J.P. Sniadecki explains how he makes a living by shooting China

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I did this interview with filmmaker J.P. Sniadecki and it was published on VICE China. I translated it to English so that more people could read it.

In terms of the China in a foreigner’s eyes, we probably should go back to the late Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni. The master was invited to China by the then Chinese Prime Minister Zhou En’lai, and he made a documentary called Chung Kuo, Cina, which pissed the Chinese government off at the time. Interestingly enough, almost no one in China actually did watch this film, but it appears every Chinese knew something about this Italian guy and his ‘intentional malice’ towards China, thanks to propaganda. As time went by, China became more and more open. The citizens gained more and more freedom. Thanks to the pirate/bootleg dealers, the once banned film is now available to Chinese audience. Many of them exclaim that “This film is just awesome,” because it “reflected everyday life of Chinese people truthfully” back then.

However, people argue about what documentaries should present and how they should present their subjects all the time. Besides the Chinese independent documentary filmmakers, more and more western artists start to create their works around China— the once mysterious and forbidden piece of land. And their works are getting no less controversies than Antonioni’s.

J.P. Sniadecki is one of them. He’s an American. He has a Chinese name, Shi Jiepeng. This guy focuses on documentaries and non-fiction films, and he picked up Mandarin by talking to strangers while he was travelling on the trains in China. Most of his films were shot in China so far. In the past few years, he made Sichuan Triptych, Songhua, Demolition and Huangpu. Recently, he finished People’s Park (with Libbie Cohn), and Yumen (with Huang Xiang and Xu Ruotao), and these two films have been well received internationally. J.P. is also an anthropologist (an occupation that confuses people all the time).

According to documentary filmmaker Wu Wenguang, [Note: This man is regarded as the founding father of Chinese documentary films.] “Those foreigners who have flocked to China to make documentaries after Mr. Antonioni, most of their works are not worth watching at all. They are just making a living by shooting China.” So before the Chinese lunar new year, I had a little chat with J.P.. I wanted to know that how he is making a living by shooting China, allegedly.

J.P. profile

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Why Has Trust Become So Scarce In Chinese Society

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I‘ve been thinking about the trust issue in China for a while. In recent years, more stories about how good intentions get hijacked by exactly the beneficiaries have been told.

Consider this. A Chinese older adult fell off on the street, and you try to help them stand up and keep walking. After that, there’s a good chance that the older adult would accuse you of pushing him/her to the ground and claim indemnity from you. Worse still, they may drag your shirt and make a scene so that you cannot leave. The Chinese media is full of stories of this kind. When I was discussing this with friends, one thought of a solution. He said, jokingly, “Maybe we can set up our camera first and then give help.”

trust lost

After all, we are just ordinary people with basic instincts to protect ourselves. So gradually, Chinese don’t offer their helping hand to those who are in need.

One very popular theory is that the massive destructive Cultural Revolution is responsible for the social distrust. For those who don’t know what Cultural Revolution is, it’s basically a movement to “cleanse the enemies of socialist China” and to reshape the Chinese culture (that’s why it’s called CULTURAL revolution) so that China could achieve socialism as quickly as possible. Continue reading

Chinese Woman Got Assaulted By Mini Steel Balls For Creating Noise

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As you might have heard, middle-aged women and older women in China are really into dancing in public parks, squares, or just any space they can find. For this phenomenon, Chinese invented a new phrase, 广场舞, literally “Square Dancing” to describe it.

It seems to be a sign that more Chinese are becoming health conscious, which is a good thing. The biggest problem is that the dancers play music REALLY loud in public space, and it is disturbing for some citizens who prefer quieter environment. According to chinanews.com, a 69-year-old lady got assalted by a tiny steel ball and it almost hit her temple. After the dancing, more beads were found at the dancing spot.

Some other dancers and the local police contended that the people who live nearby had shot the small beads using slingshots or something alike. They were just too angry at the disturbing noises. In addition, police said they had got complaints from local residents about the loud dancing music before.

 

Square dancing is quite normal in my hometown Ganzhou, too. I shot this video in the past July when I was back in China. It was 7 o’clock or so in the morning and my home is less than 500 meters away from the park where these women were dancing. 

The Boundary of Personal Freedom

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I was writing a report about the soda ban prompted by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. I have to say logically this regulation is against my ideology. However, somehow I sympathize and agree with him. An astounding statistic I found was that the annual cost for obesity-related illnesses was estimated to be about $147 billion as of 2009, according to CDC.Another estimation was released in Journal of Health Economics, where, a newly published research contended that obesity-related illness accounted for 20.6 percent of U.S. national health expenditures in 2005, or roughly $190 billion.

But today I’m writing about what Bloomberg was accused for encroaching: individual freedom.

It’s not surprising that in a country where personal freedom is placed at the altar, Mr. Bloomberg was criticized for having “nanny-state mentality”. As a new New Yorker (btw, I always dislike label and generalization like this one), I feel this is a place where freedom is over stressed and turns into a little bit poisonous.

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