“Partitioned” is the first time director Liao Shuyi has come into contact with a group of domestic helpers. According to calculations by the Ministry of Commerce, in 2021, there were 37.6 million people employed in China’s domestic service industry. In this field, rural women make up the majority, leaving their hometowns and entering urban residences to solve problems such as childcare and elderly care for city dwellers.
However, their own difficulties often go unnoticed. At first, Liao Shuyi didn’t know where to start in understanding them. She extensively reviewed Hongyan’s previous contacts and the oral histories of domestic helpers, hoping to find some clues. Through those personal narratives, Liao Shuyi became interested in the concept of “living spaces.”
When domestic helpers first come to Beijing, most of them sleep on the floor in domestic service companies. A mat and bedding are often the first living spaces for many domestic helpers in bustling cities.
In 2019, when Wang Shuhua first came to Beijing to work as a domestic helper, she spent over twenty days sleeping on the floor in a domestic service company. There were no spare bedrooms in the company, and the daily office’s living room, which was a little over ten square meters, had to accommodate 28 people. People had to lie close to each other, with no space to step on even up to the toilet entrance.
Before starting work at a household, some domestic helpers would specifically find a hotel to take a proper bath. After completing their work, they would return to the domestic service company as a transitional space.
For live-in housemaids, their living spaces are transient. Some domestic helpers, when they arrive at their employers’ homes, are also arranged to sleep on balconies or in living rooms, without their own space. In “Doppelgänger,” there is a line describing such a dilemma: “She lived on a balcony as cold as an ice cellar for a whole winter.”
Living spaces also hold many unspeakable secrets. Some domestic helpers mentioned encountering sexual harassment in their employers’ homes during interviews and fleeing in a panic.
Video director Dai Xiaolu received a scriptwriting assignment based on a domestic helper’s character and specifically went to Hongyan to learn about their daily lives. She later became a volunteer for Hongyan. During the preparation process for the Home Economics Art Festival, she helped collect the stories of the domestic helpers to provide inspiration for the scriptwriting.