________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 20. . . . June 6, 2003

cover The Chinese Violin. (Talespinners Collection).

Joe Chang (Director). George Johnson (Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2002.
8 min., 21 sec., VHS, $39.95.
Order Number: C9102 001.

Subject Headings:
Chinese-Canada-Juvenile films.
Violin-Juvenile films.
Immigrants-Canada-Juvenile films.

Kindergarten-grade 4 / Ages 5-9.

Review by Denise Weir.

*** /4

Have you ever moved to a new neighbourhood, town or city? Have you ever changed schools? How did it feel? Now, imagine how it feels to move to a new country!

In The Chinese Violin, a girl and her father move from China to Canada. They leave everything and everyone behind except for her father's Chinese violin. Excited by their new move, the girl and her father are prepared to fit into Canadian/Western living. However, the girl's educational experience is hampered by a language barrier and bullying. Similar barriers prohibit the father from acquiring employment. The family turns to playing the violin on the street corner for sustenance. However, they are robbed, and their violin is broken. Suddenly, they experience Canada as a scary place and long to return to China.

     Eventually, the father finds work washing dishes in a restaurant; the girl finds a friend who is teaching her English, and the robbers are caught. When the father purchases a new violin, there seems to be renewed hope in this story. The girl eventually learns how to play the violin and performs at a recital to the applause of the crowd.

     Based on Madeleine Thien's book by the same title, this vignette vividly portrays the cultural differences between the girl's country of origin and Canada. The music of the chinese violin, which is played throughout the video, serves to tie the past with the present and the future. The Chinese violin is their only physical tie to the past and their former home, family and friends. When the chinese violin is destroyed, the family's roots seem to be severed, and they begin to question why they ever came to such a different country. However, the Chinese violin's music resumes as the family's circumstances improve. Hope, security, and peacefulness seem to be symbolized in the instrument. Moreover, the calm, peaceful sound of the violin seems to communicate the flowing of love from the past home to the present.

     As there is little conversation accompanying this story, the viewer can "experience" the isolation of individuals who are struggling with a new language. Auditory messages are conveyed through a narrator who could be playing the role of an "interpreter." However, there are some scenes where viewers have to interpret for themselves the actions, facial expressions, and "thought balloon images" of the characters.

     Guided discussion suggestions for this video are included in the packaging. Themes on public performances, types of musical instruments, and robbery/extortion are suggested. It would also be a very good video to provide for classes or individuals that are dealing with bullying. In general, this was a very well produced video. There was some confusion on the child's gender. The reviewer was surprised to learn at the end of the story that the child was a girl, as the attire seemed to suggest that the individual was a male. This confusion may have been deliberately introduced into the video to signify the differences and confusions that arise between two very different cultures. In this way, viewers learn that they have made a cultural misinterpretation.


Denise Weir is a consultant with Manitoba Culture, Heritage and Tourism, Public Library Services.


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