than 100 factories. We learn that working conditions at Mr. Lam’s factory are better than at most, which helps explain Lam’s pride and openness. The activist’s image is distorted and his identity kept secret, but it clearly remains risky for him to go on-camera ... On-line supplementary materials to the film indicate that this is a person who helped the crew gain access to the factory, an engineer who also provided them with management memos. One such memo instructed managers to practice their workers in responses to questions during Wal-Mart inspections, about which they knew everything in advance. If they were to tell the truth about labor conditions, the workers were warned, “the factory would lose its contract and they would lose their jobs” (Independent Lens, “The Making of China Blue;”, a lesson that the bargaining sessions with western clients confirmed (Source: Pedersen 2008 p.12).

[China Blue is an] especially valuable contributor to the now generous body of films exposing the pernicious nature of globalization: the combined effect of globalization and a lack of, or lax, child labor laws; the tunnel-visioned contempt for workers of profit-prone bosses (Source: Grunes 2007 np link).

Inspiration / Process / Technique / Methodology

The producer and director of "Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town" is returning to give Ashland residents a sneak peek at his latest project - a documentary about Chinese sweatshop workers. ... The San Francisco-based filmmaker, who documented the town's bitter Wal-Mart battle five years ago, said he has maintained a connection with residents there. "It seemed only fair, after Ashland has given me so much that enabled me to make my previous film, that I can do something for Ashland," Peled said. ... Peled spent three years clandestinely filming “China Blue”,  telling the story of a 16-year-old girl who endures long hours and scant wages working in a blue-jean factory in Shaxi, China. The film was inspired by the Ashland Wal-Mart project, Peled said. "When we created the Web site for 'Store Wars' on, we wanted to have a section on there that shows where Wal-Mart gets its cheap goods from, and we took China as an example" (Source: Martin 2007 p.B2).

"I am not singling out China - it is more of an example. People shouldn't think that if their clothes are made in Thailand or Vietnam it's any better. It's being called by economists 'The race to the bottom.'" (Source: Peled in Blais 2007 np link).

Peled chose to shoot his film in China because it is the world’s largest producer of consumer goods. Filming in China was not easy, and the crew encountered many obstacles. Peled eschewed the government-required filming permit - which would both allow and require an official to oversee production (and censor whatever did not meet government approval). Filming was clandestine, and equipment was smuggled onto location. The crew ended up being arrested, the film was confiscated, and production was delayed for eight months, due to a SARS outbreak (Source: Cadman 2007 np link).

What I set out to do was to make a film about just a couple of these girls so that they became real people. These girls could have been a next-door neighbor or a daughter. Then it's no longer acceptable that they are treated this way. Then people feel guilty and start wanting things to change (Source: Peled in Staff Report 2007 np link).

Peled didn't aim to make a polemic; he wanted to tell stories. "I sent my associate producer to spend time to get to know workers before we all got there to film," he says. "She ... would sneak to the office and send me capsule portraits of the girls she met. I told her: Send me a good love story. I knew that despite all the misery and the exploitation conditions, there were young people living together, there must be a love story" (Source: Harmanci 2007 np link).

This film includes more direction than ethnographic films usually do (Source: Pedersen 2008 p.12).

[China Blue is] not a confrontational, Michael Moore-style rant. Peled takes a more narrative approach, shadowing a young worker, Jasmine, and some of her workmates at a garment factory and letting the hardship of their lives gradually reveal itself. Also in the frame is the boss, Mr Lam, who is extremely proud of his factory and, to this day, has no idea he might be perceived in a negative light. "He did not feel he had anything to hide and in his universe, his factory is one of the better ones. People find the film more interesting and nuanced because I didn't make him out to be a monster." The film was made without the permission of the Chinese authorities and Peled spent a lot of time looking for a factory owner who was prepared to let his cameras in knowing that. He always knew he wanted to have open access rather than do an expose-style film using a hidden camera. That's because he was interested in getting to know the characters and giving it more of a feature film feel. "I wanted the protagonist to be a girl who had just arrived on her first day so she's naive and excited and we, the audience, will find out, along with her, how tough the conditions are." He also thought he could draw in a wider audience by making it character-centred - "who wants to sit through a film about sweat shops?" (Source: Boyd 2006, p.5).

What startled me most about Micha X. Peled documentary ... is the director himself. The Chinese are very private people, especially if they think you’ll be portraying them in a negative way. Just getting into the factory was an accomplishment, let alone Peled’s ability to make so many people talk. The factory in Peled’s film was probably one of China’s finest, which is sad on many levels (Source: chellis7 2007 np link).

He knew he wouldn't be able to make a film on Chinese sweat shops under the steely glare of the Chinese Communist Party, and so he found a factory owner stupid enough to think he would be filming a promotional factory flick (Source: Philippidou 2006, p.37)

[Peled:] Getting access was definitely the biggest obstacle we faced. We were turned down by many factories that realized it’s against their interest to let us film. Finally we were introduced to Mr. Lam through a business associate of his with whom I spent the previous night clubbing until all hours. That was the way of bonding. We came across a man who was very proud of his factory because it’s relatively new and one of the better ones around … So to begin with [Mr. Lam] didn’t think the request to film was in any way threatening to him. In addition, I told him that the film was about him; that I was interested in making a film about the first generation of Chinese entrepreneurs who are transforming China into a free market economy and creating jobs. I told him that we were at the research stage and that we were filming in six different factories and that we couldn’t even promise him his factory would be chosen. So, based on that he allowed us the kind of access that I wanted which was complete, 24/7 access to all parts of the factory without anybody from management following us … [Schieron:] China is not an easy place to shoot. I understand you had to smuggle your camera, in pieces, into the country, footage was confiscated, and authorities blocked your access. ... [Peled:] Well that makes it more interesting doesn’t it? I could have made it a lot easier on myself if I went to film in Mexico or Central America. You certainly can find that story very near to here in countries that are not totalitarian or in places where I speak the language or where travel is only a few hours away. But the “Made in China” Label has become the most well known logo in the world, so I couldn’t think of a better place to tell this story. Also, I think that we should all become interested in what’s going on in China. I think we tend to find China very mysterious and difficult to understand because their culture is so different from ours but they’re becoming a major world power and for that reason alone I think we should all try to understand them better (Source: Peled in Jcurcio 2007 np link).

Only with the end credits do we see how much harassment the filmmakers had from the authorities. Amnesty explained that a major crime in China is 'splittism,' which means anything that might be divisive of Chinese philosophy (and also explains why the peace-loving Falun Gong are targetted). Next time you put your made-in-China denims on, pause to remember the backbreaking toil that went into them (Source: Chris_Docker 2006 p.1 link).

China Blue also gives rise to ethical discussion surrounding the process of its own production. As it openly advertises, it is clandestinely shot. In the supplementary on-line materials, Peled talks about the restrictiveness of the Chinese government’s permit process and how he opted not to adhere to it, elaborating how he and his crew smuggled in their equipment. He also describes their encounters with the law, which led to confiscation of tapes, interrogations and near arrests, trickiest on the occasions when they tried to film in rural areas. At issue is also the extent of filmmakers’ responsibilities to their subjects and, in this case, whether consequences might have ensued for participants in the film. Labor organizers who helped the crew gain access already have chosen to live with certain risks. As Peled writes, “the people we contacted (through China Labor Watch) must keep their activities completely underground, through a loose and clandestine network around the country. If caught they face either a prison term or a labor re-education camp, where the authorities send people without access to trial or any due process of law” (Indepen-dent Lens, “The Making of China Blue;” But what about the young women who were instructed by the unsuspecting factory owner to cooperate with the filmmakers? We are left with no convincing assurance that they have not suffered con- sequences from their participation in the film (Source: Pedersen 2008 p.12).

Q: Do you worry that documentaries like this can wind up preaching to the choir? Is ‘China Blue’ going to play in the red states? [Peled]: I don't think my films preach to the choir. I am very conscious of that when I conceptualize my films. Before I started making it, I looked to see what else has been made on the topic. I saw a bunch of videos that were made on sweatshops. They were all organizing tools for people who were already activists. My film is clearly not that kind of film. I try to tell stories to the general public. The film is not going to play in places where people don't have an interest in documentaries and foreign films. Unfortunately, that has become a stigma for films. Just because they have subtitles people say they don't want to see them. I've seen people come to see it who were maybe on a class assignment for high school, kids. I've seen them be moved and maybe surprised to be moved. This film is about real people with real emotions. That is what people respond to the most (Source: Staff Report 2007 np link).

Discussion / Responses

A film like China Blue can burst through the typical abstract depiction of this problem in order to confront its human dimension. It’s a shocking experience (Source: Rowin 2007 np link).

There are no easy answers to the problems highlighted in this documentary and none offered. Maybe it's more important that we simply witness what goes on in this so-called global economy of ours (Source: Agnew 2006 p.4).

While sweatshop scandals have rocked the increasingly international garment industry for years, Micha Peled’s docu “China Blue” makes a stronger case against worker exploitation than any news item could, simply by showing the everyday lives of some Mainland China factory girls. That the principal figures are, not at all atypically, just teenagers - hopeful, fun-loving, energetic, nave - alleviates and underlines the depressing nature of lifestyles that by most Western standards would be considered harsh, even inhumane (Source: Harvey 2005, p.25).

But [Peled] is not after cheap villains and plainly shows how the factory owners are not really bad men. Despite the sign on the wall that says, "Work hard today or look hard for work tomorrow", Jasmine's boss, Mr Lam, a one-time policeman, is seen as a cog in a machine (Source: Calder 2006 np link).

But wait, we are responsible for what in china happens, too. The higher our consumption or demand for jeans or whatever, the higher the productivity. But a view in the previous 200 yrs or so tell us the same changes in the world. The european Industrial revolution let the people on the countryside streams into the city, where the rich industrialists were waiting for them. … Today, It’s almost the same. Just in other dimensions. Sorry for my bad english^^ (Source: senuti1 2011 np link).

Conditions are like they were back in Victorian Britain, how long before Chinese workers get organised and challenge the system? It could be decades, but it will happen. How ironic that now is the time when they could use a Communist revolution. I’m probably being naive to hope that change can come peacefully, but the way that the workers are viewed and treated makes that seem unlikely. Re-education camp anyone? (Source: trifelgeputinage 2011 np link).

I came away from this film thinking that complaining about “sweatshop” conditions in Chinese factories is simplistic. That’s not what I thought before seeing this film (Source: twoutopias 2006 p.2 link).

This film changed my life.  I am by no means a person who does not keep up with the world and its issues, and I am still in shock by my ignorance of the working conditions in third world countries … this movie did not even reflect the worst and I am disgusted by the inhumanity that backs these factories. Young, innocent women being taking advantage of because they don’t know better.  There is absolutely no excuse for this, and somebody needs to put a stop to it. Because the corporations profit from this cheap labor, it is our responsibility, as consumers, to speak up. Afterall, corporations are driven by money, and the money relies on the consumer’s purchases (Source: ssilanee 2007 p.1 link).

Although the movie was depressing, it’s empowering to know that as consumers we have the power to make a difference just in choosing which products to buy (Source: Mcrae 2007 np link).

Now before you get up in arms and want to boycott Chinese goods, check out the reality. It has been widely documented that in countries where they put the squeeze on factories to follow human rights, buyers simply go elsewhere, the original factories close, and kids like Jasmine, some as young as thirteen, turn to begging and prostitution. Same happens if Western companies like Nike put effective pressure on the third world factories to satisfy customers that their goods have been made to 'ethical standards.' So what happens - and what we see in the film - is a hypocritical game-play in which buyers and sellers are complicit. Workers are rehearsed on what to say when inspectors come, security guards make duplicate clock cards to show the workers did normal shifts with proper breaks, and everyone goes away 'happy'. Watching the charade, we feel a mounting sense of frustration. Jasmine also knows there is nothing that can be done. Her best 'hope' is that the person wearing the denim jeans she has worked all night to make really appreciates what has gone into them, and her feeling is not of bitterness, but of love, just hoping someone, somewhere, cares - that's all. She earns the equivalent of six cents an hour. That's before deductions for food and board. Jasmine is, by Chinese worker standards, quite lucky. An Amnesty International representative, in the Q & A after the screening I went to, explained that at any one time there are several million Chinese undergoing 're-education through labour' which is a punishment handed out fairly lightly and means the government has a workforce at zero labour cost if push comes to shove. One of Jasmine's fellow workers has managed to climb the ladder to a position where she gets a few hours off in the evening. She uses it to wait for her boyfriend in a neighbouring factory. He is under the same regime of non-voluntary overtime and often doesn't show, but she is content. "It's hard to find someone to love who treats you right," she says. From a global point of view, China is simply going through what the West did years ago. Our Industrial Revolution only involved one third of the world's population: the rest are now catching up, and things will never be the same. Trying to halt China's growth (through protectionist measures) would be a disaster not only for the Chinese workers but it would close off a powerful source of future global prosperity. ... Next time you put your made-in-China denims on, pause to remember the backbreaking toil that went into them (Source: Chris_Docker 2006 p.1 link).

Its not actually slavery, in theory, working under these bad condition with such low wage is still better than growing worthless crops in china (Source: gundamnduke0 2011 np link).

Working is better then not working for these people. These jobs are better then their other option.. which is nothing (Source: M4xwell7 2011 np link).

They are not slaves, they can leave any time they want (Source: MrHillDo 2011 np link).

In spite of fairly widespread consumer knowledge that much of the apparel available in retail establishments is made abroad under poor conditions, it appears that the ‘value’ of humanity is rarely factored into the ‘price’ of the apparel. Consumers continue to want high-quality goods for low prices (Source: Heaven 2009 p.17 link).

The workers of China Blue are indentured servants. The life they lead is defined by their lack of freedom and their confinement to constant labor … They tell us of their dreams, fears, and what makes them anxious. We live their poverty with them and experience what it is to be consumed by piles of jeans twice as large as their bodies (Source: Matt 2007 np link).

I saw the last half hour of this special on Jasmine and her friends about this "lack there of" labor enforcement. I appreciated my day more because of her. Because of them. Yes, " China Blue" changed my attitude twords shopping for clothes but I do not feel that's the main issue here. I could stop buying denim jeans, (I havent even purchased a pair in over a year), but as the circle follows, that means the company recieves no orders. Therefore no work, and so on to no money for even the hardest of workers (and youngest), such as our now dear Jasmine" I say to Jasmine, you work hard but know, no one enjoys hard labor. Especially at the cruel extremes you are now, most likely, used to. But enjoy the experience as much as possible. Friends and family seem the best answer. Experience only makes you stronger. If I could slip a note into the pocket of a pair jeans that perhaps Jasmine of a friend of hers would find I would have to say, Im a world away and I hear you loud and clear. Message recieved my dear. I promise to try for better. Thank You Jasmine for opening my eyes a little more  (Source: jamie rank 2007 p.1 link).

What I loved most about this movie was the diversity and balance of its coverage - from the issues of globalization, labor laws, and the impacts of rampant consumerism to the colors and flavors of Chinese culture, family issues, relationships, and the ups and downs of life. This is a very rare glimpse into the lives of young women working in a jeans making factory. The filmmaker does an excellent job conveying their exhaustion and the pressure to keep up with production. The viewer can feel their pain. Through it, one sees the need to improve labor conditions not only in China, but in other parts of the world where such demands on workers are unfair and inhumane. It definitely makes one think about where their jeans came from, and where we’re going in a world that allows such wonderful young women to work under such horrible circumstances (Source: sadonovan 2006 p.2 link).

'What makes this film special, is that you get to see why people want to work in these factories. Clearly [Jasmine] thought her life was better in the factory, than at home,' says Labour Behind the Label's Martin Hearson. 'Most of us have this abstract notion of sweat shops in our mind. But this film shows the workers as humans' (Source: Philippidou 2006, p.37).

Back at the factory, we experience also the girls’ lighter moments in the dormitories, playing music and laughing as Orchid dances and models for them. It is not that this film promotes clichés of the “look how joyous they are in spite of all their hardships” variety. Rather, it exposes such an attitude for the self-delusion that it harbors when we hear a woman on a visiting delegation from Canada determined to believe that these workers “are happy” after all (Source: Pedersen 2008 p.11).

Little 16-year-old Jasmine leaves her idyllic village in the country to stitch jeans in one of China's new capitalist factories. When the order books are full she works 15-hour days seven days a week - sometimes more - for the equivalent of six cents an hour. Too bad Micha Peled’s film doesn't tell us what six cents buys in China. Yes, it's scandalous that western retailers make huge profits from cheap imported goods. Yes it's deplorable that the supposedly Communist authorities prohibit unions and strikes. But in its own way this is deeply complacent picture - in fact it plays like a liberal version of a 1950s propaganda film. Despite enviable around the clock access to the factory workers, Peled has evidently staged scenes (most of the dialogue sounds suspiciously contrived); he fails to connect with the most interesting character, the factory owner; sentimentalizes Jasmine as if she were some Dickensian waif; and repeatedly shirks the tough questions about global economic development which might have told us something we don't already know (Source: Monk & Charity 2005, p.C3).

Peled’s film makes me sick. It’s fake, and he talks too much about himself getting “kicked out of China” and “smuggling a camera inside the factory.” Blah, blah, blah. The film is about as contrived as a Hollywood love story (Source: Lichman 2007 np link).

Initially, when I saw China Blue, I was impressed with the filmmaker’s access to the factory and the young girls who worked there. I was terribly moved by the plight of these young women and I still am but for a very different reason. When I had the chance to meet with the director, Micha Peled, at this year’s INPUT, an int’l public TV conference, in Lugano, where he showcased China Blue, I learned that he staged many of the scenes and wrote the script for the subtitles. In fact, I understand there are subtle nuances with some of the Chinese spoken by the character, Jasmine, and if you listen very carefully, at times, the voices are also slightly different. Lastly, I learned that the girls were paid a pittance, not for their time, but to act out their stories. That is why if you inquire about the girls’ whereabouts in this day, the answer is that contact was lost with them. How do I know all of this? Well, the filmmaker was quite proud and he bragged of his deception. If anything, I would be interested in the expose of this documentary and maybe this director’s previous films - that is where the true story lies - no pun intended (Source: Gordon 2007 p.1 link).

I am surprised that a “documentary” like China Blue can pass as a documentary and actually get funding (and then play on PBS). It is obvious that so many scenes in this fabricated and set up film are contrived, forged, and faked. The filmmaker Micha Peled ought to feel ridicule for telling the characters what to do and what to say. Furthermore, I watched a previous cut of this film a few years ago at Columbia University. What I noticed is that the story is the same, but one character is different: Jasmine has replaced a previous character, yet the script and narration is the same. What this means is that Peled extracted the dialogue from the original character (who was fired from the factory and he therefore lost his main subject), but imposed her dialogue on the new character named Jasmine. If Peled wanted to convey his ideological point of view, then he should have made a fictional film (and in many ways he did). His film lowers the standards of documentary film and also puts China’s unfair labor abuses into a positive light because no one will trust him or his film. Therefore his film is dangerous to workers and activists who are trying everyday to organize. Instead, Peled paints a fake portrait. The editing is also contrived and made to seem like a strike happens. His film has so many flaws that I’m surprised none of the festival organizers have seen through it’s obvious fabricated scenes. Don’t trust this film, but still know that workers are exploited. A better title for this film is Contrived in China. Good luck, Peled, with your reputation as a documentary filmmaker (Source: Jackson 2006 p.2 link).

To shoot inside the Lifeng factory, owned by a former policeman who entered the workforce himself at 15 with a phony ID, director Micha X. Peled lied about the nature of his movie, claiming it was about entrepreneurship rather than exploitation. He shot without the necessary permits with a camera he smuggled into China. When police confiscated tapes documenting the life of the original focus, a girl named Little Fish, Peled started over again with a new teen, named Jasmine. He re-enacted some incidents that had happened to Little Fish and cobbled together some footage that makes it appear as if he tracked her from the moment she left her village (Vancheri 2007 np link).

Viewers’ logic supposing a fake documentary is flawed. If the director wanted to stage a fake documentary, he could have done it in a few days or weeks. With virtually 4 FULL YEARS involved in the different stages of the filming and editing of this movie, the director and his assistant producer created what is close to one of the most perfect documentaries, and truest ever made (Source: Bill 2006 p.3 link).

We by now recognize that even “ethnographic” characters are “cast” according to how compelling they are as subjects, and Peled obviously was very conscious in his casting of Jasmine and Orchid. He did a good job, and they are integral to the film’s appeal. The film is also engagingly structured, developing, as many of the most successful ethnographic films do, what comes across as a natural dramatic structure. Peled, however, has been more heavy-handed than would anthropologists shooting direct cinema, be- cause he also directed and re-enacted scenes. So how accurate a representation of reality is this? Is Peled transparent enough to allow his viewers to judge? These are questions to pursue in classroom discussion. I would venture that most who think about the practices of documentary and ethnographic film now accept that re-enacted scenes can hold truths too, and I think much is transparent in China Blue. It is clearly a re-enactment when Jasmine reflects back on her departure from home. This, I would say, is appropriate use of the medium. When we hear Lam’s words about “low caliber people” as we see him walk the factory floor, this is clearly a voice over and there is no question that he made the utterances at a different time. I would be interested to know when and under what circumstances he said these things, but that this information is not made available does not condemn the film to me. Similarly, it is clear that Peled is inserting his point of view when he inter-cuts images from Mrs. Lam’s ritual to benefit the business with scenes from the factory. We might question his interpretation, but, arguably, it is transparent and appropriate use of the medium. We might also question, for example, whether the girls themselves brought up the issue of labor laws or whether this was suggested to them, but their response to the issue is likely theirs. Meanwhile, there has been some talk that Peled scripted subtitles and presented them in the film as translations of subjects’ speech. I cannot assess this claim but, in my opinion - if this were the case - that would cross the line to deception. Whatever you may pick at, it remains that this film holds obvious truth value and provides unique insight. It certainly was not made with the journalistic “hit and run” approach of most non-anthropological documentaries, where a crew comes in with a script for everyone to help realize on a tight schedule. If Peled had not had regard for authenticity, he could have made a film so much more easily than putting in the effort and the years that it took to make this one. In the end, this is a credible film, which successfully humanizes complex issues in a way that gives us something thought provoking with which to think and teach (Source: Pedersen 2008 p.12-13).

Using a mixture of straight interview formats that at times veer off into testimonial and observational techniques, the strength of this film - its brutally realistic portrayal of everyday life at the factory - is ultimately also its weakness. Director Micha Peled hammers the point home all too well, employing inter-titles to give viewers certain facts about globalization and China in a way that positions the viewer ultimately as a passive, if nonetheless complicit, object of instruction rather than a participant in the filmic experience. Escape from such didactic modes only comes in the director’s insightful portrayal of Jasmine’s dreams through her diary, which actually structures the film into “entries” (Source: Moll 2007 p.164).

I think globalization is the over-arching theme of our times. We’ve never been in a time that is more prosperous or more impoverished than right now. The differences between rich and poor in the world have never been more dramatic and corporations have never had so much power over our lives as they do now. We’re all told we live in democracies where the important decisions get voted on but in fact many areas of our daily lives are controlled by corporations that are not accountable to anyone – and we are not consulted on the decisions that they make. (Source: Peled in Jcurcio 2007 np link).

Though it’s easy to blame Mr. Lam, with his blind devotion to profits and deadlines, Peled makes us realize that globalization and corporate greed are at the heart of the problem (Source: Cadman 2007 np link).

"It's the international retailers who are driving this system," Peled says. "They demand such prices and such deadlines that it's impossible for factories in the Third World countries to honor their own labor laws” (Source: Polito 2007 np link).

This has no single, multinational corporate villain to hiss at. Instead it implicates the whole interlocking system of global “freetrade” by which the affluent in the West can get good value out of the labour of Third World poor, while middle men get rich (Source: Calder 2006 np link).

Peled notes that factories have no other choice. If they obeyed laws regarding overtime and other working conditions, they'd go out of business (Source: Musetto 2007 link).

It is a "catch 22" situation. If you boycott the clothes made in cheaper global markets in hopes of better conditions for workers, manufacturers will just go to another country. The result? No jobs and no work and thus making a bad situation even worst. Yes, I agree the situation is ugly, but then again in the minds of impoverished migrant workers, its better to have work than no work at all. I think to relieve some of the injustices, perhaps inspections should be done more on a "surprise" basis as oppose to an announced basis (Source: JLO 2009 p.5 link).

Q: What is the alternative to the global economy and cheap labor? [Peled]: Why don't we have a global organization to make these inspections? It's ridiculous that we let these factories police themselves. All these factories are breaking the labor laws, and all these retailers know it. These retailers could eliminate the whole problem in one fell swoop by starting their own factories in China. But they don't want to own a factory in China because they don't want to invest in man and machines. They want to be nimble so that next year they can take their orders to another country where it would be cheaper (Source: Staff Report 2007 np link).

It's that system [Peled] wants to get across to viewers, so they, in turn, think about the implications when they are shopping. He wants people to start to demand more from corporations. "Provide us with some clothes that we don't have to feel guilty wearing. Get an independent organisation involved in inspecting the factories." He says there are organisations available to do the monitoring who are well up with the tricks factory owners play to try to disguise their working conditions. "If you're really serious about inspections, it can be done. It may mean you assign a person to it on a fulltime basis, so they are there every day and know what's going on." China has signed up to international labour standards and these are clearly being violated in many factories. But Peled says consumers will feel helpless if they think they need to wait for the Chinese Government to clean up its factories (Source: Boyd 2006. p.5).

How is it possible that these children are slaves in this century? And how is it that the factory owner can be so completely insensitive to their wretched condition? This is what would happen to all workers the world over without strict laws in place. The rich and powerful lose their humanity because wealth becomes their priority and the only thing they care about. Even having seen this, I have questions: how long do these workers last? How do they end up? (Source: 8journey8 2011 np link)

Discount clothing brands are not the only ones that drive labor costs down. Despite common perceptions, consumers buying higher-priced jeans are not necessarily supporting higher salaries for workers. For example, while you might pay 50 dollars for a pair of jeans from a multinational brand, the cost of manufacturing the jeans in a Chinese factory is around five dollars. The total compensation for the labor of the workers who made the jeans? Often no more than one dollar, shared by the 20-25 people involved in making one pair of jeans. The rest of the money goes towards advertising, store rentals and back to the retail corporation and middle men. Learn what goes on behind the making of your favorite brand of jeans (Source: PBS Independent Lens nd np link)

Appalling insights to the world of cheap labour exploitation in China. The near slavery of the young garment workers shames our own cushy lives and reveals the darkest side of international trade. No one should buy a pair of cheap fashion jeans ever again without knowing what China Blue reveals went into making them for the price. See the film and understand the ruthless modern world. Raise your voice if you can for workers rights in China …  Above all remember that many people have suffered to provide you and me with a bargain (Source: volcfilm 2006 p.3 link).

An idea would be not to get all mad about what’s going wrong in China, in this inhuman country, but look at what’s going wrong in our own country and our own town and our own house and our own minds that makes all this possible in the beginning and where the root cause for such injustice lies: Our fat lives and our ignorance and disinterest, feasting on the suffering of the rest of the world (Source: Werner- Schindling 2006 p.1 link).

Impact / Outcomes

AFTER watching the eye-opening documentary “China Blue”, you're likely to think twice the next time you want to buy a pair of jeans. At the very least, your conscience will bother you knowing that the garments were made at sweatshops in China (Source: Musetto 2007 link).

This movie made me reflect for the first time in my life who are the people making the clothes that I and my family wears. My daughter was so moved that she went home and threw out of her wardrobe everything with a “Made in China” label. Now she wants to write a letter back to Jasmine, the heroine of the movie (Source: tanguero17 2006 p.3 link).

The response to the film has given [Peled] some sense of optimism. "When I see audiences coming out of my film, I see people who want to see change. Some of them will translate that into sending a message to the retailers. Some of those retailers will sooner or later jump on the bandwagon and realise that it could be the trendy new thing - clothes that are sweatshop free" (Source: Boyd 2006, p.5).

It’s a really depressing film to watch and it makes me feel guilty to buy any clothes with “Made in China” on it in the future. But without the trade, Jasmine and her co-workers will make less and working even longer hours in the field as farmers. I feel hopeless and I am torn. Although the film is quite effective, somehow I get the impression that Jasmine is staged for the documentary. After worked for 16 some hours, how could she still have the urge to write her diary under the dim light, while all the others are sleeping? It looks like she is doing that for the camera crews in the dorm room to get a beautiful close-up shot. How come they never interviewed any male worker? It makes me furious when I see the factory owner drives his Mercedes to fancy restaurants to meet foreign customers, while he delays paying the workers after more than a month’s work (Source: YNOTswim 2006 p.1 link).

As a teacher, I think this documentary would work well in enlightening students on the topics of international worker exploitation and the global reach of capitalism. It brings home the ideas that our Western consumer practices actually touch the lives of individual workers in sweat shops around the world. Since the factory workers are primarily teenage girls, a student audience should easily identify with their needs and desires, hopes and dreams, and frustrations and hardships (Source: gilpatric10 2005 p.1 link).

The movie was shown at our school just two Thursdays ago, May 14th, to kick off the Southwest Labor Studies Association’s 35th Annual Conference with this year’s theme revolving around the Labor’s Role at the Grassroots Level. The director, Micha Peled, was there to watch it with us and to discuss it afterwords (Source: macandcheesie 2009 p.1 link).

The power of this experience leaves you repeatedly asking what kind of government would not only allow, but encourage their workers to be brutalized at the expense of an economy lifting factory owners and Communist Party members, but never workers. How can the prohibition on labor unions be viewed as anything other than a complete denial of human rights? Perhaps most importantly, how long can a government survive when major portions of its population live in such unsustainable conditions? (Source: Matt 2007 np link).

I have done some research on what organizations exist that are trying to regulate these working conditions. Unfortunately, it is not easy to have a voice, but I am very interested in getting involved with this issue. Again, it is solely China Blue that is driving me to make a change. If more people would watch this movie, perhaps they would want to take initiative as well (Source: ssilanee 2007 p.1 link).

China Blue has seen 23 countries and inspired activism on an international level (Source: Jcurcio 2007 np link).

After a nationwide online vote, ‘China Blue’ ... has won the PBS/"Independent Lens" Audience Award (Source: Garchik 2007 np link).

(The film is banned in China) (Source: King 2007 np link).

San Francisco filmmaker Micha Peled, whose “China Blue” documentary about working conditions in a Chinese blue jeans factory has been banned in China, was to participate in an electronic Q&A after an underground showing of the movie two days before the Olympics. Peled is barred from visiting China, but this screening was sponsored and organized by Movies that Matter, which puts on the International Human Rights Film Festival. Police showed up at the venue, and 20 minutes after the movie started, there was a power failure in the building. A glitch in “China Power” perhaps, but Peled says this was the only dark building in the neighborhood. A day later, management was ordered not to hold more special screenings, and power was restored. "The frightened staff asked us not to identify the venue in any way,” e-mails Peled (Source: Garchik 2008 np link).

One of the filmmakers involved in the clandestinely shot Chinese sweat-shop documentary, China Blue, is issuing an invitation to the Chinese president Hu Jintao who is in Canada on an official visit, to see a private screening of the film. Song Chen, a Taiwanese-born filmmaker with a U.S. passport, who did sound on the documentary produced by Micha Peled, made the film over four years, while living in a jeans factory dormitory with a group of teenaged girls working in a factory that exports to the United Kingdom and North America. Chen issued an open letter to the Chinese leader, passed on to The Globe and Mail through festival staff, inviting him to see the film and to meet some of the girls who are in the film. Her letter adds: "More importantly, I want to ask for your protection for their safety" because Western media "might assume" the girls had been prosecuted for co-operating with the filmmakers. Two years ago, Chen said, she was interrogated for 24 straight hours during the filmmaking when she was accused of being an American and Taiwanese spy (Source: Anon 2005 np).

Q: Do you think something like "China Blue" can change the way Americans shop on a scale big enough to fundamentally change the sweatshop economy? [Peled]: I don't expect that my little film will change the world, but I do find that it makes people think about things they never thought about before. The people who attended the screenings I went to were ready to take action. If there were somebody there who was selling clothes that were made in the USA, most people in the audience would have gone up and bought some clothes. We don't need everybody in America to buy sweatshop-free clothes. There are segments of our population who can't afford to do that. If only 20 percent of the American public would say, "Give us some clothes we would not be ashamed of. We are willing to pay $2 more," the brands would realize there is a market niche there and they would provide that  (Source: Staff Report 2007 np link).

[Peled] says people assume clothes will cost a lot more if the workers have better pay and conditions but that's not necessarily the case. The workers in his film get about NZ62c per pair of jeans, when the jeans sell for $64NZ. Even doubling that rate of pay would do a lot for the workers and scarcely affect the price to the consumer (Source: Boyd 2006 p.5).

This film hit so hard in so many ways that I'm unable to get it out of my mind. One of the first things I did after viewing it was go online to find companies selling only American-made (or fair-trade/fair-labor manufacture) items, including clothing - but in an hour's search I found only a handful of clothing companies, and none that satisfied my quite modest needs for a small range of all-purpose clothing for women (as opposed to sports/outdoor or specialty items such as imprinted T-shirts). Do such companies exist? Where can I go to purchase clothing honorably, without contributing to a kind of slave trade? I'm willing to pay more even if that means affording fewer things - if I just can find an honorable source (Source: Toni Gould  2007 p.1 link).

One of the big draw cards of this year's [Film Festival-] line-up is Micha X Peled’s antiglobalisation trilogy. ... Peled made the first film in the trilogy, Store Wars, 13 years ago. It dealt with Walmart and the high cost of low prices. He then went to film a clothing factory in China for the second part (China Blue). Peled finally travelled to a village in India where the cotton is grown to supply the factory in China (Bitter Seeds). "At each stage and in these three continents workers and peasants are getting screwed over to keep down the price of production so that consumers can bulk-buy cheap products, which helps Walmart make enormous profits in the process," says [South African Tri Continental Film Festival head Anita] Khanna” (Source: du Toit 2012 np link).

Bay Area filmmaker Micha X. Peled has tackled big-box stores taking over a U.S. small towns "Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town" and brutal labor practices in China ‘China Blue‘, and now completes his globalization trilogy with a heartbreaking look at the plight of farmers in India. They're committing suicide by the thousands as farms are going bankrupt; a young female journalist, Manjusha, whose father killed himself, wants to find out why. Hint: A big American corporation Monsanto, inorganic seed hybrid technology and predatory loan sharks have something to do with it. Filmed beautifully so on location in central rural India (Source: Johnsen 2012 np link).

Sources / Further Reading

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Compiled by Jess Mayers, Alex Horgan, Sam Spicer, Mike Rastall, Rob Donald and Andi Frost, edited by Diana Shifrina & Ian Cook (last updated 9 November 2012). Page created for as part of the ‘Geographies of material culture’ module, Exeter University. Trailer embedded with permission of Teddy Bear Films.