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Inspired by a search for truth and the potential for fame, a young vegetable-seller from Hunan province challenges the boundaries of free speech by reporting on censored news stories in cities throughout China. And from the bustling streets of Beijing, a middle-aged writer sets off to make sense of his past by riding his bicycle across the mainland, documenting the struggles of villagers deep within China's countryside. Armed with laptops, cell phones and digital cameras, Zola and Tiger Temple travel the country as independent one-man news stations while learning to navigate China's evolving censorship regulations and avoiding the risk of political persecution. High Tech, Low Life captures the untold story of these citizen reporters and the achievements of a fearless new digital generation.
Two brave Chinese citizens try to help a cowed nation
Startling documentary about two "citizen reporters" in China who blog about issues and conditions the government wants to keep quiet.
The bravery of this pair, who did not seem to know each other until meeting at a conference, is stunning.
"Zola" -- is his name inspired by the French novelist who famously dissented during the Dreyfus Affair? -- is a free-thinking 20-something from a conventional, dirt-poor family in Hunan Province. (His mother wishes he'd just sell vegetables while his father wants him to settle down and marry.)
The divorced "Tiger Temple" is a world-weary 57-year-old who travels thousands of miles through the countryside by bike, documenting unglamorous problems like sewage that has flooded a village.
Zola, sometimes irreverent but always polite, complains of a Great Firewall of China, the state entity that censors and blocks websites. The government finds him so threatening that it bars him from leaving the country to address a bloggers' conference in Germany.
And the authorities don't want Tiger in Beijing during a Communist Party meeting, so 10 policemen ferry him 600 miles away to another sprawling megalopolis, Xi'an, for a forced timeout. Naughty, naughty boy!
I have the deepest admiration for these brave, lonely souls who risk their well-being to help their fellow citizens! Along the way we see many hints that Chinese people in the street are fed up and angry. They show their receptivity to the muckrakers' efforts by allowing themselves to be filmed and quoted. In one striking segment, a peasant sings verse after verse of a bitter, allegorical protest song.
It's troubling to read in the epilogue that the now-married Zola has fled to the relative sanctuary of Taiwan to pursue his activism. But Tiger, who disconcertingly prematurely views himself as an old man, continues his wanderings through the Chinese "wilderness," often seemingly with nothing for respite but a harmonica.
Let's remember these guys and keep a watchful -- but caring! -- eye out for them. The world community must show its support.
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