Yellow Earth

In the mythical cradle of Chinese civilization, where the barren, intercalated, sandstone, lifeless, loess landscape of Shaanxi province, wrecked by famine and drought and war, is cut through by the Yellow River, and plagued by harsh destitution, the folk songs of the Shaanxi people reflect the hardships of life in their difficult land.

The new Chinese Communist Party sends a cultural archivist, Gu Qing, to this prehistoric region, in search of old traditional folk songs to collect, and in search of peasants to implant the seed of the CCP's revolutionary hope.

The CCP found peasant folk songs appealing because they embodied all the sorrows and hopes of China's peasantry, and the pure simplicity of peasant life. But the Chinese Communist Party redacted the lyrics to the songs, lyrics that reflected the Party's political aims. Using peasant folk songs lured peasants to support the CCP, and it created the image of the CCP as a champion for the poor.

Gu Qing becomes fascinated with the peasant Cuiqiao, a teenager, her silent younger brother, and her father, a strict traditionalist. He lodges with them to record their songs. His idealistic descriptions of the Communist Party's movement ignites the flame of revolutionary change in Cuiqiao's heart.

Gu accompanies Cuiqiao when she undertakes the journey to gather water from the muddy Yellow River.

They traverse limitless gulfs of ancient cretaceous sandstone terrains, terrains perpetually sculpted and resculpted by wind and water erosion; its vast, borderless panorama of yellow and ochre and brown blinds the eye and soul and mind.

As Cuiqiao gathers water, she begins singing a song that expresses the sum total of the life Chinese peasants and the gestalt of Chinese history:

Even in June, the icy Yellow River can hardly flow,
They force me to marry as I start to grow.
In a grain silo are infinite kernels,
Among the people small ones like me are beyond count.
Pity the girls, pity the girls.
To be a girl is so sad.

The ducks swim easy on the river,
The geese brush the surface lightly with their wings.
The government man doesn't know - I can sing!

All the green poplars, willows, and firs,
Grow comfortably together,
But when I try to speak my heart's pain,
I can't open my mouth to say a word,
Because I'm a girl.

The sand doves fly together so high,
Companions gone far away in the sky.
Who do I have in my heart? Only my mother.
Who do I have in my heart? Only my mother.
Who do I have?

Ciuqiao decides to break from tradition and the clutches of the yellow earth to join the CCP.

Will her province, the birthplace of the Chinese people, the base from which Chinese Communism first sprouted and flourished, the location where China wrestled control of its own country from Japan and the Nationalists, the yellow earth, consume her, consume all the peasants, consume China's culture, China's past, China's present, China's future?

Earth, water, sky, mountains, a tree, a boat, peasants, an ox, a cave home, are all extracted from China's classical landscape paintings and dotted with soldiers and peasants, breathing life into China's history.