Last Train Home

Every Spring, China’s cities are plunged into chaos as 130 million migrant workers journey to their home villages for the New Year’s holiday. This mass exodus is the world’s largest human migration — an epic spectacle that reveals a country tragically caught between its rural past and industrial future. Working over several years in classic verite style, Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Lixin Fan travels with one couple who have embarked on this annual trek for almost two decades. Emotionally engaging and starkly beautiful, Last Train Home’s intimate observation of one fractured family sheds light on the human cost of China’s ascendance as an economic superpower.
Year Released
Running Time
87 minutes
Date Released
Zeitgeist Films
Average: 3.7 (13 votes)


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A portrayal of migrant family life

Field of Interest/Specialty: Chinese language
Posted On: 12/17/2019

My name is Lea Ekeberg. I teach Chinese language at the high school level at Winchester Thurston School. The most important thing to know about Last Train Home is that it is much less about the annual spring festival migration than I expected, given the name. The spring festival migration is discussed and shown - twice - but the bulk of the film is dedicated to depicting the stresses of migrant family life throughout the year. It’s probably also helpful to know that the pace of the movie is very slow, and the dialect of the main characters will be challenging for students of Chinese to understand (there are subtitles, but if your goal is for students to understand the spoken Chinese, it will be a significant challenge).
I don’t think that this film is compelling enough to anchor a unit around it. However, if I were teaching a unit about migrant workers, I might show sections of this film to help students visualize what their lives are like. I would most likely skip the sections about the Spring Festival migration itself, and focus in more on the daily realities of the family.
There was one scene that was uncomfortable, where the daughter’s swearing led to fight with her father, ending in repeated physical violence. I would probably avoid showing that scene in class, as some students might find it upsetting, and I'm not sure it's central to the topic at hand.

Last Train Home Review

Field of Interest/Specialty: World History
Posted On: 04/15/2019

Last Train Home is an interesting film about the tension in families with Migrant Workers who live in the city (in this case Guangzhou) in order to provide for their children at home. In this film we are brought into the lives of a Grandmother, Mother, Father and two children (Qin and Yang). The parents discuss the struggle of securing a ticket home. Qin, a high school girl, describes her frustration with her parents' demand that she remain in school. We see tears from the mother and the focus from the adults on the children studying and performing well in school to "get out of the countryside." Ultimately, Qin leaves home for a factory job, upsetting her parents. While we see little resolution, by the end of the film, the mother has agreed to stay home while the father will continue working the Guangzhou factory.
This film is really important for showing economic conditions in China as it emerged into a Capitalist system. It highlights traditional Chinese family values and how these clash with modern values (seen through the youth who resist their parents). I would recommend this for high school students in a Human Geography or World History Class because of the depth of content to draw on about Chinese Culture and Urbanization and Migration within a country.
A flaw of this film is the lack of information or context for some of the situations going on. The viewer would benefit from some knowledge of the Chinese education system as they frequently mention the son's performance in school and how this is supposed to provide him with opportunity. Additionally, the film may be slightly dated since it was filmed in 2006.
Still worth using in the classroom to highlight Urbanization and Chinese culture, even if in excerpts. Highly recommend for Human Geography topics.

Last Train Home Review

Field of Interest/Specialty: History
Posted On: 04/15/2019

Samantha Cameron
AP World History, 11th Grade
This video is appropriate for upper level students and has some connections to AP World content, but I'm unlikely to show this in class. While the story is very sad and moving, I didn't find the film itself to be that engaging, and I don't think my students would either. In terms of curricular connection, it can be used to show continuity and change over time: the family reflects the lingering importance of Confucian and Buddhist values, while also showing the dramatic way those values have been challenged. Students might also appreciate seeing these changes through the eyes of Qin, who is their age. (It might even help students to better appreciate school!) Despite these possible curricular connections, I still would not recommend showing this film to students. There are better documentaries that pack a bigger punch and include more information .

Last Train Home

Field of Interest/Specialty: China
Posted On: 04/12/2019

The Last Train Home follows a couple who work in an urban factory as they travel home during the Spring New Year to visit their fractured family. The documentary highlights the challenges and problems of this massive yearly migration from growing Chinese cities to the countryside. The couple struggles with having to leave their daughter and son who are studying with their grandmother on the farm while they work at a factory in the city. The film showcases the dichotomy of life for the couple who live with feet in two worlds - one increasingly fast-paced, urban, and crowded, and the other slow-moving, rural, and isolated. Their daughter follows in their footsteps, much to their disappointment. showcasing the generational challenges of this type of migration-based labor system.

Illustrating a Migrant Family

Field of Interest/Specialty: Art
Posted On: 12/02/2018

The Last Train Home is a film, a documentary, on the cruel realities of living as a migrant and factory worker, but also what it is like to be the child of a migrant worker. This film was dedicated to these families. This concept of parents working hard to give their children a better and brighter future can be traced to cultures all over the world, it is not unique to the East or the West. This film, even though nothing is in English (except the subtitles), is relatable to any family. The story shows us at first a couple living in a small quarters, working in a factory on sewing machines. The film moves slowly, savoring each frame that camera captures. The film makers show us, gradually, the family the couple has left home to work as a factory worker. There is a young boy and teenage girl with their grandmother on which appears to be farmland. The story shows the harsh realities of a migrant working family. The young couple had to leave their children at home to be cared for by the grandparents, and even though you cannot sense the tension at the beginning of the movie, the gap between the older daughter and parents begins to grow. We learn as an audience the daughter as learned to resent and become angry at her parents for not being home, and she drops out of school to also become a factory worker in a different town. The parents are very sad, they were hoping that because of their hard work, their daughter would have a better life.
While this film would be hard to translate to an elementary art class, there are some really good insights on even though our culture is vastly different and our country do not have that many migrant workers, there are very similar family struggles and the roles of children and parents can be blurred. I would have my students create works of art illustrating this migrant life, really showing the transportation. Students will have to pair their drawings or paintings with emotions and ideas. Most of the movie the family spends waiting in line or on a train. I could have my students create a mini book telling their own story of a migrant family, either using the family in the movie or creating their own family. I would show different clips to my students of key moments, as a class we will take note of small details we can incorporate in the artwork. The color, balance, and content of each camera shot.

Review of the Last Train Home

Field of Interest/Specialty: East Asian Culture
Posted On: 11/12/2017

My name is Morganne McCartney and I am a middle school Spanish and Introduction to Foreign Languages teacher. I teach 7th and 8th grade at Mountain Ridge Middle School.
I believe that this film is appropriate for grades 7-12 if you get a parent permission form for the use of foul language in one part of the film (or just skip that part when showing it). Other than that one part the film is completely appropriate for students in middle school and high school to see this great migration home for the holidays and also to see how migrant workers in China live. This film is also a great way to introduce students to the family dynamics of Chinese families.
I would incorporate this film into my classroom to discuss many topics such as Chinese New Year, migrant workers and the hardships they face for our material items, family dynamics, food, and religion. This could be used as a supplemental film after discussing Chinese and global economics and the Chinese New Year.
I really enjoyed the film. I found it captivating and the film-making was amazingly beautiful. There was not a lot of dialog in the film, but it somehow made you feel something inside for the family. It was an inside look into the migration home to be with a family that in turn was a roller coaster of emotions.

The Last Train Home- How migration disrupts traditioanl Chinese family life

Field of Interest/Specialty: Ancient & Modern China
Posted On: 12/12/2016

Lixin Fan’s Last Train Home is a sad and lonely tale of the fractured lives of a Chinese migrant family. The long train ride home every Chinese New Year from the industrial city to the countryside is a reoccurring motif that begins and ends the movie, almost as if the workers’ lives parallel the grimy, monotonous train ride. These Chinese migrants go to great lengths to return home for the holiday; however, the visits seem to only cause feuds and disappointments between the parents and the school aged children. Darkness and shadows permeate many of the scenes, which underscores the never-ending sadness of the workers’ lives. There is no laughter, no happiness, no hope in this film, just a startling glimpse into the lives of those who make the goods that fill our shelves and closets. Although the movie leaves little room for hope, it is not entirely predictable. The children do not exemplify the Confucius concept of filial piety, perhaps showing that Western values have caused more than just a migration from the countryside to the cities. Perhaps one of the best visuals of the film is the beauty in the country side and the snow-covered mountains, neither of which bring any sense of enjoyment or peace to the migrant workers and their families This is certainly a film worth seeing because internal Chinese migration is such an unexplored topic in the average American’s life.

Engaging and tragic

Field of Interest/Specialty: World History and World Geography
Posted On: 12/09/2016

This was an eye-opener. I knew about the forced mass migration of millions of Chinese into the cities. I was unaware, however, of the intentional migration of millions back to their rural homes for the New Year celebration each year. The cinematography in this movie was beautiful. It is the story of the Zhang family. The parents left their two children in the care of grandparents to work over 1000 miles away in the city. It shows the struggle and splintering of family relationships in a country going through its’ industrial revolution. The struggle is heart-breaking whether it is the parents who have moved to the city for work or it is the children left behind.

Last Train Home Review

Field of Interest/Specialty: Social Studies
Posted On: 01/11/2016

Jenna O’Neill
Grade: 12
AP Human Geography
The documentary, Last Train Home, centers on the circumstances of a family of migrant workers. Qin, a young teenager, has spent her life up until this point going to school and working on the family farm in rural China while being raised by her grandparents. Her parents have both spent her lifetime working in factories away from the family, trying to make enough money so that Qin and her brother will be able to remain in school in order to acquire a better life. Family strife ensues when Qin decides to leave school and go to work in the factories herself.
The film extraordinarily illustrates the human toll of our global economic system, personifying factory workers in China through their struggles and hopes. It would make an excellent addition to any AP Human Geography class (the course that I reviewed it for), but could also be a supplement in an Economics class or any class that focuses on current issues. Through following each member of the family, rural and urban Chinese life is examined—to Qin’s parents, urban factory life is the only way to give their children a chance for a better life, but to Qin, rural life is a trap from which she must escape. Feeling as though money is the only thing that her parents have valued throughout her life, she goes out in search of making her own—not realizing that this may lead her into another type of trap.
Although I recommend this film for upper high school classes, the film may too acutely display the harsh realities of capitalism and global economics for younger students.

Review of "Last Train Home"

Field of Interest/Specialty: Geography/History
Posted On: 10/28/2014

"Last Train Home" is a film that could adequately be shown in parts for upper-level grades. Mature students can get a glimpse of the environment in the factory that is portrayed in the beginning of the film. They get to see the parents and their interactions in planning to make this migration back to their rural home and to see their daughter for the first time in a year. It demonstrates the high cost and low-availability of tickets to travel, and could expose your students to how the conditions are during this high-travel period in China. It is, indeed, the largest human migration that happens in the world where hundreds of millions of Chinese travel thousands of miles. It is estimated that over 700 million Chinese travel during this time--- double the population of the United States.
Showing parts of the film, perhaps even skipping to key scenes throughout the documentary, could reveal the high cost paid by families of migrant workers. The strained relationship between the daughter and her parents can be shown, but I would use caution in the middle of the film where inappropriate language is used by the daughter toward her parents. Additionally, the subtitles are necessary for students to read to understand the film. In its entirety, I think most students would tune out or get bored with reading so much to understand. But showing smaller clips would be ideal and would capture students' attention and provide a visual needed to grasp essential concepts.
Ideally, as a high school social studies teacher, I would recommend this film to illustrate the following themes:
1) Movement as a geographic theme: This map from Baidu (and published by National Geographic) could give students a perspective on how massive of movement takes place each New Year.
2) Economic development in China and the costs associated with rapid economic development. A supplemental resource to use with this movie is: This Economist article could help students see the connection between their purchases (made in China) and its role in stimulating the Chinese economy that is based upon migrant workers. This videographic draws this connection very well for students:
3) Compare another family's experience with that of the movie by looking at the past year's Chunyun. A current supplement you could use is:…