4100 Redwood Rd #406
Oakland, CA 94619

Rise of the Phoenix

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Pu Ruixi in Ningxia
Pu's grandma's bound feet
A mother nurturing body and mind of her child
A rural village in Ningxia, the other China




Human Development: Children, Education, International Cooperation, Migration, Population, Poverty, Urban, Youth
Human Rights: Civil Rights, Gender
Information & Media: Culture, Freedom of Expression, Knowledge
Politics: Activism, Civil Society, Democracy, Ethics & Value Systems, Globalization, Law

Project Geography

International: Asia, North America

Identity Niches

Asian, Asian American, Children, Student, Women, Youth/Teen


Raised to date: $28,500.00
Estimate to complete: $150,000.00
Total Estimated Budget: $178,500.00
The budget numbers above are accurate as of 06/10/2011



Media Type


Project End Use


Key Personnel

May May Tchao
Producer and director

Born in PRC and raised in Hong Kong, May May earned her degrees from University of Wisconsin/Madison and Syracuse University. She is developing film concepts that document China’s dramatic economic and cultural shifts and give voice to a new generation of its women. She has produced shorts for YouTube and ECTV cable station of Evanston. The Rise of the Phoenix is her first feature documentary. Prior to documentary films, she spent a career in advertising in Chicago, servicing blue-chip clients in creative leadership and consulting positions. May May has significant on-set experience in bringing storyboards to their fullest potential in TV commercial production and exercising prudence in budgeting and cost control.

Jan Sutcliffe

Jan is an accomplished long-form editor with a special expertise in shaping documentary programs for broadcast distribution. Jan’s passion is cinéma vérité — but she also excels in historical and interview-based documentary, as well as advocacy projects. Over the past twenty years she has worked on various broadcast documentary specials for the NBC, National Geographic and PBS networks. Some of her work is Mapping Stem Cell Research, Inside the Handy Writer’s Colony, The Principal Story and Make No Little Plans: Daniel Burnham and the American City.

Wenhwa Tsao
Associate Producer

Born and raised in Taiwan, Wenhwa Tsao is an award-winning filmmaker whose work has received numerous grants including KODAK Faculty Scholars Award and Illinois Arts Council.  Her films have been screened in festivals such as Cannes, Women in Director’s Chair and others. Her dramatic feature script about human trafficking, SNAKEHEAD, was selected for the Emerging Narrative during IFP's Independent Film Week and won first place in several festivals. She is currently working on a feature script inspired by the historical looting of the Silk Road Buddhist Treasure from 1885 to 1925. Besides being a filmmaker, Wenhwa is a passionate educator. She is a professor and Graduate Program Director in the Film & Video Department at Columbia College Chicago. www.wenhwatsao.com

Outreach/Engagement Plan(s)

Our primary goal is to engage a broad American audience who is interested in China, international current events and gender issues. We will target viewers of traditional broadcast media who watch programs like Independent Lens, P.O.V. or HBO’s documentary or Oprah’s OWN channels.

Our secondary goal is to reach academia, library communities and NGO organizations interested in activism, human rights and women rights. We will edit shorter versions of this film to tap into the education community as a valuable resource for college curricula like gender studies and China/Asia studies courses.  We will reach out to women NGOs like the Global Fund for Women to coordinate and participate with them for the annual International Women’s Day forum.

In the past six months we have a website in place and have utilized social media like Facebook and Twitter to generate awareness, excitement, periodic updates and fundraising. Besides the main feature, we will create a supplementary short for the education market to show how the Training Center for Rural Women (with interviews of Director Luo and Wu Qing) is changing the lives of many. We have recently joined WorldPulse.com, a global online news magazine for women, for outreach and publicity.

We have a multi-platform distribution plan for Rise of the Phoenix. In the U.S. we will raise its visibility by launching it in various film festivals like SXSW, Toronto or Hot Docs. We will expose this film to international festivals like Pusan and Shanghai since there is a rising social and gender awareness in Asian cultures. Another distribution strategy is broadcast via podcast and Internet on-demand streaming through venues like Netflix and Link TV. The latter has an activism component which can be a good fit to our film. We will also tap into the home video market through self-distribution or other third-party distributors such as Women Make Movies.

To sustain awareness and to encourage dialog after the film, we will create a blog website to engage women all over the world to tell their stories of trials and tribulations. This interactive forum will empower grassroot contingent to give testaments to what and how they overcame gender hurdles; and helps NGOs to be more strategic in their efforts for education, healthcare and social services.


Personal & Private Donations$13,950.0011/24/2010
Long Family Foundation$13,550.0011/16/2010
Yip Harburg Foundation$1,000.0007/27/2010


625 Clinton Place
Evanston, IL, 60201

Short Synopsis

Rise of the Phoenix is a feature length documentary that examines how the unprecedented transformation of China's economy is changing the roles, rights and status of modern day Chinese women as witnessed by four or five women from very different social and economic backgrounds. These intimate and sometimes heart-breaking stories reflect a remarkable sexual revolution redefining one-fifth of the world's population despite a gender-biased tradition.


In his recent U.S. visit President Hu Jintao acknowledged that there are two Chinas: one urban and industrialized; another one rural and still developing. Due to an increase in literacy and access to the Internet, a new generation of well-educated, independent-minded women has emerged. This intersection of a changing economic and social system with traditional gender roles has provoked a dramatic transformation and an ongoing tensions in all aspects of women’s lives—education, work opportunities, rights, self worth, family expectations and relationship. It is also evident that China’s economic advancement is closely tied to the rise of its women.

Rise of the Phoenix is a feature length documentary crafted with a hybrid style of direct cinema and cinéma vérité featuring multiple narratives linked by a single theme. These narratives are told in first-person, in both Mandarin (with English subtitles) and English. Viewers are engaged by the “a-day-in-the life” approach with candid slice-of-life vignettes intercut with on-camera interviews and personal photos to create a rich and intimate collage. Most of the film takes place in China: from the urban hi rises of Beijing to the crammed “ant-colony” public housing cubicles; from the desolate rural village in Ningxia to the overcrowded workers’ quarters in Shenzhen. These cinematic images will frame the diversity and disparity of industrialized and rural China.

The film opens with the back-story of traditional gender-bias delivered through an interview with the director’s mother recounting her personal experience as a child and as a nurse.

The viewers are then transported to Tiananmen Square as the modern capital radiates the hustle and bustle of a metropolis on the move that reflect the speed and scale of transformation right before our eyes.

The film follows the narratives of five women and their extended families as they share their struggles and triumphs to reveal the complexities of a social culture still steeped in gender inequality. These women have many differences — in education, resources, geography and opportunities dictated by where they come from. They also have one thing in common — they are not afraid to actively shape their destinies through guts, grit and gumption. These touching stories capture the intertwining transitions of social values, family expectations and personal ambitions, and will resonate with women around the world struggling for a better life for themselves and their families.

Pu Ruixia is a rural girl who rises out of poverty from a remote village in Ningxia province by sheer determination and diligence to get an education. She was forced to stay home to help with the family farm after the third grade so that her brothers could attend school. She considers those ten years the “lost years” in her life. She is now a computer teacher in the Rural School for Women. We follow her home for a visit with her parents and grandmother and witness the transitions of the three generations of Chinese women in 21st Century. Pu’s story gives us a glimpse into the lives of rural poverty where opportunities are often fought, not given.

Lihua is a high-powered attorney who works for an international firm in Beijing. She is attractive, smart and sophisticated and epitomizes success in a highly competitive, male-dominated profession. She talks about her struggles as she climbed the corporate ladder, her failed marriage, her bold decision for a divorce and the difficulties of being a single working mother. Lihua attributes her success to her middle school teacher who inspired her to take on French as a foreign language after the Cultural Revolution, and opened her eyes to the possibilities of a new culture outside her own narrow world. Her ambitious teenage daughter, Michelle, aspires to receive an American college education; mother and daughter embody an elitist class of very well educated women who are having an impact on China.

Zhu Xiaoli­ came from the Szechwan province after the earthquake in 2008. She is a divorced single mother and was an abused wife who fought for her land-rights which are still unavailable to many women because of gender. Her story is about injustice done to divorce women in rural areas and perpetuates the notion that once married, women become the possession of husbands and therefore do not merit land rights or identity registration after they’re divorced. Xiaoli has to be an advocate for her own rights as well as for her daughter’s. Her story touches a universal chord of how far a migrant mother is willing to forge a new life for her daughter.

A migrant factory worker in Shenzhen. who hopes to fulfill her dreams of owning her own businesses someday, has enlisted in the army of  “modern day coolies” to work in the factories. Her story demonstrates that the status of a woman is directly related to the income she provides and it comes at the price of family relationships and alienation from the children. As an “absentee parent,” the mother is constantly saddled with disquieting guilt of abandoning her children at home. (production pending)

An abducted woman is sold to become a wife of a peasant in a remote village. This story reflects the seldom-mentioned realities of a gender imbalance society which regards women as a commodity for childbearing and domestic slavery and generates a hideous human trafficking industry that deserves condemnation. (production pending)

Secondary interviews with trailblazers like Wu Qing, an internationally known activist; Xue LiHua, editor-in-chief of the Rural Women Magazine; and other women’s issue experts will provide commentary and insights.

How do 21st Century Chinese women view their worth and negotiate their rights in this cauldron of dramatic transformation? What are the prices they have to pay? What demands will they make for themselves? These are the voices of mothers, daughters, wives and sisters who deserve to be heard as we witness one of the most dynamic social revolution redefining one-fifth of the world’s population.

We hope to commission a special musical score that combines the flavor of East and West to enhance the mood and energy of the film.

Why tell this story now?

This project couldn't be timelier for these reasons:
Women are more than 40% of the labor force that transformed China’s economy. But the media fails to tell that story. Our film will give faces to the forces that made this possible. On a different level, did China deliver on Mao Zedong’s promise of “equality” for women in China’s Constitution — in the basic rights of reproduction, education, property and employment? Our film will challenge Chinese society on these issues.

Project objective:
Gender inequality is not uniquely Chinese; it crosses cultural and social boundaries and is often entangled with the matrix of economic, social and political issues of different countries. Our film acknowledges and encourages women to change their destiny by reassessing their worth, asserting their independence and breaking with oppressive traditions. It purports to inspire and aspire them to strive for education—the ultimate equalizer to providing a nation with progress and hope.

Click here to ask for more information about this project: