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“In feudal China, a daughter who is married is considered spilled water — she has no value to her own family — hence totally worthless.” -Soying Tchao, director’s mother



Spilled Water OFFICIAL Trailer


“This is an engaging and enlightening film that offers rich insights about the lives of rural and urban women of a wide range of socioeconomic statuses in China. By letting these women and their family members speak for themselves, this film presents a nuanced portrait of the complexities and contradictions of contemporary Chinese women’s experiences of issues such as divorce and inequalities within marriage that will resonate with the experiences of many women worldwide, while also addressing issues particular to China.”

Vanessa Fong, Assoc. Professor of anthropology and sociology, Amherst College



SPILLED WATER explores how the economic transformation of China is changing the roles, rights, and social status of its women.

Wanting to connect with her ‘distant sisters’, decades after emigrating to the United States, May May returns to China and explores the very different lives of four women: a young rural farmer who, against all odds, became a teacher; a successful lawyer in a male-dominated profession; a divorced factory worker struggling to brighten her daughter’s future; and an ethnic minority singer torn between her dreams, and her responsibilities as a peasant’s wife.

From the urban hustle of Beijing to the desolate beauty of rural provinces, their intimate stories show us why gender equality in China is so hard-earned, and worth the struggle.




This film is a personal quest, driven by a passionate curiosity to hear the voices of my distant “sisters”. In SPILLED WATER, I connect with four Chinese women from different social and economic backgrounds, and explore how China’s economy has provoked a dramatic transformation in all aspects of their individual urban and rural lives.

SPILLED WATER doesn’t dwell on sob stories from China’s past, nor does it render a superficial vision of a prosperous present. This film reaffirms the transformative power and potential of those who were once considered the weaker sex, granting viewers a rare and intimate glimpse into the lives of private citizens – something the western media is often unable to provide.

We hope our stories will encourage women everywhere to brighten their futures through education, economic participation, and activism.

A huge thank you to our major supporters: the Long Family Foundation, Yip Harburg Foundation, Jou S. and Mabel Tchao, Karen Kolodzey and the Open Meadows Foundation for funding this project. Thank you to Chicago Filmmakers, our fiscal sponsor and many generous donors to making this film possible.
- May May Tchao



Spilled Water DVD – Limited Release

The national and international Educational/Institutional License for DVD and Streaming is now available through our educational distributor, Alexander Street Press. Please visit click here for more information.

DVD – $23 includes S&H through PayPal
Please email us directly at for international shipping availability.

Spilled Water Digital Streaming VOD – Limited Release

Stream/Rent in 1080p HD now through ReelHouse
$5 (48 hour rental)
$6 Purchase



Pu Ruixia

Pu Ruixia grew up in a family of farmers from a remote village in Ningxia Province.
She was forced to drop out of school after the third grade, and through perseverance become a teacher against all odds.


Li Hua

Li Hua is a Beijing-based international lawyer who rose to extraordinarily high-ranks in her male-dominated profession while juggling the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood.


Liu Ying

Liu Ying struggles to build a new life for herself and her daughter by working as an electronics mechanic at a factory in Hebei Province after she was betrayed and divorced by her husband.


Ou Huaqing

Ou Huaqing from Guizhou province, is a Dongzu minority singer who is torn between fulfilling her dreams of performing in the big city, and her responsibilities as a rural peasant’s wife.




May May Tchao - [Director, Writer, Producer]
A passionate and resourceful producer, May May takes her projects from concept to finish often wearing many hats from shooting to editing. Her network of filmmaking associates allows her to work with the best and brightest and to consult with documentary power house Kartemquin Films for production. Prior to becoming a documentary filmmaker, May May spent a career in creative leadership and consulting positions for Chicago-based advertising agencies.

A believer in “learning by doing” she honed her craft by collaborating with top talents to explore stories and issues dear to her heart. SPILLED WATER is her debut documentary. It has garnered international awards and recognition and was broadcast at Chicago’s PBS WTTW and at San Francisco’s KQED. 

Xan Aranda - [Co-Producer]
An award-winning independent filmmaker affiliated with acclaimed documentary powerhouse Kartemquin Films, Xan is a Producer of their 2008 release Milking the Rhino and Outreach Director for Prisoner of Her Past (2011). Both films aired on PBS. Her directorial debut, Andrew Bird: Fever Year premiered at the prestigious New York Film Festival and has screened at over ninety festivals.

Karen Lynn Weinberg - [Editor]
Feature film credits include the documentary One Night Stand (nationwide & Canadian theatrical release, 2013), Frozen River (Sundance Winner, Oscar Nominee), Racing Dreams (Tribeca Winner, PBS POV), and Certainty (“Best Editing” award, Boston Film Festival & theatrical release 2012). She edited episodes of MysteryQuest and Clash of the Gods for the History Channel as well as the new documentary C-Rock.  Producing credits include One Night Standand multiple projects as the Creative Director of Ten Trees Productions.

Jason Lee Wong - [Beijing Cinematographer]
Jason moved to San Francisco and earned his BFA in Cinematography while working as a portrait photographer. He spent two years in Hollywood as a camera assistant in 35mm, 16mm, and digital prior moving to China. He has traveled extensively around the world and is now based in China to pursue his freelance cinema career in Beijing. He has shot and edited several documentaries, commercials, TV shows and narrative stories for CCTV, Nike, Google, Nokia, Pfizer and other international clients.

Johnny Byul Lee - [Associate Producer]
Johnny recently completed his first feature, ‘Innocent Blood’ starring Doug Jones (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth), C.S. Lee (Dexter) and Justin Chon (21 and Over, Twilight Saga). In addition to working in the TV & Film industry, Johnny acts as a technology and media consultant for companies and nonprofit organizations. Johnny also plays an active role in key organizations combatting human trafficking globally.