Imagine living a month without the ubiquitous "Made In China" label on anything you purchase. Now imagine that month is December.
One American family accepts this challenge from Chinese immigrant Tom Xia, who moved to the US as a boy and wanted to explore the material relationship between his new home and his native one.
The rules: One family must remove everything made in China from their home while not purchasing anything new with that label for an entire holiday season. There's comedy and tragedy in this intimate documentary, but more than that questions of family, success, and consumerism that swirl around our idea of personal identity.
Tom Xia and his dad Victor shop for their first Christmas lights. Photo by Michael Dwyer.
Xmas Without China explores the intersection of consumerism and immigration in American culture as the documentary filmmakers follow their friend and fellow filmmaker Tom Xia on an intimate journey to get to know his community. Tom has spent his life in between Chinese and American culture, constantly negotiating between his home life and everything else in the California suburbs where he's grown up since emigrating from Harbin, China at age eight. With deep ties to his extended family back home and increasing pride in China's huge steps forward in the new millennium, Tom is incensed by how China is so misunderstood by Americans, particularly in the media.
Devising a plan to put American fears of China in context, Tom challenges local families to go through the Christmas season without any Chinese products. At a neighborhood street fair, Tom meets the Joneses, a young family trying to keep their children safe during a series of Chinese toy recalls that has driven them to have their son tested for lead-poisoning. Taking on Tom's consumer "mission-impossible," the Jones family discovers that they're giving up not just their toys, plates, lamps, and clothes…but also the beloved hair dryer, coffeemaker, Xbox, and most of their Christmas decorations. With their house dark and their tree bare of Christmas lights, Tim Jones gets out his tools and begins making his own strand from American and Mexican electrical parts.
Nearby, Tom's parents are finishing construction on their new home, using Chinese materials to proudly build their American dream. While they conscript Tom to help them decorate their first Christmas tree, the Joneses struggle to live without their Chinese-made stuff in the huge storage container in their driveway, forcing them to seriously rethink how to celebrate Christmas. With the holiday approaching, and interactions between the Xias and the Joneses intensifying, Tom's dad warns him not to ruin the Joneses' Christmas with his challenge. As the challenge brings way more than anyone bargained for, Tom realizes that he's on a deeper journey to understand the complexities of his own divided loyalties between America and China, and both families wrestle with our insatiable drive to consume cheap products, but also with our desire for human connection and a sense of who we are in a fast-changing world.
Xmas Without China was produced by Alicia Dwyer, Michael Dwyer, Juli Vizza and Tom Xia.