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Yang Mingjin’s life as rural projectionist

Updated:2021-07-12 11:12:35   Yunnan Tourism and Culture Times

Editor's note:

In the field of public film projection in northwest Yunnan’s Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture, Yang Mingjin is known to all. Having watched his first outdoor movie in the village, Yang found his way into the magic world of light and shadows. In 1997, he got his first projector, kicking off the film services in the rural area. From then on, Yang has done farm work in the day and played films at night. Over the past 20 years, Yang carried his equipments with a truck, projecting 3,800 movies for the villagers. He is proud that all the movies were offered free to the public however hard it was.


Yang Mingjin’s life as rural projectionist

Native to the Lushui city of Nujiang prefecture, Yang Mingjin works part time as an ordinary rural projectionist. It has been 20 plus years since Yang started at the age of 18 his service that benefits the public. Over the years, Yang has stuck to his plain lifestyle, with his footprints left in a number of rural villages and schools in northwest Yunnan. Yang has faith in the cause he has held so dear, and the rural projectionist is convinced that his effort has allowed the fellow villagers to open their eyes to the outside world.

A dream rooted in childhood

Nujiang is a remote mountainous area in southwest China. In the 1970s, watching a movie was seen as a special entertainment. Whenever such a joyful occasion came, the villagers’ management would keep announcing the good news with a loud speaker. Before the adults finished the supper, the court for film-playing was crowded with children in high spirits, occupying favorable positions with chairs or benches. Back then, Yang was among the kids.

Yang Mingjin recalled he watched his first outdoor movie at the age of five, when he was deeply fascinated by the magic projector. “Why? How could the machine possibly produce pictures?” he wondered. From then on, Yang has always been watching the movies near the projector as much as possible, so that he could also see the machine’s operation in detail. In this way, Yang spent his happiest childhood days in watching the unforgettable moving pictures, which sowed the seeds for him to love the projector and films heart and soul.

In 1997, Yang Mingjin purchased his first projector with 2,600 yuan and coupled it with a tiny power generator worth 2,800 yuan and films from movie distributors. Wary of the mistakes during projection, Yang fiddled with the machine for three days at home, putting into practice all the film-playing steps. Sure of everything, Yang carried the equipments to an open area in the village with his motorbike, kicking off his career as a rural projectionist at dusk.

Yang Mingjin can still remember the film was called Meng Jiang Nü, or Lady Meng Jiang, which made a hit among the audience in the evening. Since then, Yang has followed his rigid daily routine of “farm work in the day and film service at night.” His wife knows very well what films mean to him, so she has never fought hard against the husband on movie-playing over the years though the couple did have tiny quarrels from time to time. It is the wife’s support that allowed Yang to leave his foot prints across the Lushui villages separated by ridges and peaks.

When Yang projected the movie Diexue Jinlan(sworn friends) at the Laimao village in Liuku Town in July 2009, a senior in his 60s sighed with emotion: “If only the film were coupled with the Lisu ethnic language!” Yang was moved a lot by the words for he knew well the linguistic and geographical gaps. Most of the villagers who lived deep in the valley can only “watch” the pictures, and Yang began to think about how to make the films more accessible linguistically in this ethnic area.

In September, Yang called the Nanjing Film Machinery Factory in east China, saying that it’s difficult for the Nujiang villagers to understand the standard Chinese. Conveying his confusion and ethnic folks’ expectation for better film services, he asked the factory for technical aid in switches between the Chinese and Lisu languages.

Because of Yang’s call, Nujiang prefecture began to translate the films into ethnic languages. In the ensuing days, movies with native languages were increasingly visible in the grand valley, allowing local folks to really appreciate the stories.

Hobby as cause of public benefit

Now, Yang Mingjin sees film-projection as less a hobby than a cause of public benefit. He thinks that good movies are not the worldly or vulgar ones, but the easy, grand or overwhelming ones that can impart the public social justice and new trends of times. Therefore, the patriotic and scientific films have been the first choices for his projections. Sticking to such practice, Yang is both “loved” and respected by the villagers. In the eyes of locals, he is not only a movie player but also a cultural disseminator.

Yang is not sure how many mountains, turns, bumps or rivers he has gotten through on his film-projecting journey over the past 20 years, but he has kept in heart the warm scenes during the film odyssey.

Yang can still remember one episode on his way to a village where his truck was trapped in the mud following heavy rain. It was dark with nobody in sight, and Yang was really anxious. Later, an approaching flashlight brightened his gloomy heart. Soon, villagers hearing the news arrived at the spot. Some cleared the fallen stones on the bumpy road section ahead, while others pushed his truck out of the sink, welcoming him to their village. It is such warm-hearted folks who encouraged Yang to stick to his mission.

In the years, Yang Mingjin has, step by step, grown to be a master projectionist by continuous explorations in equipment maintenance, data transmission to projecting. Using the WeChat social network, Yang created a chat group, where rural projectionists across China gathered for friendly exchanges on digital film services.

Helped by local authorities, Yang built up a film art gallery that opened to the public in 2018. He enlarged the exhibiting area from 40 square meters to 64 in August 2019. Now the film gallery houses over 100 exhibits.

To Yang, the movie industry has grown by leaps and bounds over his years of film projection, but he said his film services will surely continue so long as there is someone in need. “Be a projectionist till I'm too old to lift the machines.”

Writing by Zhao Xiong; Online photos; Trans-editing by Wang Shixue       

Keywords:   Yang Mingjin rural projectionist