Please Vote for Me caught my eye because I was interested to see what exactly would happen when a Chinese teacher tried to introduce Democracy to the classroom. The film follows a group of 3rd graders in an elementary school in Wuhan to observe the students’ experiment with democracy.
The film starts with the teacher explaining to her rowdy class that democracy means that they will choose their own leader, so for the first time in the history of the school the students will get to choose their own class monitor.
The process they used seems to have been a fairly decent replica of politics at the third grade level. They begin the election cycle with a talent show, which seems to be a decent proxy for giving normal speeches, and then move on to debates. The debate section was a bit too ruthless for me to approve of it for future use; the topic was “the faults of my competitor are…”
The class monitor is an incredibly powerful role in the student hierarchy; they are in charge of behavior and homework, as well as choosing other class leaders. It seems to be training for how to become a gov’t official, although the movie itself does not touch on that topic.
The attempt at democracy has a rocky start, since the students have no say in which students are up for election. This perfectly reflects the idea of “democracy” in China, where the local gov’t chooses an official, and then you can vote for that person.
I think the real value of this film though is the way it dives into the home life of these three children, Cheng Cheng, Luo Lei and Xiaofei.
Cheng Cheng is the perfect example of a little prince, his mother and father look after his every need, even physically helping him get dressed even though he is 8 years old. Cheng Cheng is also the most devious of the three, and throughout the election tries to find ways to trick his classmates into voting for him.
Luo Lei at first seems to be very genuine about wanting to try to win the election on his own. His parents, who both work for the police, are relentless in their efforts to help him, and remind me a bit of Amy Chua’s description of being a Tiger Mother. This is most notable in their efforts to get him to perfect a flute performance.
Xiaofei is the only girl in the election, and is the only student I liked at the end of the movie. She is tormented by the other two, and struggles to find a way to stand up to these bullies. Her mother is a divorcee and complains of not being able to use her connections or free time to help her daughter as much as the other families help their sons.
I highly recommend this film to anyone who has an interest in the future of democracy in China, or wants to have a better understanding of what it is like to grow up in China. I would also recommend this to teachers who want to show their students life in China, as it would provide material for dozens of discussions. It is available for purchase on Amazon, or through Netflix on demand (I think).